Old Tom being a whistle player
Who, despite advancing years,
Could still make his fine whistle sing
With the music of the spheres.
Just once had he to hear a tune
Then his fingers would essay,
With flourish, trill and overblow,
Better on his flageolet.
He had three sons who also played,
Two being the best he had heard,
Whose melodies were enchanting;
But, then there was the third.
Not that he wasn’t diligent,
For he practised night and day,
Yet for all that he knew the notes
His numb fingers would not play.
He’d wander over lonely moors
And seek some secluded spot
Where he might try the best he could;
Only to find he could not.
Then one such gloomy afternoon
He saw himself for a fool.
The musical runt threw his pipe
Into a dire moorland pool.
Though, even as it sank from sight,
As he stood feeling alone,
A graceful young woman emerged
From behind a standing stone.
Her hair was of lustrous copper
And her skin porcelain pale,
Her gown as green as rowan leaves
And her features fine and frail.
“You are the whistler’s son,” she said,
“The best player of the three.
Your fingers possess the music,
So play a tune for me.”
“I’m afraid you’re much mistaken,”
The musical dud replied,
“The tunes born through my family
Have, in me, all sadly died.
“I’ve cast aside my instrument
And a listener I will be.”
Said she, “Oh, you will play again,
And you will play now for me.”
She held out a silver whistle
Clasped in her delicate hand,
He hesitated and held back
Because he didn’t understand:
Just who was this strange young woman?
Hadn’t she heard him squeal and rasp?
But, despite misgivings he still
Took the whistle from her grasp.
Warily up to his moist lips
He brought it and gently blew,
His fingers danced along its length
And a lilting air came through.
He played a reel, he played a jig,
He played both quiet and loud,
And he played with such a flourish
His dad, Old Tom, would be proud.
Finally, he paused to listen
To what she had to say,
“You may take this silver whistle
For one whole year and a day.
“Then you must bring it back to me
Having played for all you’re worth:
Beyond that standing stone a stair
Spirals down into the earth.”
Then she ever so daintily
Beyond the stone stepped from sight.
Could he still play? Again he blew
And did so with great delight.
He hurried home to show Old Tom,
But then came doubt and gloom.
What if he’d been fooling himself?
He retreated to his room.
There he played his silver whistle
As he had upon the moor,
Which brought both his brothers and
Their dad rushing to his door.
They stood and listened, quite amazed,
He was the best of all four.
Proudly they took him with them when
The family went on tour.
Fiddlers fetched him their fiddle tunes,
Singers sang for him with zest,
Pipers gave him their melodies
And he played them all the best.
His fame danced along before him,
While his repertoire was vast
It seemed he had no limits, but,
The year and a day flew passed.
He played a slow haunting lament,
A sad tune without a score,
As he led his dad and brothers
Out across the lonely moor.
A skylark sprang from the bracken
To join in song from the sky,
An adder watched from the heather
That sombre party pass by.
Old Tom and his two older sons
Stood back from the standing stone
Listening to the silver whistle
And its melancholic tone.
Behind the ancient megalith
He found the cleft and the stair;
Without missing a single note
He wound his way down in there.
Fainter and evermore faintly
They heard the melody fade.
Never had Old Tom or his sons
Heard a whistle so well played.
They knew the lad could not return,
So sadly they took their leave
And never playing that lament
Did Old Tom and his sons grieve.
Yet, out upon the windswept moor
By the stone where this occurred,
Feint melodies playing on a
Silver whistle may be heard.