Mar 1, 2009

Merrily We Gently Row....

"Row, row, row your boat..." was always a lot of fun to sing in grade school, and was the song used by the nuns to teach rounds. First one group would begin the first line, then a line later the second group would join in by singing the first line, and the third group would begin singing when the first group had reached "Merrily." [I like the word 'merrily' because it so akin to the lovely word 'gay' which has been ruined in these past thirty years.]
Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.
I've canoed downstream on a number of Ozarks rivers, and family canoeing is excellent recreation. We've sung and enjoyed the song many times because it has a good tune and is easy to sin. It's definitely the song to sing while paddling down a beautiful stream in the Irish Wilderness of Missouri. This was where that Catholic priest, Father John Hogan of St Louis, dreamt would be the place where Irish immigrants could escape the oppression of urban life in St. Louis.

However, the song, "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" into its current form teaches children the wrong thing because of the last nihilistic line, "LIFE is but a dream." Moreover, if you gently row downstream in your LIFE, the natural current will leads you to wherever it is going, rather than where you should be directed. The third line emphasizes that you will be quite "merry" at going the easy way. But it is the last line that clearly states that LIFE isn't reality, implying that it doesn't make any difference what you do in your life.

Here is my suggestion for a change to the last line. [There's also a funny multi-stanza version published on Wikipedia without the offending line.] No copyright is in force, because the song was published in The Franklin Square Song Collection in 1881.
Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
To wish is but a dream.
The original tune is credited to the Pennsylvania Masonic educator, Dr. Eliphalet Oram Lyte, who was lauded in his lifetime as:
...president of the Pennsylvania Teachers' Association. He is a life member of the National Educational Association, of which he has served as director for a number of years. He was president of the N. E. A. in 1899, and he has also been vice-president of the council of education of that body. He is likewise a member of the American Academy of Political Science. Fraternally Dr. Lyte is a thirty-third degree Mason, receiving his last degree in 1885....


Anonymous said...

How often did you 'sin' with the tune when you were in a canoe with your family? [I just couldn't help but comment on your typo!]

Néstor said...

I'm glad we've ruined your word