Solomon’s Seal – the wedding singer.

Wave by Hokusai from Wikimedia
The Floods cannot drown it – Wave by Hokusai.   This is from Wikimedia and public domain.

I said that I would produce a separate post on Solomon’s Seal. The version of this canticle in the collection fuses two hitherto unrelated threads, to produce something special for your wedding.

The first is the beautiful Irish song She moved through the fair. 

It is in G Mixolydian, that is to say that the key is G but with flattened sevenths. The Fs are naturals. It starts with a characteristic flutter of rising notes that cries out to be slurred in the way to which only a set of Irish pipes can give full justice. The title and the initial verse have the flavour of so many paintings by Jack Yeats.  A plethora of singers, from Van Morrison to Marianne Faithful and Hayley Westenra have sung versions of it. One by Sinéad O’Conner is associated with the film Michael Collins. For anyone who really claims they do not know it, here is a link to a youtube of Cara Dillon singing it. In my opinion, this is a particularly attractive version by someone who catches what it is about superbly.

Both tune and words are regarded as being ‘Trad’ and of unknown origin. That certainly seems to be true of the tune.

It was thought the same applied to the words, except that the Irish writer Patrick Collumb/Padraic Colum (1881-1972), one of the coproducers of a collection of Irish folk songs published in 1908 in which it appears, claimed  in 1970 that he had added most of the lyrics himself.  If that were to be true, it would cause a problem.  It would mean that in most countries, the usual version of the words would still be subject to copyright. It would remain so in most of those countries until 31st December 2042.  I have been unable to ascertain whether any such copyright has ever been either claimed or tested. As it seems to be clear that other versions of the lyrics have been collected elsewhere, that are different but clearly related to the more usual ones, for the time being all that can be said is that their history is an open question.

This is not relevant to this blog which only relates to the melody. Even if it ever were, whether for the tune or the accompaniment, it would be no longer.  Herbert Hughes who was the coproducer responsible for the music in the 1908 collection, died in 1937.


The song has become very popular at weddings. Listening to the tune, it is easy to understand why. Listening to the lyrics, though, it is hard to imagine anything less appropriate.  They are even less appropriate than Lara’s Theme  from that classic Golden Oldie, Dr Zhivago. In the years after that film was released in 1965, that tune that became quite popular at weddings, despite the dominant theme of both novel and film being adultery,

There are different interpretations of what the various versions of the words to She moved through the fair  might mean.  At their most depressing, a man admires the beauty of the girl moving through the fair.  She is like a beautiful swan, but she is going away. He is too poor. He has no cattle.  So her parents will not look at him. Then, whether the parents relent or not, before they can marry she dies, probably of consumption. He dreams of her coming to him, but wakes to realise yet again again that she  never will. One interpretation maintains  that not only has she died, but before that she has gone off with someone else. It renders the pain of unrequited love into potent musical form.

Keith and Krystyn Getty have made a good attempt at squaring this particular circle.  They have written a beautiful wedding hymn to this tune for their collection Hymns for the Christian Life. Its title is Echoes of Heaven.  Unfortunately there isn’t a video of it currently on their Youtube page, but there is a short sample of the mp3 under the link to that album at . Their words are excellent. They express emotional commitment and trust. To quote from their second verse,

“With the first light of dawn, I won’t hide my face;
I will open my hands to the hold of your grace.”

I would be very happy to recommend them, but I felt that their words are almost too emotionally straightforward for the tune.

So we come to the second thread – the Canticle Solomon’s Seal.

This is Daily Prayer’s Canticle No 23. There, it is entitled A Song of Solomon. It is Song of Solomon 8:6,7.  Pastoral Services at p. 169 also suggests it as a canticle for weddings.

Traditional liturgicists may regret that few couples will now choose to have a chanted prose canticle at wedding.  Despite that, these verses have recently been finding their way back into weddings.  They can appear as an extra reading, sometime coupled with Song of Solomon 2:10-13 or on their own, or even used as a basis for prayers.  I have heard that they are often read at Jewish weddings. The words are slightly mysterious,

“For love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave; its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame”.

In some translations, the word there rendered as ‘passion’ is ‘jealousy’. I think that ambivalence is part of their appeal.  Furthermore, nobody can fail to be inspired by this version of ‘money can’t buy you love’,

“If all the wealth of our house were offered for love, it would be utterly scorned”.

I felt that here was a passage that had enough mystery in it, enough of that sense that one was touching that something about both romantic love and the ḥesed (steadfast or covenant love) that we are hoping it will grow into. She moved through the fair was just the tune to try to set those words to. This was something that, if there was a friend of the family who felt able enough to sing it, was just the thing for a wedding solo. So this is my rendering of the words.

1. Set me as a seal on the door of your heart,
On your wrist a signet, marked and set apart,
For love’s strong as death, passion grips as the grave,
And jealousy’s fierce and yet all are its slave.

2. Love flares up and blazes, a fierce raging fire;
Its flames burn up boldly as blades of desire.
Wide waters can’t quench love, bend it to their sway;
The floods cannot drown it, nor wash it away.

3. If one offers for love one’s wealth or one’s name,
To sell or to buy it, would be much the same.
It cannot be priced and it cannot be pawned.
The person who does so is despised and scorned.

4. Glory to the Father, and likewise the Son,
And likewise the Spirit, the three and the one.
As once was, so is now, and ever shall be,
For time and for always till eternity.

The setting in the collection for She moved through the fair includes an optional second close harmony part. The version in the tunebook has a fuller accompaniment as well. Either way, I would regard it as more suitable for a solo or choir setting. I do not think a congregation could manage it.

It is best sung in a fairly fluid style.  Let the words and the melody meld one another.  Do not be too rigid about the time signature.

The version currently in the collection does not show where the slurs are.  Here is an amended version of the two part version.

She moved through the fair close harmony G Mix

A request

Please go ahead and use it at your weddings. If you do, though, please tell me about it.  If possible, send me at least one photograph of your wedding.  It would be even better, if you would let me share this with other readers of this blog by publishing a photograph of your wedding on this site. So when you send me your photograph(s), please could you let me know should you have any objection to my posting the news, and a picture of your marriage.

Could, you though, also please note and take account of what I say elsewhere on this site about copyright. It will give me great joy that people should bless their special days with the material on this site, but, without special and explicit permission neither you as the couple, nor anyone else, may make money out of doing so.

Other uses for this Canticle

This Canticle is also suggested as an alternative Canticle in various seasons, particularly before or after Easter.  However, as I have said above, I do not think She moved through the fair is singable congregationally.  It just is not that sort of tune.

For congregational use, as for example where this Canticle is being sung seasonally, it will just about fit St Denio Immortal Invisible, God only wise.  That is one of the tunes provided for Let wasteland Rejoice and is in the tunebook. However, for this canticle a more suitable tune is Maldwyn. This is a beautiful traditional Welsh tune, Anon, but at least C17 if not earlier. It is in G Minor.  Unlike many Welsh tunes, I can find next to no evidence that it has previously been adopted into anglophone hymnody.

It is in a minor key, but here, that expresses hwyl rather than sadness. It is not in yet the downloadable edition of the tunebook, but will be added to the next edition. Meanwhile here is a version first in conventional hymn format and then in parts.

Maldwyn in Hymn Format
Maldwyn, in G Minor in Hymn Format
Maldwyn in Four Parts
Maldwyn, in G Minor in Four Parts.

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