Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary boasts a beautiful, nineteenth-century-inspired soundtrack. One particular piece, “Ashokan Farewell,” serves as the miniseries’ de facto theme song. It’s gorgeous: a plaintive string band ballad with a a heartbreaking melody.
I’ve spoiled this song for my wife.
Every time we hear “Ashokan”, I provide an impromptu voiceover, modeled on many we hear in The Civil War. Typically, I pretend to be a lonely soldier, writing home to his sweetheart on the eve of battle. You know; a letter so sickly sweet it makes you gag? Something like this:
My dearest Clementine,
It has been now three score weeks since I have seen your lovely face. And now, on the brink of this terrible battle, I cannot help but wonder whether I have looked upon it for the last time in this life.
Now, do not mistake me, my dearest friend. I do not fear battle, nor do I fear death. Indeed, what is there to fear, but this one thing: that you will mourn me all your days and go to the grave a childless widow? Nothing fills me with more dread. Should I fall tomorrow, then, Clementine, you must spare me this awful sorrow. You must promise to love another, bear him many children, and live a full and happy life.
Know that I have loved you, do love you dearly, and will love you, for all time, Jebediah Jackson, Fifth Maine Infantry division
(Imagine me reading this with some awful, unidentifiable nineteenth-century accent.) My wife rolls her eyes. But I think, secretly, deep down, she eats it up.