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Sheet Music

Yogh and Ash and Thorn

lyrics © 1995 by Catherine Faber
To the Peter Bellamy tune for"A Tree Song" (aka "Oak and Ash and Thorn" the lyrics of which were written by Rudyard Kipling.)

Some time between the year fourteen-ought-five and -fifty-one
There was a strange and radical change in spoken english done.
These letters all but past recall should not be held in scorn;
The rose in May must go the way of yogh and ash and thorn.

Yogh and ash and thorn good sirs, mouldering vellum adorn;
Here do we see mortality in yogh and ash and thorn.

Yogh to me resembles a three a little bit flattened above
And sound denotes so low in the throat as only the Dutch could love
Yet now is found both letter and sound discarded and forlorn;
Remember you are mortal too, like yogh and ash and thorn.

A "b" with a tail, thorn didn't prevail, but though it lost the race
It takes a pair of letters to wear the shoes to take its place,
And a and e an ash will be when back to back they are bourne;
Into dark the passing mark of yogh and ash and thorn.

"Vowel shift" said somebody miffed "It's more like a hey or a bransle"*
"Letter and sound keep swapping around and 'hands about go all!'"
Some were stored and some ignored and some were mangled and torn,
Caught up in the rout as vowels fell out with yogh and ash and thorn.

Time must be an enemy that ever ending brings--
Even word-fame cannot be heard when words are mortal things.
Some clever cuss in studying us some distant future morn
Will find us surely strange to her as yogh and ash and thorn.

Rich and strangely words will change in warpage under use
But why in past it happened so fast Gude Godde only knoos.**
We work the sum of what we become from where and how we are born.
And hold these three in memory: yogh and ash and thorn!

This song arose when my husband (then boyfriend) was telling me about the great vowel shift--a linguistic event that apparently seriously changed the pronounciation of the-language-that-became-English over the course of a mere fifty years.

*heys and bransles are types of Medieval and Renaissance dances. "Bransle" is prounounced "brawl," making it ideal for that verse. A rout can be the act of one side running away from a battle--or an archaic word for a party.

** "Gude Godde only knoos" is my approximation of "Good God only knows." in Middle English. Roughly "good (rhymes with "food") Goad-duh oh-nlee knoos (rhymes with goose)"

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