You already know where I’m going with today’s post; in fact, you’re already singing along, right?? “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” was the lead track on the album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme in 1966, but it was not released as a single until 1968 after it had appeared on the soundtrack for the movie The Graduate. I didn’t become aware of this song until it was included as part of the Greatest Hits album, which I listened to on repeat during the summer of 1973. I was fascinated by the two interwoven melodies, and struggled to figure out what the words were for both. As many of you remember, we had no lyrics search back then and had to hope that the dust cover or the inside of the album jacket might include the words. The Greatest Hits album did not. It turns out that the “Scarborough Fair” part of the song is pretty straightforward lyrics-wise, and was not written by Paul Simon at all. It’s a traditional English ballad that dates back to medieval times, where bards would sing it about a fair that actually took place in Scarborough beginning every August 15th and lasting 45 days. The song itself is about a man who is trying to find his one true love by asking for a series of impossible tasks from her. He wants a shirt sewn with no stitches or visible seam, and an acre of land between the sea and the sand, reaped with a sickle made of leather. And men say women are high maintenance? This guy is right up there with the best of us. The four herbs mentioned in the song each represent virtues that would have been important in medieval times, and still hold true today. Parsley was comfort, sage was strength, rosemary was love, and thyme was courage.
The lyrics for “Canticle” were originally written by Simon as an anti-war song in 1963 called “The Side of a Hill,” set to a new melody composed and sung by Art Garfunkel. Because there was so much sentiment against the United States presence in Vietnam during the sixties, it’s correct to assume that this is the war to which the song is referring. It was actually used in an episode of The Wonder Years when Winnie Cooper’s brother was killed in Vietnam. What’s interesting, however, is that the lyrics are not modern, but rather they invoke more traditional imagery, especially in their reference to “tracing of sparrow on snow-crested brown, the clarion call, and scarlet battalions.” Some song researchers think the words refer to the Civil War, others to the Revolutionary War, or both. I personally think that they are meant to represent the timelessness and futility of war, particularly through the image of the “soldier [who] polishes a gun,” and the generals who order their men “to kill / And to fight for a cause they have long ago forgotten.” It is certainly no accident that these two songs are woven together, one being a representation of a true love that seems impossible to find, and the other of a war that seems senseless to fight. Both love and war truly are timeless elements of life; one we seek to attain with every fiber of our being, and the other we hope to avoid at whatever cost is necessary.
For today’s cocktail, I went with a riff on a standard gin and tonic. I began with Liberty Gin from Palmer Distilling in Manayunk as my base spirit because of its classic taste and a recipe with roots as far back as the American Revolution. I then added some Joto Yuzu saké to bring in a citrus element, and to provide a distinct juxtaposition with the gin. One is dreamy and a bit exotic, like the “Canticle,” and the other is as solid and longstanding as the “Scarborough Fair” ballad. I muddled in the four herbs, of course, and added just a touch of simple syrup for sweetness. You can adjust this to your taste. I used Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic to echo the flavors of the herbs and citrus, topping the drink with roughly double the amount of gin. The end result was a traditional gin and tonic that is interwoven with unexpected elements, echoing the structure of the song. I’ve included a link to the song at the bottom of this post that shows the lyrics. Cheers everyone. Happy Wednesday!
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme
Gently muddle the four herbs in the bottom of a shaker tin with the simple syrup. Go easy on the amount of sage you use. It has a tendency to become overpowering. Add the remaining ingredients except for the tonic. Shake over ice. Double strain into a tall Collins glass over fresh ice. Top with tonic water. Garnish with lemon and lime slice and two of the four herbs. Enjoy!