The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #4257   Message #24146
Posted By: Eliot Greene - Dallas -
19-Mar-98 - 03:17 PM
Thread Name: Origin: Shenandoah
Subject: RE: Song info:
Hey that's great. Thanks Bruce.

The true nature of the song really shows up with what you've found. The fragment reveals yet another take on the word Shenandoah and makes plain the song's original explicitness. It helps to demonstrate the complicated background we are dealing with.

This stanza adds support to an overall evaluation of "Shenandoah". Direct and literal interpretation of the contemporary lyrics, so tempting, doesn't work. The song suggests a romance but close inspection soon washes that away. The song appears wholly metaphorical, in fact, centered on no one actual person or place after all.

Ironically, it may be that the song has little or nothing to do with obvious contemporary associations: Shenandoah as Valley, River or Indian chief. I expect that many simply will not accept that, and I certainly can be wrong, but I just cannot found the word "Shenandoah" onto the original song at this point. I feel that that exact word came into it late. While most easily peg it as a very old song (and therefor of some obscurity) it seems that the idea of the lyrics changing over the years is taboo with Shenandoah. In other postings this idea of a Shenandoah-less "Shenandoah" has been taken as fightin' words. But the well-founded association as a shanty is also dismissed by some. Go figure.

The word Shenandoah et al. is aboriginal and typically phonetic. Historical variations include Gerando, Gerundo, Shendo, Genantua, Sherando. Schin-han-dowi and a host of others may translate into River-Through-the-Woods, Silver-Water, and such. One assumes that whatever phrase Shenandoah may actually represent, it is most likely a place name and associated with water. But again, studying the etymology of the word 'Shenandoah' doesn't clue us much at all to the song by the same name.

I appreciate your example of the bawdy lyrics. No doubt shanties got quite 'robust' as the work crews of men alone sang them. The more "offensive" the better it seems, all to stir their spirit on the job. I have to smile: if only folks knew that that sweet song tinkling in the background is actually so filthy.

I think it important to dwell on just how profane shanty lyrics were as we look at "Shenandoah". Abusive, criminal and lascivious mildly describe the tone of these shanties. The "true words" to any such shanty are not likely easily revealed. The need for re-written, "tamer" versions for the historical record, as it were, must have existed all along. The naieve scholar would assume that these things can ever be nailed down patently.

I do not expect to find the song originating in America from what I've seen so far. Is or was there a Shennydore community in Ireland? Somehow I believe this was an Irish work song that went to sea.

The big mystery to me is where the word "Missouri" got in there, a far murkier quest it seems than ironing out old Shen'.

It is the song's association with Western Expansion, 'crossing the wide Missouri', that most intrigues me, as I've said. The song's transport to the West is of no question, any number of songs were sung in the West, but the current association of Shenandoah as a "western theme" is daunting. I have no background in music whatsoever, my work is in history. Help finding the above mentioned reference volumes, especially Legman's, would be appreciated.

Bruce and everyone, thank you very much for your work on this. Eliot Greene