SongNotes: Halloween. Portrait of Isabel, The Fairy Tree

The dark blue wind of early autumn
ran on the early autumn sky
in the fields of yellow moon harvest
    I slept, I almost slept,
    I said listening:
Trees you have leaves rustling like rain
When there is no rain.

Sleep Impressions, Carl Sandburg

Jamie OReilly
Halloween Blog
Portrait of Isabel

The Fairy Tree
Updated 2023

A Note from Jamie
The veil lifting is so
fitting an image for the hazy time of warm and wet, leaves dancing, and short days. Last year I made an ofrenda on the back porch. An altar to my beloveds, it held the hope they would come visit, at least in dreams. Live visitors were rare, with the plague and all. But I sat there nonetheless, waiting. Was a time I waited for the moon, now she comes out sudden, insisting: “I’m still here.”  O, how lovely to have places in the head and heart to welcome the spirits, and invite them in.

Here are two very different songs for the mystical time: Portrait of Isabel is Michael Smith’s eery ghost story, based on his affection for writer Shirley Jackson. The Fairy Tree is an artsong about the Hawthorne Tree in Irish mythology, thought to be a sacred meeting place for the fairies. (Listen at the links below.)  

Updated: I’ll be on the radio on Sunday, Oct 15 on the People on the River Broadcast.

Portrait of Isabel

Listen to Portrait of Isabel

Jamie O’Reilly, vocals
Bob Weber, cello
Michael Smith, guitar
Al Ehrich, bass
Background vocals: Meg Broz. Nia O’Reilly-Amandes, Sarah Chang
Engineer, Peter Swenson
Words and Music by Michael P. Smith
(lyrics below)

The Fairy Tree

Listen to The Fairy Tree

Jamie O’Reilly, vocals
Tom Amandes, wood flute
Stuart Rosenberg, mandolin
Peter Swenson, guitar
Paul Amandes, guitar
John Floeter, double bass
Engineer, Timothy Powell
Jamie O’Reilly & the Rogues:
A Collection of Rogues

Portrait of Isabel (lyrics)

Michael Smith’s original lyric sheet

It’s an old old house
Winding stair and all
And there’s a portrait of Isabel
Down a dusty hall
She’s in her favorite chair
With her favorite books
One would be Jane Eyre
The other Buddenbrooks

When the clock strikes eight
Down the winding stair
Come the wedding guests
Who are not quite there

At the stroke of nine
The orchestra appears
Ghostly mandolins
That you can’t quite hear

When the clock strikes ten
Here’s the bride in white
Though she’s hard to see
In the flickering candlelight
With her shadow groom
She glides across the floor
Of the old ballroom
To fade a little more

When the clocks strikes eleven
For man and wife
No sharper words under heaven
No sharper knife
As from the bridegroom’s eye

There flows a blood red tear
To see the wedding guests
Begin to disappear

When the clock strikes twelve
As well it must
We’ll trust all’s well
When all returns to dust

Just remember love
Our two souls are one
With their own damned notions
Of when our love is done

It’s an old old house
Winding stair and all
And there’s a portrait of Isabel
Down a dusty hall

The Fairy Tree (lyrics)

All night around the thorn tree,
The little people play,
And men and women passing
Will turn their heads away.
From break of dawn til moonrise,
Alone it stands on high,
With twisted springs for branches,
Across the winter sky.

They’ll tell you dead men hung there,
Its black and bitter fruit,
To guard the buried treasure
Round which it twines its root.
They’ll tell you Cromwell hung them,
But that could never be,
He’d be in dread like others
To touch the Fairy Tree.

But Katie Ryan who saw there
In some sweet dream she had,
The Blessed Son of Mary
And all His face was sad.
She dreamt she heard Him saying:
“Why should they be afraid?”
When from a branch of thorn tree
The crown I wore was made?

From moonrise round the thorn tree
The little people play
And men and women passing
Will turn their heads away.
But if your heart’s a child’s heart
And if your eyes are clean,
You’ll never fear the thorn tree
That grows beyond Clogheen

Words by Isabel Leslie, alias Temple Lane, Clogheen, Ireland

© Portrait of Isabel, Michael P. Smith, ASCAP, Bird Ave Publishing
© Jamie O’Reilly. J. O’Reilly Productions
Recordings, Blog