The song “Crazy Man Michael” (full lyrics here) by the band Fairport Convention is undoubtedly an example of lyrical poetry. But before we can talk about the actual content of the song, we should have some context.
Crazy Man Michael is an original composition written in the style of a folk song, similar to other songs on the same album (Liege & Lief), which are all either an adaptation of folk material or original compositions in a similar style. It was composed following a tragic bus crash that killed Fairport Convention’s drummer, Martin Lamble, and guitarist Richard Thompson’s girlfriend.
With this knowledge, we can more easily see the what of the poem. The song narrates the story of a man (Michael) who consults an oracle to try to see the future or at least seek comfort from it. The oracle (a raven) tells him that he will kill his true love. Michael, in a fit of rage, kills the raven, believing it has cursed him. Then he realizes that the oracle was his true love all along, and has fulfilled its prophecy. Michael was punished by the oracle for trying to see the future, and he struggles to cope with the grief he feels for the death of his love.
The poem conveys this message in multiple ways, but the most prominent is the use of metaphor, as can be seen in the lines
The bird fluttered long and the sky it did spin And the cold earth did wonder and startle
“The bird fluttered long” indicates that it did not die quickly, adding to the trauma of the situation. “…the sky it did spin / And the cold earth it did wonder and start-o” could signify the earth spinning around the raven as it falls to the ground, or more poetically, Michael’s shock and confusion cause his perception of the world around him to distort and “spin.”
Crazy Man Michael he wanders and calls And talks to the night and the day-o But his eyes they are sane and his speech it is plain And he longs to be far away-o
Michael, in disbelief, wanders and calls aimlessly into the night and day. He is clearly in grief and unable to cope with what has happened.
“But his eyes they are sane and his speech it is plain” My interpretation of this sentence is that Michael has lost his passion for life, he speaks very simply.
“And he longs to be far away-o” Michael longs for an escape from not only his surroundings, but the memory of what happened, but this cannot be, as is revealed in the next passage.
Michael he whistles the simplest of tunes
And asks the wild wolves their pardon
For his true love is flown into every flower grown
And he must be keeper of the garden
Michael desperately seeks forgiveness from the wild wolves, though he knows they cannot give it to him. He now sees his love in everything around him (every flower grown), and Michael has set himself to the task of “keeping her garden,” which can be interpreted literally as a garden (possibly where she died), or as some other way of preserving her memory.
Now that we can see the how of the poem, we can even clearer see the message it gives. Clearly, it was composed following the band’s tragic accident, and the character of Michael embodies the feeling of guilt the author had. It conveys this experience beautifully through the medium of a folk song, and uses (as is usual for most folk tales and songs) a lot of metaphor to help the listener better swallow the message. I believe this is not only an example of poetry in lyrical form, but is also one of the best examples in it’s contemporary folk genre.