Be Ahead of All Parting, 2005
Super-8 animated film
5:31 minutes, with sound
Music edited by Robert Millis

There is a story of a devil coming to town and seducing a woman away from her husband and child. There is another story of a woman who dies from a snake bite, and her heroic lover travels to the underworld to (unsucessfully) bring her back. 

This strange little animation conflates the American folk song ‘Black Jack Davy’ with the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The title is taken from Rilke’s eighth sonnet to Orpheus as translated by Stephen Mitchell. 

‘Black Jack Davy’ can be traced back to a Scottish ballad written around 1720 (’The Gypsy Laddy’) and evolved into many American versions over more than 200 years, until the Carter Family recorded their famous version in 1940: 
Black Jack Davey come a running through the woods
Singing so loud and gaily
Made the hills a round him ring
Then charmed the heart of a lady, charmed the heart of a lady
How old are you my pretty little miss
How old are you my honey
Answered him with a silly little smile
I'll be sixteen next Sunday, be sixteen next Sunday
Come go with me my pretty little miss
Come go with me my honey
I'll take you across the deep blue sea
Where you never shall want for money, where you never shall want for money
She pulled off her high heeled shoes
They were made of Spanish leather
She put on her low heeled shoes
And they both went off together, both went off together
Last night I lay on a warm feather bed
Beside my husband and baby
Today I lay on the cold, cold ground
By the side of Black Jack Davey, side of Black Jack Davey

Rilke’s version of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice feels circular, as though Orpheus is always compelled to turn back and cancel his ability to retrieve his love, failing again and again. 

The Sonnets To Orpheus: Book 2: Xiii (Be Ahead of All Parting) by Rainer Maria Rilke
Be ahead of all parting, as though it already were
behind you, like the winter that has just gone by.
For among these winters there is one so endlessly winter
that only by wintering through it all will your heart survive.

Be forever dead in Eurydice-more gladly arise
into the seamless life proclaimed in your song.
Here, in the realm of decline, among momentary days,
be the crystal cup that shattered even as it rang.

Be-and yet know the great void where all things begin,
the infinite source of your own most intense vibration,
so that, this once, you may give it your perfect assent.

To all that is used-up, and to all the muffled and dumb
creatures in the world's full reserve, the unsayable sums,
joyfully add yourself, and cancel the count.

Translated by Stephen Mitchell