I’ve always loved this song, both for the expressive beauty of Sandy Denny’s voice and the exceptional elegance of the lyrics.
It’s a song that basically contains a single, simple event: a woman is singing at dawn. That’s it. But out of this comes something really special.
There are three stanzas, with each of the first two introducing two parallel images. We have a silver tongue – whose sole purpose is to sing – and a golden heart – whose sole purpose is to love. And we have the experience of silence descending, and the sun ascending.
the lady she had a silver tongue
for to sing she said, and maybe that’s all
wait for the dawn and we will have that song
when it ends it will seem … that we hear silence fall
the lady she had a golden heart
for to love she said, and she did not lie
wait for the dawn and we’ll watch for the sun
as we turn it will seem … to arise in the sky
My ellipses above don’t indicate gaps in the lyrics. I put them in to indicate both the fact that she stretches out the word “seem” in both cases (“seeeem” would look strange), and also to point to yet another gorgeously economical device of the song: these first two stanzas reference “seeming,” have a mirage-like quality, while the last declares a real-live, luminous event.
So here, in just four further lines, she manages to bring together each of these parallels so brilliantly. The final stanza’s first line references the images of line 3 in each of the first two stanzas, and its third line then references line 4 in each of the others.
Meanwhile, lines 2 and 4 here turn mirage/”seeming” into the blazing warmth of a new day, while the silver of the lady’s capacity to sing and the gold of her capacity to love are transformed into the very essence of that day, the silver and gold of “a beautiful morning.” Isn’t that so great? Very unusual in my experience for a song lyric to be genuinely dazzling like this.
we heard that song while watching the sky
oh the sound it rang so clear through the cold
then silence fell and the sun did arise
on a beautiful morning … of silver and gold
But now, forget all of that, and just listen…