Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Friday, March 29, 2013

Roses and Thorns

For some reason I found myself humming this today. OK, it's Good Friday so very appropriate. Also, I recently went back to a school reunion, and I've been revisiting more of my schooldays via email (tales of weird physics experiments, the time one of my classmates hid in a cupboard and reappeared in mid-lesson, the time I and a colleague were briefly suspended for arranging a torrent of junk mail for an unpopular cleaner, that kind of stuff) - and I remember singing this in the school choir (it must have been for a Founder's Day service - just before Easter - and I was singing the bass line so early 1970s). I remember being very taken with the harmony - I wasn't terribly familiar with Tchaikovsky - and the last verse knocked me out. I also remember thinking the words were quite unusual too.



It seems to be number 5 in a set of sixteen Songs for Children. Interestingly, the lyrics to The Crown of Roses are a translation by Geoffrey Dearmer of the Russian of Aleksey Nikolayevich Pleshcheyev, but that in turn is a translation of a poem Roses and Thorns by Richard Henry Stoddard.

The young child Jesus had a garden,
Full of roses, rare and red:
And thrice a day he watered them,
To make a garland for his head.

When they were full-blown in the garden,
He called the Jewish children there,
And each did pluck himself a rose,
Until they stripped the garden bare.

"And now how will you make your garland?
For not a rose your path adorns."
"But you forget," he answered them,
"That you have left me still the thorns."

They took the thorns, and made a garland,
And placed it on his shining head;
And where the roses should have shone
Were little drops of blood instead!

And my reading of that Wikipedia page has guided me to a piece of music I had never heard before, but which will definitely take its place in my playlist:



It's only just occurred to me that the original English verse, unlike the retranslated one, emphasises the Jewishness of Christ's tormentors. As I don't read Russian I don't know whether the antisemitic trope was smoothed out when translating into or out of Russian. Thinking about it further, why is it considered antisemitic to state the fact - embarrassing though it may be - that it was Jews who were responsible for the mocking, torment and crucifixion of Jesus? Do people consider it anti-American to make any reference to Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

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