Another addition to the Shirley Jackson playlist. When I first read her novel Hangsaman, around four years ago, I immediately recognized this as the song that’s quoted repeatedly: “One is one and all alone and evermore will be so” and so on. Shirley Jackson’s daughter Sadie recalls having heard her mother sing it as a child. I too remember this song from my childhood, likely taught to me by an elementary-school teacher who loved folklore. It’s a beautiful and very mysterious traditional English counting song also known as “The Carol of the Twelve Numbers.” Some of the verses have an explicitly religious meaning (“Four are the gospel makers”), others are astronomical (“Nine for the nine bright shiners), others are totally obscure (“Two, two, the lily-white boys, clothed all in green, oh). (Wikipedia has an extensive explanation of all the verses.)

I wish I could have found a better recording of it. These guys are hilarious, but their rendering isn’t quite as tuneful as it could be. The song, performed right, can really be haunting. A lovely version by Jennifer Rose is on Spotify, but it doesn’t have all 11 verses.