In The River Maiden, Sarah spends her time chasing down a particular song. That's where the book get its title. This song itself is fictional. I wrote the lyrics to match the legend of The River Maiden. The legend is also invented but is an amalgam of various motifs commonly found in Celtic folklore.
Just as the legend employs common Celtic themes, the song uses a common structure found in Scottish folk songs. I confess that the Gaelic version might not have exactly the right amount of syllables per line to make it properly poetic. I wrote the original in English and had it translated by the incredibly helpful Caroline Root at Daily Gaelic.
Like most folksongs, I borrowed the tune, or at least my mental imagining of the tune from another traditional Gaelic song, Blar Inbhir Lochaidh. It's a hauntingly beautiful song about the Battle of Inverlochy during the Scottish Civil War, and it makes me cry every time I hear it. Here is Mary Jane Lamond giving a
More importantly it follows a common structure in which each verse contains two lines that tell the story alternating with two punctuating lines creating a dirge-like rhythm. These punctuating lines can contain a repeated declaration or lament. They can also be simply a series of sounds that create the right rhythm.
The structure looks a bit like this.
- First line of story
- Punctuating line 1
- Next line of story
- Punctuating line 2
Here are some lines from Blar Inbhir Lochaidh as an example.
The punctuating lines here don't translate. They either have no meaning or it has been lost in several hundred years of being passed down. You can see the full text and translation here.
There are many other songs that follow this structure. Most commonly they are laments or ballads. I used that structure when constructing the song for The River Maiden. As I said, I wrote it first in English, then had it translated by a pro, because my Gàidhlig is not good enough for that.
Here is the text of whole song with the Gaelic translation on the right. Note: The entire song never appears in one place in the book, only in parts.
I did leave off the mysterious last verse that Sarah is unable to decipher to avoid spoilers. The story lines of that last verse are neither Gaelic nor Welsh, but a blend of the two. Just as the proto-Celtic language likely was before the Q-Celtic and P-Celtic languages split.. The meaning of those lines will be revealed in the next book.