Lyrics & Knowledge Personal Pages Record Shop Auction Links Radio & Media Kids Membership Help
The Mudcat Cafemuddy

Post to this Thread - Sort Descending - Printer Friendly - Home


Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs

Richie 13 Jan 14 - 07:50 PM
WindhoverWeaver 13 Jan 14 - 08:02 PM
Brian Peters 13 Jan 14 - 08:05 PM
Lighter 13 Jan 14 - 08:30 PM
Lighter 13 Jan 14 - 08:39 PM
Richie 13 Jan 14 - 09:26 PM
Richie 13 Jan 14 - 10:19 PM
Richie 13 Jan 14 - 11:41 PM
Lighter 14 Jan 14 - 08:28 AM
Steve Gardham 14 Jan 14 - 01:33 PM
Lighter 14 Jan 14 - 01:40 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 14 Jan 14 - 02:01 PM
Steve Gardham 14 Jan 14 - 04:19 PM
Steve Gardham 14 Jan 14 - 04:23 PM
Lighter 14 Jan 14 - 04:41 PM
GUEST,Guest 14 Jan 14 - 05:09 PM
Brian Peters 14 Jan 14 - 08:30 PM
MGM·Lion 15 Jan 14 - 12:07 AM
Richard Mellish 15 Jan 14 - 04:28 AM
MGM·Lion 15 Jan 14 - 05:40 AM
MGM·Lion 15 Jan 14 - 05:42 AM
Lighter 15 Jan 14 - 08:19 AM
IanC 15 Jan 14 - 08:22 AM
MGM·Lion 15 Jan 14 - 08:35 AM
IanC 15 Jan 14 - 09:02 AM
GUEST,Eliza 15 Jan 14 - 01:52 PM
Steve Gardham 15 Jan 14 - 05:47 PM
Steve Gardham 15 Jan 14 - 06:16 PM
Nigel Parsons 16 Jan 14 - 04:20 AM
Lighter 16 Jan 14 - 08:40 AM
Steve Gardham 16 Jan 14 - 11:08 AM
MGM·Lion 16 Jan 14 - 01:35 PM
Lighter 16 Jan 14 - 04:06 PM
Steve Gardham 16 Jan 14 - 05:41 PM
Lighter 16 Jan 14 - 06:03 PM
Share Thread
more
Lyrics & Knowledge Search [Advanced]
DT  Forum
Sort (Forum) by:relevance date
DT Lyrics:









Subject: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Richie
Date: 13 Jan 14 - 07:50 PM

Hi,

I've come across this phrase in Mattie Groves and now in Golden Vanity:
"bent his breast" and swum.

or "smote his breast" and swum. There's one "set his breast". . .

What does it mean exactly and in this context? Literary examples too please.

TY

Richie


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: WindhoverWeaver
Date: 13 Jan 14 - 08:02 PM

In Matty Groves it is "bent his breast and ran" which I have always taken to mean he put his head down and leaned forward to run as fast as possible. Haven't seen it in reference to swimming anywhere.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Brian Peters
Date: 13 Jan 14 - 08:05 PM

Dived into the water? Just a guess.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Lighter
Date: 13 Jan 14 - 08:30 PM

To "bend your breast" is simply a poetic way of saying to bend or lean over.

The earliest example I can find is from the 1695 broadside copy of "Little Musgrove and the Lady Barnet."

It does not appear in the OED (not even in the quotations!), and it seems to have been quite rare.

Here's another, from Oliver Goldsmith's "Citizen of the World" Vol. II (London: J. Newbery, 1762), p. 101: "He...bent his breast against the broad wave and disappeared in an instant."


To "smite" your breast means to strike it with the hand or fist, usually as a gesture of shock, grief, etc.

"The Female Spectator" (London) Vol. 3, 1755, No. 13, p. 53: Then, indeed, touched by this sudden remonstrance, he smote his breast and cry'd, I have sinned against the Lord.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Lighter
Date: 13 Jan 14 - 08:39 PM

Much earlier:

1495 "Vitas Patrum" (Westminster: Wynkyn de Worde)[unpaged]: Began to wepe full bytterly & smote his brest.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Richie
Date: 13 Jan 14 - 09:26 PM

Flanders J:

He smote upon his breast, and away swung [swum] he,
All in the Lowland low,
He smote upon his breast, and away swung he,
And he swung till he came to the French galilee.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Richie
Date: 13 Jan 14 - 10:19 PM

Flanders H:

He bent upon his breast and away swam he,
Saying, oh, the Lowlands the so low;
He bent upon his breast and away swam he,
And he swam till he came to that Turkish Shageree,
As she sailed the lowlands lie so low,
As she sailed the Lowlands, low.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Richie
Date: 13 Jan 14 - 11:41 PM

Flanders F1:

The boy took off his armour and jumped into the sea
And swam till he reached the Turkish gallee,
As he sailed along the Lowlands, Lowlands,
As he sailed along the Lowlands, low.

