About the song

Ah, Simon & Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair/Canticle (1966). Now that’s a song that evokes a very specific mood, wouldn’t you agree? A melancholic longing, a touch of mystery, and a melody that lingers in the mind long after the last note fades.

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This particular rendition is fascinating for a number of reasons. First, it’s a brilliant example of how folk music and contemporary sensibilities can be woven together seamlessly. Scarborough Fair itself is a traditional English ballad, with roots that stretch back centuries [Wikipedia, Scarborough Fair (ballad)]. The lyrics tell the story of a lost love, with the protagonist pleading with their former partner to perform a series of seemingly impossible tasks in order to win them back. These tasks involve gathering specific herbs – parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme – under fantastical conditions, hinting at the otherworldly nature of the love that’s been lost.

Now, Simon & Garfunkel’s version takes this already captivating ballad and adds another layer of complexity. Here’s where Canticle comes in. Canticle is actually a reworked version of an earlier Simon composition, a song called The Side of a Hill (1963), which dealt with the horrors of war [Wikipedia, Simon & Garfunkel – Scarborough Fair/Canticle (1966)]. By weaving these two thematically distinct pieces together, Simon & Garfunkel create a fascinating counterpoint. The yearning for a lost love in Scarborough Fair is juxtaposed with the stark realities of war in Canticle. It’s a subtle but powerful commentary on the human experience, where love and loss can coexist with violence and despair.

The musical arrangement further amplifies this duality. The melody of Scarborough Fair is hauntingly beautiful, with Paul Simon’s characteristic fingerpicking guitar style and Art Garfunkel’s soaring vocals creating an atmosphere of delicate yearning. Canticle, on the other hand, has a more somber, introspective feel, with a stripped-down arrangement that underscores the gravity of the lyrics.

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This interplay between the two parts is what makes Scarborough Fair/Canticle such a remarkable achievement. It’s a song that transcends genre, weaving together folk tradition, pop sensibility, and social commentary. It’s a testament to the songwriting prowess of Simon & Garfunkel, and a reminder of the enduring power of music to evoke a range of complex emotions.

Video

Lyrics

“Scarborough Fair / Canticle”

Are you going to Scarborough Fair:
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine.

On the side of a hill in the deep forest green.
Tracing of sparrow on snow-crested brown.
Blankets and bedclothes the child of the mountain
Sleeps unaware of the clarion call.

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt:
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme;
Without no seams nor needle work,
Then she’ll be a true love of mine.

On the side of a hill in the sprinkling of leaves.
Washes the grave with silvery tears.
A soldier cleans and polishes a gun.
Sleeps unaware of the clarion call.

Tell her to find me an acre of land:
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme;
Between the salt water and the sea strands,
Then she’ll be a true love of mine.

War bellows blazing in scarlet battalions.
Generals order their soldiers to kill.
And to fight for a cause they have long ago forgotten.

Tell her to reap it with a sickle of leather:
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme;
And gather it all in a bunch of heather,
Then she’ll be a true love of mine.

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Are you going to Scarborough Fair:
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine.