Mondegreen

April 7, 2009

Photographing mondegreens is so very hard to do

Photographing mondegreens is so very hard to do

According to the fount of all knowledge that is Wikipedia, a mondegreen is ‘the mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase, typically a standardized phrase such as a line in a poem or a lyric in a song, due to near homophony, in a way that yields a new meaning to the phrase’. It was apparently coined by an American writer called Sylvia Wright, who published an essay in Harper’s Magazine in 1954 on mishearing the last line of a 17th century ballad called ‘The Bonnie Earl O’ Murray’:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl Amurray,
And Lady Mondegreen.

where the fourth line is supposed to read “And laid him on the green.” A favourite is a radio phone in, in which a lady caller asked for Mulligan’s Tyre by Wings to please be played.

The library has fallen fowl of mondegreenic mishearings too, having been called the Scottish Poultry Library more than once. Taking pastoral poetry to a whole new level, surely? And, when architect Malcolm Fraser was applying for the necessary water allowances for our new building, the man at the water board was concerned by the lowly guesstimate. ‘You’ll need more than that,’ he said, ‘what with all the throwing, not to mention the cleaning up afterwards.’ A perplexed conversation ensued, in which Malcolm vowed no poets or otherwise would be thrown anywhere. The water man had taken us for the Scottish Pottery Library.

Sometimes, we are simply the Scottish Poetry League. The day SPL is football second and poetry first will be a fine one.

One Response to “Mondegreen”


  1. Talking of mondegreens, I thought you may enjoy this:

    The Ballad of Lady Mondegreen

    ‘Oh highlands mine and lowlands, tell me where you have been?
    You’ve slain the Earl of Moray and Lady Mondegreen.’
    King James caressed the corpses: ‘Was all my love in vain?
    My world is dead, I feel like a miteside in the rain.’

    Her heart was light with passion under her stiff baleen:
    amongst the dappled roses walked Lady Mondegreen.
    This must have been the happiest day of her carefree life,
    because King James had told her that he would kill his wife.

    The bonny birds were singing in oak and chestnut tree,
    the sun dispersed so brightly his rays on land and sea,
    the jasmine spread its fragrance, and soon she would be queen:
    a spring in every step had Lady Mondegreen.

    The Lady was a tomboy when no one looked, and as
    she rode out in the country, she swapped her satin dress
    for her beloved kilt which her lover disapproved
    of in strong terms – however, the girl remained unmoved.

    ‘I want to meet the Lady’, the King said to his aide,
    but no more in the palace, because I am afraid
    the Queen might smell a rodent. Fetch Huntly, he will ride
    out to the Earl of Moray where I shall meet my bride.’

    Huntly received his orders: ‘Go tell the Earl I need
    his house; first fetch the Lady from Rathven, and make speed!
    I want her kilt torn, mangled! Then bring a candle and,
    once lit, a cross. His faith will serve me well, my friend!’

    The loyal Huntly saddled his horse; he was not keen
    on this foul task but hurried to Lady Mondegreen.
    He brought her to the Earl who obliged and took his coat,
    and then he grabbed the Lady and cut her pallid throat.

    He gently lit a candle and held it in one hand
    while stabbing with the other the Earl, the monarch’s friend.
    He cut his face severely, and what he – there’s no doubt –
    did to the Lady’s body I shall not write about.

    The King arrived in very high spirits at the scene
    to greet the Earl of Moray and Lady Mondegreen.
    ‘What happened?’, he lamented as he broke down and cried.
    ‘I carried out your orders’, his trusted friend replied.

    ‘I want her killed, torn, mangled! Then bring a candle, and
    one slit across his face will serve me well, my friend!’ –
    ‘Oh highlands mine and lowlands, tell me where you have been?
    You’ve slain the Earl of Moray and Lady Mondegreen.’

    © Frank L. Ludwig

    (By the way, the miteside in the rain is something that took me decades to solve. It was Tim Curry in the Rocky Horror Picture: ‘Everywhere it’s been the same, like I’m outside in the rain.’)


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