This is another possible inference- "taking of armor." What do you think?

Richie


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Lighter
Date: 14 Jan 14 - 08:28 AM

I don't know just why he'd smite his breast before diving except maybe as a gesture of resolve or to quiet his pounding heart. (That may be in fact the ultimate origin of the gesture itself.)

"Bent upon his breast" sounds to me like an erroneous mashup of both phrases, maybe including "beat" for "smote."

I dunno about you, but I'd definitely take off my armor before I jumped into the sea.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 14 Jan 14 - 01:33 PM

Off the top of my head I think 'bent' in this case may mean something simple like he set himself to the task. We've discussed the word before in different contexts if my memory serves. I'm surprised nothing crops up in Shorter Oxford.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Lighter
Date: 14 Jan 14 - 01:40 PM

Or the full Oxford. Outside of a few ballad texts, it's a very rare phrase indeed.

The few exx. I've seen always imply a literal leaning forward.

Are there any that don't?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 14 Jan 14 - 02:01 PM

Bend, bent, in the full OED, includes the meaning "to apply oneself," "to be determined."

So I think Steve Gardham is right ("set himself to the task), but I could not find a quotation with "bent his breast." I haven't checked the supplements, however, to my older edition.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 14 Jan 14 - 04:19 PM

We still use the phrase today 'bending to the task', being 'bent on causing mischief' or at least we do in my neck of the woods.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 14 Jan 14 - 04:23 PM

+'hell-bent'. We often use parts of the body metaphorically 'put your shoulder to the wheel' and such clichés.

I've just remembered where we discussed it last 'Lay the bent to the bonny broom'. Related I'd say. Although we sort of decided that bent was grass used to bind it as well, I think!


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Lighter
Date: 14 Jan 14 - 04:41 PM

"He bent or leaned or inclined his upper body" makes perfect sense, particularly since Goldsmith uses the phrase in just this way without reference to any ballad text.

To "bend," according to Merriam-Webster, basically means "to turn from straight...to angular" - which fits acceptably: he put his breast at an angle to his hips and legs by bending or leaning sharply forward.

I have the feeling that most relevant ballad texts have "bent his back," which is perfectly clear, at least to me. In those cases, he put his back at a forward angle rather than his breast. The practical result, however, is quite the same, and the two phrases, in context, are effectively synonymous.

It's unwise to search for an ingenious denotation when the sense implied by the usual meaning of the words themselves is good enough.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: GUEST,Guest
Date: 14 Jan 14 - 05:09 PM

There seem to be two different discussions going on here. The original "Bent his breast" and its meaning, and "Smote his breast" . I have always understood "bent his breast" to mean something like "(jumped in and) started to swim". Certainly the contexts quoted so far (Musgrave's page bent his breast and swam, Goldsmith's character bent his breast against the broad wave and the ship's boy on the Golden Vanity bent upon his breast and away swam he..) all concur with that. I don't see how you can stand and lean forward (the other suggestion so far) while you are swimming!
For the other debate, to smite upon one's breast, I agree with Lighter To "smite" your breast means to strike it with the hand or fist, usually as a gesture of shock, grief, etc.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Brian Peters
Date: 14 Jan 14 - 08:30 PM

"I don't see how you can stand and lean forward (the other suggestion so far) while you are swimming!"

You would do exactly that if you were diving in off the bank (Lord B's page), and something very like it if you were treading water and setting off to swim towards a distant object (cabin boy). You would not, however, bend your breast in order to jump in.

Not forgetting that the phrase might be a corruption of something different.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 15 Jan 14 - 12:07 AM

In fact, none of Child's own versions of Musgrave includes that phrase: "Bent his bow" in one variant, Version L, is the nearest. An obvious confusion, I should say, crept in from one of the "Robin Hood"s maybe? I rather like the one in which he "cast off his clooes and swimd". But he doesn't actually 'bend his breast' in any. I BTW always sing "Bent to his breast"; can't remember where I got that.

