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Easter songs get new meaning

POSTED: April 5, 2009 1:00 a.m.

Holy week is one of my favorite times of the year.

I love the songs of Easter, both the sad and triumphal ones.

I heard the words a little differently as a child.

For example, the congregation was singing "Low in the grave he lay, Jesus, my savior." I thought they were saying, "Low in the gravy lay Jesus my savior." I remember asking Mama what Jesus was doing in the gravy in the first place.

We also used to sing a hymn written by the legendary Fanny Crosby called "Keep Thou My Way." There is a line that says, "Kept by thy tender care, Gladly the cross I'd bear." I thought they were singing about a cross-eyed bear named Gladly. I thought he might be friends with Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.

Another hymn that confused me was one that actually comes from Psalm 23. "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow thee," the song says. In my ears it was, "Surely good news in a Mercury shall follow thee."

I struggled with that one. Why a Mercury? The apostles drove a Honda, the Bible says they were "in one Accord."

Much to my surprise, there is actually a term for this. It's called a Mondegreen, which is one of those words somebody mistakenly heard.

It comes from a 17th century English ballad about the killing of Earl of Murray.

The ballad actually said, "They hae slain the Earl Amurray and laid him on the green."

The person who coined the term for mishearing was Sylvia Green, a writer.

She thought the line was "They hae slain the Earl Amurray and Lady Mondegreen." Sylvia thought it was a double homicide.

I heard a few more Mondegreens growing up. The first time I ever heard someone sing "Dixie" was a guy singing it in an operatic style. I was convinced he said, "Oh I wish I was Winn-Dixie."

I liked Winn-Dixie, the supermarket chain, but why did this guy want to be one?

Christmas songs were also filled with several Mondegreens in my ears.

I was convinced for the longest that "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" was actually "The rest room there is ‘Gentlemen.'" We, quite frankly, don't have any good clean rest room songs. I thought the next line was "Let nothing you display."

That would have been a good song for that former senator from Idaho.

In the sweet carol, "Silent Night," I thought there was somebody named "Round John Bergin," as in "Round John Bergin, mother and child."

We had a nativity set and I was trying to figure out which one was Round John.

I also wondered why the wise men were all so clean. Where was the tar? Every year we sang, "We Three Kings of Ori in tar." If you try to find Ori on the map, you'll be there a while.

Eventually learning to read was a good thing for me. I try really hard to sing the right words these days. I sing in the church choir. I might not sing the right notes, but the words I've gotten right.

But you'll smile a bit when they get to the part about Jesus getting out of that gravy.

Harris Blackwood is community editor of The Times. His columns appear Wednesdays and Sundays.



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