Four Angels


Here’s one that caught me out slightly as Jon explains, “From Martin Simpson’s brilliant The Bramble Briar album. It’s surprising that Bellamy never set this wonderful poem – but I’m very glad that Martin (also a Kipling buff) did, and did it so brilliantly too.”

I’ve got so used to the Bellamy/Kipling connection, but it’s nice to hear someone else take up the challenge. Although Martin has long been known as an exceptional player rather than writer his ability with a melody isn’t in doubt. This one, however, seems to have taken him by surprise as Mainly Norfolk reveals. Anyway who better than Kipling to turn to for the words and as Martin says, this seems most timely.


30 Responses to “Four Angels”

  1. sarah says:


  2. Brian says:

    Good old Rudyard. He never ceases to make us reflect on life. A very sensitive rendition,John.

  3. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    Enjoyed the well-crafted poem,tune fits well and beautifully sung. However,
    the poem lead me on expectantly.. but such a disappointing ending. (sorry Rudyard)
    I was waiting for a snake/apple /Eve to bring to a climax……why cut the tree down?
    World renowned poets…I ask yer!…leavin’ a fella with a disappointing ending!

  4. Shelley says:

    That was simply lovely!

  5. Cherry says:

    Beautiful tune, well sung. I don’t have much time for R Kipling generally, but I thought this was really touching, and has a feel of William Blake to it- industrial revolution harnessing the earth water and fire, and dreaming under the tree of knowledge gone to glory… off to find a book of poems!!

  6. Jan says:

    Loved it – I really must learn this one!

  7. John Burton says:

    Nice version Jon.
    Martin, is Martin Simpson for those of us not on first name terms.
    I have The Bramble Briar, although I did not realize this was a Kipling.

  8. Phil says:

    That was rather marvellous. Kipling did have this habit of putting big ideas into short plain words, using lots of Capital Letters and then ending the line with an exclamation mark! All of which tends to make him seem simultaneously hectoring, ingratiating and condescending to our ears, like a bad prize-day speech. But after listening to a few of Bellamy’s settings I’ve had to re-evaluate him – he really was a hell of a poet.

  9. johnny c says:

    Do you have, or have you writen a translation for the tune, that martin simpson invented? I would love a copy if you have thanks.

  10. Joe Fineman says:

    What! Cut down before there were any apples?

  11. Jane Ramsden says:

    Well, cutting it down afore any apples nips temptation in the bud! Anybody got use for a redundant snake? The whole poem/tune is rather eery, but thought-provoking.

    So helloooo, I’m back to play catch-up after jizzicked ankle, horrendous head-cold and ‘fettling’ cat no 6 at the vets. 1am he came in and 3.33am afore finally had him sat in cat cage! Escaped trap in house, climbed up high bookshelves and knocked all off, went under cupboard and had to be forced out with cat grip, climbed up kitchen window (only 1 breakage!) where I was finally able to scruff and put into secure accommodation! Then I had all the books to put back, pot of tea and biscuit to recuperate, then up early for delivery to vets. I am shattered! Just an ordinary day in the Life of Ted…

    Well sung, Jon, and now gonna work my way through the backlog of songs missed!

  12. Muzza(NW Surrey.UK) says:

    @Jane……….welcome home.. (Four Angels-Fork candles-just me then!)
    I reckon that your escapades rival the Keystone Kops……..and they should be asking you about all those “Knocked off” books that fill the shelves…Catburglary?

    As Adam lay a-dreaming beneath the apple tree
    The angel of desire offered all its joys for free
    And Adam said to Janey…..waddya think of that
    Said she “our love must wait awhile
    Till I’ve caught this blinkin’ cat”
    (and the apple tree was made into more bookshelves)

  13. Diana says:

    Certainly different – not what I expected – from Rudyard.

  14. Jane Ramsden says:

    Hahahahahaha, Muzza! This is why you are the apple of my eye!

    Yes, it’s all Keystone Cats at my gaff. Thankfully, the troublesome one has now been re-released back from whence he came!