~M~


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 15 Jan 14 - 04:28 AM

A quick scan of Child 286 versions in Child and Bronson furnishes the following:
several versions with "bent his breast" and Jeannie Robertson's Scots equivalent "bendit his breast"
several versions with "bowed (up)on his breast"
several versions with "turned (up)on his breast"
several versions with "turned (up)on his back"
Child B "set his breast"
Bronson 14 "spread his breast"
Bronson 50 "He bantered upon his back, he bantered upon his breast"
Bronson 55 "bent his bow"
Bronson 61 "He down upon his breast"
Bronson 64 "smote upon his breast"
Bronson 67 and 70 "fell upon his breast"
Bronson 68 "turned upon his face"
Bronson 72 "bowed his knee"
Bronson 79 "bowed to his breast"
Bronson 81 "down on his back"
Bronson 85 and 86 "fell upon his back
Bronson 94 and 95 "bent to his breast"
Bronson 97 "bared his breast"
Bronson 103 "sprang upon his breast"!
Bronson 106 "Out on his back"
plus many versions with no such phrase at all.

I haven't tried the broadside index. That might indicate which, if any, of these was the original, of which the others are corruptions.

The most sensible ones, to my mind, are "bared his breast", which I think I've heard sung by someone in the revival, and "fell upon his breast".

Richard


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 15 Jan 14 - 05:40 AM

Your 'several' in line 1 are all Bronson, none Child, as I pointed out above.

~M~


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 15 Jan 14 - 05:42 AM

Oops, sorry - you were writing of Golden Vanity, not Musgrave,

Apologies.

~M~


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Lighter
Date: 15 Jan 14 - 08:19 AM

"Bared" is certainly sensible. But no more than "bent."

"Bent his breast" is an infrequent idiom, but its meaning is clear.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: IanC
Date: 15 Jan 14 - 08:22 AM

"Bend your breast" is still used very occasionally in modern English. It has much the same meaning as to "put your back into it". If the song had said that he "put his back into it and swam" would people be asking about what "it" was and whether he could put his back in without putting the rest in?

Similarly Beat your breast is not uncommon in modern English usage. Usually in phrases like "you don't need to beat your breast about it". In this case it means to express regret about something you think you may have done wrong (though not necessarily to do it honestly). I'm pretty sure this latter derives from the old latin mass, where people were expected to beat their breasts (chest) when saying "Mea Culpa" (I have sinned).

:-)


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 15 Jan 14 - 08:35 AM

From the Desk of The Official Legendary Pedant:

The word meaning "I have sinned" is "Peccavi".

"Mea culpa" means "My fault" or "I am the one to blame".


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: IanC
Date: 15 Jan 14 - 09:02 AM

:-)


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: GUEST,Eliza
Date: 15 Jan 14 - 01:52 PM

I would understand two interpretations of 'to beat one's breast' and they are very different. Firstly, it is an action of self-punishment denoting remorse for something one regrets, or intense grief and sorrow. Secondly, it can be a most aggressive action, rather like a gorilla threatening another male. One sees it in processions of quite fundamentalist Muslims, who may walk along beating their breasts so violently that they draw blood. I find 'bending the breast' difficult to imagine, as naturally one bends at the waist, or bows the head. I suggest the alliteration may have been the reason for the choice of words.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 15 Jan 14 - 05:47 PM

If you go into Child's own glossary and look under 'Breast' you'll see that according to him the only place the phrase 'bent his breast' occurs is in 286, and even then it only occurs in versions going back to early 19thc, Pitts broadside and the notorious Peter Buchan.

With such a widespread song as this the phrase could easily have jumped into other ballads at a later stage where a similar phrase occurs.

The same place in the glossary has other similar phrases in other ballads.
smoothed his breast and swam
set her/his breast and swam
lay on his breast and swumme

I'll check my copies of early printed Musgraves.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 15 Jan 14 - 06:16 PM

Little Musgrave was one of the most widely printed and popular ballads of the 17thc. It was first registered as far as I can make out in 1630 to Francis Coles but Pepys has a version printed by Henry Gosson who was active 1601 to 1641. It was also registered in 1656, 1658 and 1675.

