From the recording Six Strings and Coffee Beans
© Richard Thompson & David Swarbrick
Mark Clavey – vocals, guitar
Mary Hanover – vocals, hammered dulcimer
Rachel Gaither – lead vocals, fiddle
Richard Thompson and David Swarbrick co-wrote this song in 1969. It first appeared on Fairport Convention's third release, "Liege and Lief", and has perennially been one of their most captivating pieces. As tragedies go, tales don’t get much more tragic than this one – in which Michael’s true-love dies by his own hand. But exactly what kind of tale this is is a question left to the listener to decide. Perhaps it is a song of madness… a story that sees Michael flitting back and forth between moments of lunacy and lucidity, a story of heart-breaking schizophrenia. Or perhaps it is a song of sorcery… a story which sees Michael as one of the victims of an utterly heartless sorcerer who obscures Michael’s vision or mind and drives him to carry out this horrible act, a story of grievous beguilement. Indeed, when he confronts the raven who curses him, he alludes to the raven’s “sorcerer’s words”. Or perhaps it is even a song of devilry… a story which sees Michael as a pawn being pushed about at the whims of a devil bent on tearing away at his mind, a story of diabolical misery. Perhaps the genuinely mystical aspect of the tale is that neither the reader nor Michael ever truly grasps the power that conspires against him and his love.
Within the fire and out upon the sea, crazy-man Michael went a-walking. He met with a raven with eyes black as coals and shortly they fell a-talking. “Your future, your future I will tell to you. Your future you often have asked me. Your true love will die by your own right hand, and crazy-man Michael will cursed be.”
Michael he ranted, and Michael he raved, and he beat at the winds with his fists-O. He laughed and he cried, he shouted and he swore for his mad mind had trapped him with a kiss-O. “You speak with an evil, you speak with a hate, you speak for the devil that haunts me. For is she not the fairest in all the broad land? Your sorcerer’s words are to taunt me.”
He took out his dagger of fire and of steel, and struck down the raven through the heart-O. The bird fluttered long and the sky it did spin, and the cold earth did wonder and start-O. “Oh, where is the raven that I struck down dead, that here did lie on the ground-O? I see but my true love with a wound so red where her lover's heart it did pound-O.”
Crazy-man Michael, he wanders and walks, and he talks to the night and the day-O. But his eyes they are sane and his speech it is clear, and he longs to be far away-O. Michael he whistles the simplest of tunes, and asks of the wild woods their pardon. For his true love is flown into every flower grown, and he must be keeper of the garden.