The Annotated Capernaum

Mon 02 December 2013

(Transferred from my old WordPress)

Capernaum is a poem by Lewis Spence, which was set to music by Ed Miller and appears on his album, Border Background (1989). Miller’s arrangement is also the title song on the Tannahill Weaver’s album, Capernaum (1994).

I own both of those albums, and it’s a catchy song, so it gets stuck in my head a lot. But there’s a lot to the lyrics that I was having trouble following; so here’s my Annotated Capernaum:

If a’ the bluid shed at thy Tron1

If all the blood shed at your Tron1

Embro', Embro'

Edinburgh, Edinburgh

If a’ the bluid shed at thy Tron

Were sped intae a river

Were sped into a river

It would ca’2 the mills o' Bonnington

It would drive2 the mills of Bonnington

Embro', Embro'

It would ca’ the mills of Bonnington

For ever and for ever

If a’ the tears that thou hast grat3

If all the tears that you have wept3

Embro', Embro'

If a’ the tears that thou hast grat

Were shed intae the sea

Were shed into the sea

Whar wid ye find an Ararat

Where would you (plural) find an Ararat

Embro', Embro'

Whar wid ye find an Ararat

Frae that fell flude tae flee?

From that fell flood to flee?

If a' the psalms sung in thy kirks

If all the psalms sung in your churches

Embro', Embro'

If a' the psalms sung in thy kirks

Were gaithered in a wynd

Were gathered in a wind

It wid shaw4 the tops o’ Roslin’s birks

It would tear the leaves off4 the tops of Roslin’s birches

Embro', Embro'

It wid shaw the tops o’ Roslin’s birks

Till time was oot o’ mind.

Till time was out of mind.

If a’ the broken herts o’ thee

If all the broken hearts of you

Embro', Embro'

If a’ the broken herts o’ thee

Were heapit in a howe

Were heaped in a hollow

There wid be neither land nor sea

Embro', Embro'

There wid be neither land nor sea

But yon reid brae5 and thou.

Except that red hill5 and you.

Note 1: A tron is a medieval weighing station. The Tron is Tron Kirk of Edinburgh. I assume there was a tron at the location before the church was built.

Note 2: ca’ is equivalent to call, but in Scots, it can mean “to drive” or “to push” as well as “to call”.

Note 3: grat is the past tense of greet, an archaic verb meaning to “cry, weep, lament”. (Not “to address someone”, nor, as it can also mean in Scotland, "great"".)

Note 4: I’ve struggled with this one a lot. I currently have two favorite possibilities: 1) “tear the leaves off”, by analogy to removing the “shaws”, or leaves and tops, of a root vegetable (especially a turnip or potato). 2) “show”, show the tops, i.e., leave them bare.

Note 5: brae is cognate to brow, but in Scots generally refers to a hill (or hillside, or steep gradient, or upland region). See also Thomas the Rhymer:

"And see ye not yon bonny road

That winds about the fernie brae?

That is the Road to fair Elfland,

Where thou and I this night maun gae."