  15. Giles Brockman says:

    Beautiful. So poignant. Something lost in the pursuit of power.

  16. Muzza (N.W.Surrey-UK) says:

    Well……lucky I re read the previous comments as the ‘fork handles’ thing cmae to mind as soon as I’d seen the title…and Jane is lucky it’s not ‘Groundhog Day’ as she wouldn’t want that day again.
    Back to the song…….(dissecting of…that I don’t approve of!)…
    the angels offer all the elements….and Adam makes a point of refusing..and yet in the last verse he has use of them anyway…am I missing something Rudyard?..
    It is a very pleasant song and Big J sings it perfick.

  17. Phil says:

    Muzza – Adam refuses earth, air and water, so the angel of fire lays the fire in Adam’s breast while he’s asleep. Adam then wakes up and gets to work – and post-lapsarian history begins. But of course, he never reaches his heart’s desire!

    Many thanks to Jon for bringing this to my attention! My version of Four Angels is an extra on my Kipling-oriented album, 52fs Orange; you can hear it at the 52 Folk Songs Web site.

    Four Angels

    52 Folk Songs – Orange
    (features nine Kipling/Bellamy settings as well as this Kipling/Simpson)

  18. Peter Koene says:


    I’m from Holland en wehen I played in the FooFooBand e few years ago we (I mean Bert Aalbers) also set a Kipling poem to music. It was when we made a program abou Michiel de Ruyter. The poem is “The Dutch in the Medway” and you can find a recent video of it on my website, recorderd during a memorial concert for Bert Aalbers.
    Best wishes, and I very much like “A folksong a day”.

  19. Muzza (N.W.Surrey-UK) says:

    @Peter K………..can’t find your video…have you a link?…
    but did find “The Dutch on the Medway”
    Seems that, despite rotten ships/food/leadership the Brits haven’t been overwhelmed since those tricky Normans pulled an ungentlemanly wheeze in 1066!

  20. Diana says:

    Enjoyed this one but would not have assocated it with Kipling had I not been informed of this.

    1066 a year to remember. Downhill since then wot?

  21. Muzza (N.W.Surrey-UK) says:

    @Peter……thank you for that link Peter…………
    I now have to Learn Dutch and I have a further 31 of your videos to watch!!!!!……
    I also liked your second rendition of the song where you were outside in a gusty wind waiting for the fish to cook!

  22. Peter says:

    That second rendition (in fact the first one and a little messy in my opinion) was played a few years ago with Bert Aalbers (het wrote the music) and Baukje Asma, borth members of the FooFooBand. Both of them sadly died within the last five years. We playde it in the “Zuiderzeemuseum” in Enkhuizen. If you ever come to Holland it’s worth visiting.

  23. Old Muzza(N.W surrey.UK) says:

    Singing:—“Water, Earth and Air and Fire,
    What more can mortal man desire?”…………….no mention of ‘Crumpet’ then!
    He just didn’t know what he was missing….with a tad of cat bothering thrown in.

  24. Diana says:

    Not Kiplingish at all.

  25. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzza: If the waves crash, the earth moves, there’s heavy breathing with fiery desire, how is crumpet not alluded to? And the cat bothering fits crum-pet as well….

    I wonder what immortal desire is like? I did attempt to google Four Angels the first time AFSAD went round and got a surprising amount of ‘sexy hits,’ for want of a better expression, that I didn’t delve whilst Eve span! I must be missing something somewhere…

  26. Linda says:

    Lovely song there’s still ones you seem to have missed in the previous years…..

  27. OldMuzza(NW Surrey UK) says:

    Today’s entry will take me back to The two Ronnies and ‘four candles ‘ for ever!

  28. Jane (Maryland) says:

    I agree with Linda — such a lovely song!

    And Muzza, thank you for mentioning “Four Candles”! I had heard of The Two Ronnies — I think they were on PBS at some point — but I’d never seen that hilarious routine.

  29. OldMuzza(NW Surrey UK) says:

    Jane (Maryland)…welcome to the world of obscure British comedy

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