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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

So This is Christmas, What Have You Sung?

Well hello there and a happy 2006. I hope you all had dandy holidays - I certainly did. I heart family-oriented holidays, and at least in my family there's no holiday family-er than Christmas.

Looking around Blogistan it looks as if resolution lists are the order of the day, but I'm somewhat disinclined to publish mine (other than, of course, a firm commitment of a post a day for 2006!), so instead I'll ask for your help with a Jule-ish problem that's bugged me for the last couple of years.

Specifically, today we're going to be discussing Christmas carol lyrics. There are two classic Christmas hymns that offer themselves, I think, to different interpretations. Certainly they've always caused me some confusion, anyway. Absent any way to actually ask the composer what his intentions were, I'll do it in the form of a poll (or a "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" Ask The Audience lifeline). I'll provide the lyric in question and then the various interpretations and you cast your votes. We'll call the results canonical, so vote carefully. Choice A on each is the way I've always interpreted the lyric.

Lyric 1: Hark, the Herald Angels Sing

Hark, the herald angels sing/glory to the newborn king!

Which of these is the most accurate rewrite?

A - A shepherd says, "Hark! Lookit over there at those angels singing! Praise to this king they're singing about, whomever he may be!"

B - A shepherd says, "Hark! Lookit over there at those angels singing, 'Glory to the newborn king!'!"

C - Several angels (some of them possibly but not necessarily named Harold) sing "Hark! Glory to the newborn king!"

Lyric Two: The First Noel

The first Noel/The angels did say/Was to certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay

Which of these is the most accurate rewrite?

A - Angels, reminiscing sometime after the first Christmas, talk about how the very first Noel they ever Noeled was to some shepherds.

B - The first Noel the angels said was said to a bunch of lying-down shepherds.

Weigh in, cast your votes, help clarify things for my poor widdle brain! Your opportunity for a little civic service this fine rainy January day.

B and B, if I think about it; I've always instinctively parsed them like C and A, though.
I will vote B and B too. Although A for the first one would be just as good as B if not for the sarcastic tone.

As a side note, I have read that plagiarism is the most sincere form of flattery.
These rewrites leave me more confused than the original versions. For example, how do we know that it's shepherds saying "Hark"? Wouldn't the lyric have to be "'Hark,' the shepherds say this thing,
'listen to those angels sing!'"?

(I'm a professional editor and I'm still not sure about the punctuation of that last line.)
I may be remembering incorrectly, but isn't the first lyric in question written and punctuated like this: "Hark! The herald angels sing, 'Glory to the newborn king!'" If so, then I'd say B is the obvious choice for the first. It was also my instinctive vote.

I also vote for B on lyric #2, though I'll admit I'm not completely sure why rewrite A is different from rewrite B... Could rewrite A be re-rewritten as, "'The first Noel,' the angels did say, 'was to certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay.'
"'Oh, yeah,' replied some other shepherds, 'I remember that!'" If THAT'S the case, well, then, I still vote for B.

Matt - almost. Change "shepherds" to "angels" and you have what I'm going for with rewrite A. Angels sitting around reminiscing about the first Christmas with each other ("The first Noel," the angels did say, "was to certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay - remember that? Big day, all around."), as opposed to rewrite B, which is some other narrator telling the story.

My Christmas book does indeed punctuate HTHAS as you write it there. I'm not sure my Christmas book is authoritative, but that certainly supports your vote.

John - I just picked shepherds since they're traditionally the ones who heard the herald angels. Any non-angelic observer will do, though.

Mark - Choice A wasn't meant to be sarcastic; just to indicate that the shepherds (or, again, whomever else you prefer to envision there) are saying the whole line: "Hark! The herald angels sing! Glory to the newborn king!"

As a side note, I have read that plagiarism is the most sincere form of flattery.
Shortly before the dawn of the Christian era, a group of the younger, more musically talented angels decided to form a rock band.

In the beginning, they called themselves the Oneders, and their first few releases reflected this preoccupation with unity: “I Oneder as I Wander,” for instance, and “What Onedrous Love Is This?”

But as the cultural climate of heaven shifted from unity toward trinity, the band decided to change their name to “Gabriel’s Ark” (a takeoff on "Noah's Ark") and later, when Gabe left to pursue his interest in jazz trumpet, simply as “The Ark.” This is the name by which they have been best known down through the ages.

As part of their stage presentation, the band members greased down their hair very heavily, adopting a kind of a “Sha-Na-Na” look. Their fans loved it, but the older angels (who didn’t care much for the music anyway) referred to them contemptuously as “the hair-oiled angels.”

So that’s where the first line of that carol comes from. It’s a reference to the debut performance of their smash hit, “Glory to the Newborn King.”

The B side was a tune called “Noel, Noel,” first performed for certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay.
Was the original band’s name (Oneder) pronounced “Oh – need – er” or “Oh – net – er”?
Oops--yeah, I meant to have other angels reply. "Other shepherds" doesn't make sense.

Oh, no! I can't even tell what today's secret word is! I must be a spammer, confounded by the word verification system... It could be "wvwsh" or "vwwsh" or "wwvsh"--the letters are all run together, making them somewhat indistinguishable from won another. I'm afraid that I might not get to post this insightful comment! What then?!?
Thank goodness...
"From won another?" This is some extensive That Thing You Do joke-making. I wonder if Tom Hanks reads my blog...
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