The earliest version I have access to (Gosson) has 'lay on his brest and swumme'. Wit Restored, a more upmarket songster type of 1658 has 'laid him down to swimme'. All of the other copies I have from about 1670 onwards and there are lots going right into the 18thc have 'bent his breast.....' You can see lots of copies of these on the Bodleian site, Douce, Wood, Firth etc. There's also a copy that has just come online on the English Broadside Ballad Archive site in the Crawford Collection. In fact there will also be various Pepys and Roxburghe copies on this same site.

The ballad was so popular that I wouldn't be surprised to learn that other ballads that have adopted the phrase took it from Musgrave.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Nigel Parsons
Date: 16 Jan 14 - 04:20 AM

Typo (typesetting error) perhaps?

Steve Gardham finds that it only occurs C19th or later.
Other versions have 'smote his breast', from this to 'beat his breast' (same meaning) thence 'bent his breast' (single letter typo, or just a smudge at the bottom of the 'a')seems a simple progression.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Lighter
Date: 16 Jan 14 - 08:40 AM

Which is he more likely to do when about to dive, beat his breast or incline his upper body toward the water? I suppose he could beat his breast to show how gorilla-like he is, but that seems to be a modern gesture more closely associated with pro wrestlers than with cabin boys.

Moreover, if "bent his breast" is just a mondegreen, what's Goldsmith doing with it? Conceivably he picked up the phrase from a ballad; but if it made such transparent sense to him that he could use it in a literary tale (in an age notorious for prescribed and approved diction), there's really no reason to assume that the idiom was ever just the result of mishearing.

If it made sense to Goldsmith - and to some others here - it could just as easily have made sense to the ballad writer.

Finally, if anything is a mishearing in these songs, my money is on "beat his breast." This thread shows that "bent his breast" can sound not just unfamiliar but incomprehensible and unbelievable to many people. So it would seem more plausible that an original"bent" was altered to "beat" than the other way around.

No?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 16 Jan 14 - 11:08 AM

'bent his ear'
'bent over backwards'
'bent under the strain'
'bent to the task'

How many bloody examples do you want??? It isn't a bloody misprint or a mishearing!!!!! Aaaaaaargh!


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 16 Jan 14 - 01:35 PM

Richard Mellish above found at least 2 other examples in Golden Vanity of the locution which, as I say above, I always use, "Bent to his breast". It seems to me an obvious ellipsis for "bent down as part of the process of lying on his breast in a swimming position in the water"; an alternative to diving in head first. That seems to make perfect sense to me.

Also, thanks Richard for answering my question-to-self as to where I got that 'to' from which does not seem to occur in many versions: probably from a version of Golden Vanity I heard or came across some time.

~M~


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Lighter
Date: 16 Jan 14 - 04:06 PM

> "Bent to his breast" ... seems to me an obvious ellipsis for "bent down as part of the process of lying on his breast in a swimming position in the water"

Or an equally obvious case of adding a word (and a rhythmic syllable) that doesn't alter the meaning of the shorter phrase. A form of pleonasm, if you will.

I submit, however, that Richie's original question ("What does it mean?") has been answered.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 16 Jan 14 - 05:41 PM

Jon,
Can you expand on the Goldsmith usage please? I'm not fully convinced the bending of one's breast necessarily has anything to do with swimming.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Folklore: 'Bent his breast' meaning in songs
From: Lighter
Date: 16 Jan 14 - 06:03 PM

Sure, Steve:

"On the opposite shore, farther down, at the mouth of the river, lived a diver for pearls; a youth who...was almost grown amphibious. ...He happened to be at that very instant diving when the ladies were fishing with the gilded hook."

Needless to say, the two ladies hook the boy. Then, "The Diver stood upon the beach...with the hook in his mouth." The sisters decide he is not, as they'd feared, some river monster: "both assisted in drawing the hook...from the Diver's jaw; and he finding himself at liberty, bent his breast against the broad wave and disappeared in an instant."

Clearly he dived from the beach into water.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate
  Share Thread:
More...

Reply to Thread
Subject:  Help
From:
Preview   Automatic Linebreaks   Make a link ("blue clicky")


Mudcat time: 16 December 3:17 PM EST

[ Home ]

All original material is copyright © 1998 by the Mudcat Café Music Foundation, Inc. All photos, music, images, etc. are copyright © by their rightful owners. Every effort is taken to attribute appropriate copyright to images, content, music, etc. We are not a copyright resource.