The website for Dr Martin Shaw OBE FRCM (1875 –1958)

"...for gods are kittle-cattle, and a wise man honours them all."

Wood Magic


first bars of sheet music fading out into a circle shape. Instructions, 'with mystery'.


29: Wood Magic

Recording Artists: Iain Burnside & Roderick Williams

This song, set in the 9th century, shows Shaw at his theatrical best as the song dips and weaves in and out of formal and pagan religion, mirroring the experience of living in uncertain times .

John Buchan was a politician and diplomat, but is better known for his detective novels, especially The 39 Steps. Wood Magic is a rare example of his poetry.

Like John Buchan, Shaw was a committed Christian, but took an intellectual interest in pre-Christian beliefs. This came more from his interest in folk tradition rather than anything pro-active. He had come across active pagan beliefs when he had known the dancer Isadora Duncan in the 1900s, a woman who had embraced the worship of Ancient Greek Gods with full enthusiasm.

Duncan had a tragic life, she was destined never to have her love for Gordon Craig returned by him after he returned to Elena Meo: Martin Shaw had to break the news to Duncan of the end of their affair when he and Craig were in Italy together in 1907.

In 1927 she had died in an accident, strangled by her scarf. It had got caught in the wheels of an open-topped sports car as she was being driven away by her young lover. This was a recent event when Shaw wrote of her in Up to Now:

Poor wonderful Isadora! Her whole life was that of some tragic figure in Euripides. Indeed, it seemed as though she, in entering so thoroughly into the spiritual and artistic atmosphere of the Greek period, had become an actual participant in that life and had been claimed by the Greek gods as the sport of fate.

The tradgedy was compounded because Duncan never went in a closed-topped car again after her two children, with their nurse, had died in Paris in 1913, drowned when the closed-topped car they were in had rolled into the Seine. The chauffeur had stopped to crank the engine after it had stalled, but had failed to put on the handbrake.


Dedication to Clifford Bax

Shaw knew both Arnold and his younger brother Clifford Bax, with whom he did a number of projects, the most successful of which was the operetta Mr Pepys. Shaw left a copy of Wood Magic with its dedication to Clifford Bax after a visit to see him at Christmas-time. Bax wrote to the Shaws on Boxing Day saying:

I was so unwell when Martin last came that I hardly realized the meaning of what he said about the charming gift he had left in the hall. Subsequently, the butler showed it to me with great pride, and I reproached myself for not having thanked Martin on the spot. May I send you both my most cordial thanks now? It was a delightful deed. ...

Correspondence in the Shaw Archive shows that the men continued to be in touch until well into their old age, fond friends to the last.


John Buchan (1875 – 1940);
first published in The Moon Endureth, 1912
Cramer 1924 out of print