Fear in Writing: What happened to Clementine?

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Monday, March 1, 2010

What happened to Clementine?

A children's version of the very American love song Oh My Darling Clementine caught my ear this morning.  If you don't know the tune, have a listen here.  The children's version leaves out a very telling section, ending after verse five, so I was left wondering, what really happened to Clementine?  And the more I read the lyrics I wondered, what is really going on here?

Here they are so you can follow along with my thoughts:

Oh My Darling Clementine
In a cavern, in a canyon,
Excavating for a mine,
Dwelt a miner, forty-niner
And his daughter - Clementine.

Oh my Darling, Oh my Darling,
Oh my Darling Clementine.
Thou art lost and gone forever,
Dreadful sorry, Clementine.
Light she was and like a fairy,
And her shoes were number nine,
Herring boxes without topses
Sandals were for Clementine
Drove she ducklings to the water
Every morning just at nine,
Hit her foot against a splinter
Fell into the foaming brine.

Ruby lips above the water,
Blowing bubbles soft and fine,
But alas, I was no swimmer,
So I lost my Clementine

How I missed her! How I missed her!
How I missed my Clementine,
But I kissed her little sister,
And forgot my Clementine. (child's version ends here)
Then the miner, forty-niner,
Soon began to peak and pine,
Thought he oughter join his daughter,
Now he's with his Clementine.

In a churchyard near the canyon,
Where the myrtle doth entwine,
There grow roses and the posies,
Fertilized by Clementine.
In my dreams she still doth haunt me,
Robed in garments, soaked in brine;
Then she rises from the water
And I kiss my Clementine.

By definition, this song is a folk ballad (a relatively short narrative poem, written to be sung, with a simple and dramatic action; folk ballads are usually anonymous and the presentation impersonal, citation).  There are many like this in every country's history.  In writing this post, I got so bogged down in research that I ended up learning about Scottish ballads and varying blackface minstrel tunes...Craziness!  The Internet never ends!
My original intent was to point out who confused I was by the song.  What a mystery this left in my mind!  Who was Clementine?  Who was this man that so loved her he wrote a song, but loved her so little he consoled himself with her sister?  What actually happened to her and where?  (For a brief and incomplete history on the song, click here.)
My brain is barely on topic anymore, but what I was aiming for was this: how do you tie up your loose ends in your writing?  (Let's not even talk about the loose ends or hug jumps in this post!)  How do you make sure you have closed all the doors you want closed, leaving only the cracks you want to leave?  What is your process?
Sorry for not tying it up so well today.  This darn Internet and my restless brain!
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  1. I always loved this song and remember it from being quite a young child. I think it is the paradoxes in it that I adore - she was so light but her shoes were number nine - that means she was a tall if not fat girl especially in those days! He missed her terribly but he consoled himself with her sister which is so handy because it rhymes with kissed her. And blowing bubbles soft and fine always transfixed me too. I could see it - the whole scene. Did he perhaps not love her as well as he said - perhaps he killed her and made out that it was an accident? And why? Because her father had struck gold. He married the other daughter who would have him and believed him and then the father figured it out so he had to go into the brink too. The fertilizing aspect is the DEAD giveaway if you ask me - only way they fertilize the flowers is if our erstwhile lover had killed them and buried them in his flower bed while telling all that they drowned in the creek. Now I have a book to write...
    oh, the other reason that I'm so with you on this diversion is that I'm learning this song on my new accordion.

  2. How to I tie up my loose ends? Boringly, it's through my outlines. I know each of my plots and I keep careful tabs on each of them. Also, boringly, I know how each plot will end. There are always surprises and new ideas emerge, but I don't deviate much from my path. Easier. Quicker. Less confusion.

  3. I guess since my book doesn't have many subplots, there weren't too many ends to tie.

    So Clementine drowned and he married her sister instead? Never realized that.

  4. "FERTILIZED by Clementine"
    now isn't that an odd word to put in a song, or is it just me? :)

  5. Wow, I've never read all of those lyrics before!

  6. I'm sure my stories have some loose ends untied, but that's what makes them mysteriously better. If you wrap up everything, then nothing it is officially "The End" which is very depressing for a reader.

  7. I never considered myself a prude, but my question is why Clementine and songs like that are considered appropriate music for toddlers? Listening my 3-year-old grandson’s CDs leaves me with my mouth agape when they sing songs that mention drinking, death and other adult topics! But, I also remember listening to them when I was a kid...and I guess I turned out okay.

    I try to wrap up loose ends realistically – happily, sadly and in between.

  8. Oh, Jan! Fantastic! And new accordian--post some tunes for us! Multi-talented...

    Elspeth- As long as it's not boring to the reader, right?

    Alex- I don't know about married, and there are several different versions, even a dispute over which is the original. No sub-plots, eh? I wonder if that is b/c of your genre or your style...?

    Dez- Stranger word, but not for those with murder on the brain, like Jan pointed out. :)

    Voidwalker- You should read Tana French. I think her style would appeal to you.

    Jane- In clicking and linking, I read they usually leave the verse about kissing her sister out, but not in my kids' version! And watching movies with my kids now that I watched as a child (Pete's Dragon, The Rescuers) there is alcohol, child nudity (yes! in The Rescuers!), and guns. Ah, well.

  9. I've always loved this song, but I never knew all the lyrics. I only remember the haunting sadness of it, and the way it gave me chills when my grandmother sang it to me as a child. Sometimes the feeling and true intent of story comes across best without all the details and loose ends wrapped up. Sometimes the mystery of it is the whole point (but I know that doesn't sit well with mystery writers who must know whodunnit!)

  10. I tend to do an revision round on each subplot. I read only the sections involving that plot and ensure they flow.

    I get so sidetracked by Internet research too :)

  11. Lorel- I find it haunting as well, but it was interesting to look deeper into it--I found my way to Oh! Susanna and I've Been Working On the Railroad, too.

    Jemi- I saw a steampunk gameboy online today while I was sidetracked, made me think of you!

  12. I sing folk songs to my daughter before she goes to sleep. I sing HORRIBLY, but I love these old songs.

    Tying up loose ends? I make a note of them on my Microsoft One Note program and then take care of them at the end of the first draft. I've gotten so that now I can pretty much see them as they're dangling out there...

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  13. Lol,you sound like me...something catches my interest and I have to research and know the history.

  14. LOL - I have no idea how to tie up a plot.

    I just finished a murder story. (I reckon you and Elizabeth should grin, since I write historical and literary and tried to branch out.) Anyhow, I started with a sentence that was in my head, and built from there. I didn't even know the true murderer until I wrote the last page.

    I wonder if that's how most folks do mystery? Or do you plan ahead?

    I've never finished a novel. Only stories and poetry. My goal this year is to finish a first draft in my latest novel. Half way there! :)


    from the desk of a writer

  15. Elizabeth- I figured you'd have an answer!

    Avalon- It can be wonderful and frustrating, can't it?

    Corra- I hope you'll share your murder story with us soon. As for finishing a novel, we're on the same page for this year! Half way is a good place to be.