Thursday, 5 January 2017

The world is just an oblate spheroid

In the year of my birth, the 17-year-old Alan Bennett went to Der Rosenkavalier at Leeds Grand Opera House. At the time he was under the innocent misapprehension that the young man had "just stopped by for tea and toast"; (I think those were his words in the televised selection  from his Diaries). He had no idea of what was going on behind the curtain during the overture. I was told many years ago by a then young lady called Joy (who blushed with a giggle that suggested  "Isn't Strauss awful?" as she said that the horns in the overture were "representative of the act of love"). I'd say they were about as subtle as the train going into the tunnel in the last scene of North by North West, while the young lovers in the sleeping car are studiously observing the Hays Rules. Con fu*co, knowha'Imean?

The television programme was loosely based on an edition of Private Passions, notable (to my hyper-sensitive – not to say anal – ear) for Michael Berkeley's mis-quoting of the words he had just heard (from The Dream of Gerontius): "Softly and gently, dearly ransom’d soul". He said "dear departed soul".  Come to think of it, it may not be a misquote but a quotation from elsewhere in the text, made to sound like a misquote because of the editing. He surely can’t be that cloth-eared? (Though, come to rethink of it, the angel, in the Celestial Arrivals Lounge, surely wouldn't have addressed Gerontius as departed ; he'd only just got there, for Heaven's sake.)

The collocation “departed soul” is a pretty strong one; and the syllable-count and stress pattern are right (hence my subject line – the words you're looking for are "great big onion"). But it makes dear define soul, whereas in the original – by John Henry Newman  – dearly modifies ransomed.
<autobiographical_note type="hair-splitting">
A lot of ransoming goes on in Christianity. In the second line of the version of “O come O come Emmanuel” that I learned at my mother’s knee (which was never far from Aunty Katy’s, genuflecting away like billy-o,...
(a coincidentally – I didn't know until I checked the spelling – but strangely appropriate word,  given one of the possible derivations of the word; as The Phrase Finder says,
...Alternatively, the derivation is said to be from Joseph Billio, the zealous 17th/18th century Puritan preacher. Billio preached at the United Reformed Church in Market Hill, Maldon, Essex, in and around 1696. He was an enthusiastic 'hellfire and damnation' preacher and, given his name and reputation, ought to be a serious contender as the source of the phrase. They are certainly convinced in Maldon, and it must be true - they have a plaque to prove it. 
                    But, as I was saying, genuflecting....)
                    </digression> only knees can [that’s one for the etymologists]) was And ransom captive  Israel. In the C of E-preferred version I have sung since then, the words of that line are Redeem thy captive Israel. Wha...? Israel's not Emmanuel's captive  – not guilty, yer 'Onner  –  it's Pharaoh's captive. Israel was (in the 15th-century, when the carol surfaced in France) a metaphor for Christendom, and in the words of Elgar's angel, the ransom (the price paid for redemption) was dear (in the expensive sense): the soul may be dear to some people, but the point is that it was dearly ransomed.
The programme was worth watching, though. In the view of the Guardian critic, it was the best of the Christmas TV:

The whole review's  here; "best Christmas TV", though, isn't the warmest of accolades (a word discussed here:
When a knight was welcomed to the ...knightate? ...he was given a big hug; his liege lord wrapped his arms around his neck (think of our 'collar'). He embraced him, to use another physical metaphor, which I haven't time to pursue.

And so we come to accolade, quite appropriate in this week of Nobel prizes. Those Swedish grandees are echoing that welcoming embrace...


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