4 minutes reading time (764 words)

THE POWER OF METAPHOR

When memory fails, songs stay faithful.

So when my mother – whose illness prevents her from remembering what day it is – listens to old tunes, she sings along. She completes lines in poems too, faultlessly.

She was never sentimental. She re-named Sinatra’s ‘My Way’, ‘The Egotist’s Anthem’. She probably wouldn’t have known the original song in French, with a completely different set of words (and meaning). The melody was written by Jacques Revaux in 1967, with lyrics by Gilles Thibaut. The English lyrics, which have been so successful over the years, were written by Canadian singer songwriter Paul Anka – Anka who toured with Buddy Holly in the age of innocence.

But I’m off topic already. No – not quite. ‘My Way’ is riven with metaphor. I’ve always found it the prime example of metaphor done to death and rhyme brutally slaughtered, though the version with Paul Anka singing it is less painful (to me) than Sinatra. The worst part is where he bites off more than he can chew: “But through it all, when there was doubt / I ate it up and spit it out”.

I have a habit of thinking about words of songs, long after they’ve gone past. It’s an annoying habit because instead of enjoying the sentiment, you end up analysing how you can eat something up and also spit it out. You find yourself reflecting that ‘planned each charted course’ is tautology, that its impossible to travel each and every highway, no matter how long you live, and that that ‘mention’ and ‘exemption’ are horrible rhymes.

And yet, there you are, sitting beside your mother singing ‘When you walk through a storm / Hold your head up high’.

The song comes from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel, which we once possessed on a 33 rpm record. My little sister used to lie on her tummy on the floor beside the radiogram, with her ear pressed to one of the speakers. That way you get a lot of songs by heart. So the lyricist was Oscar Hammerstein and the song was written in 1945, the same year the Second World War ended.

In 1945, my mother would have been 21. Like the rest of the nation's survivors, she’d come through one hell of a storm. In 1963, when I was 10 (and storm-free) and she was 39, I revisited the song through the Gerry and the Pacemakers cover, still my favourite. Since then, of course, it’s been adopted by numerous football clubs. It’s the song everybody knows, the universal adversity antidote:

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark

At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of the lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on walk on with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark

At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of the lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on walk on with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk

You'll never walk
You'll never walk alone.

So much stronger on metaphor than ‘My way’! The storm goes right through the verses, and so does ‘walk on’ as a thread. Life as a journey, in wild and windy weather, with some kind of spiritual power floating in the background. It could fit anybody's religion, or even lack of one. The repetition's masterful, the rhyme is simple (dark/lark, high/sky, blown/alone). The sky will be golden, the lark’s song will be silver. What’s not to like?

Well, there's the fact that it's emotional manipulation. You don’t go out and walk through violent storms. You’d have to be a nutter. A tree might fall on you, for a start. And larks don’t spring into the sky right after storms. In fact, larks don’t spring into golden skies at all. Larks spring into blue skies.

That’s my analytical head. In fact, there I am, sitting beside my mother. She is nearly 90 and her memory is shot. I am 60. We're both singing along word-perfect, she perfectly serenely, me with tears running down my cheeks.

I am hopelessly manipulated by the metaphor. Such is its power.

 

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MY SOUP HAS LUMPS
THE SHAPE OF THE POEM ON THE PAGE
 

Comments 3

Guest - Tim Love on Sunday, 02 February 2014 10:57

That Carousel song is one of my favourites. I like the words, but I read them with less hope. By the time the persona's seeing golden skies s/he's gone beyond denial, anger, and the need to stay real. Holding your head up and talking about hope encourages friends to stay in touch, which in the end is all that matters.

That Carousel song is one of my favourites. I like the words, but I read them with less hope. By the time the persona's seeing golden skies s/he's gone beyond denial, anger, and the need to stay real. Holding your head up and talking about hope encourages friends to stay in touch, which in the end is all that matters.
Guest - Annie on Sunday, 02 February 2014 11:41

Lovely post Nell. By happenstance I was reading Gillian Clarke's Miracle on St David's day only yesterday! My mother (91) has a similarly sure memory for great chunks of poetry and the words of hymns. However she got stuck recently trying to remember the ending of a poem beginning (if I remember correctly!) Once in an English garden, long years ago I suppose...
I have Googled unsuccessfully. If this rings bells with you or anyone, my mum and I would love to know!

Lovely post Nell. By happenstance I was reading Gillian Clarke's Miracle on St David's day only yesterday! My mother (91) has a similarly sure memory for great chunks of poetry and the words of hymns. However she got stuck recently trying to remember the ending of a poem beginning (if I remember correctly!) Once in an English garden, long years ago I suppose... I have Googled unsuccessfully. If this rings bells with you or anyone, my mum and I would love to know!
Guest - Joan Byrne on Sunday, 02 February 2014 15:51

Really enjoyed the post (as I do every Sunday) and enjoyed singing 'Walk on' while recumbent on the sofa. Thank you!

Really enjoyed the post (as I do every Sunday) and enjoyed singing 'Walk on' while recumbent on the sofa. Thank you!
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Friday, 23 August 2019