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Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'

DigiTrad:
DRIVE SORROWS AWAY
HUNDREDS OR LESS


Related threads:
Lyr Req: Hundreds or Less (11)
(origins) Origins: Thousands or More (14)


GUEST,Dave 07 May 14 - 06:29 AM
GUEST,Grishka 07 May 14 - 07:09 AM
MGM·Lion 07 May 14 - 07:24 AM
GUEST,# 07 May 14 - 08:07 AM
Leadfingers 07 May 14 - 08:07 AM
GUEST 07 May 14 - 08:34 AM
GUEST,Ed 07 May 14 - 08:36 AM
Keith A of Hertford 07 May 14 - 08:40 AM
GUEST,Ed 07 May 14 - 08:44 AM
MGM·Lion 07 May 14 - 08:50 AM
GUEST,Dave 07 May 14 - 10:01 AM
MGM·Lion 07 May 14 - 10:16 AM
MGM·Lion 07 May 14 - 10:45 AM
GUEST,Dave 07 May 14 - 11:59 AM
GUEST,Grishka 07 May 14 - 01:56 PM
MGM·Lion 07 May 14 - 05:03 PM
GUEST 07 May 14 - 05:13 PM
GUEST,Grishka 07 May 14 - 05:57 PM
GUEST,JHW (reformatted laptop) 08 May 14 - 05:42 PM
doc.tom 10 May 14 - 06:07 AM
Marje 10 May 14 - 06:29 AM
Mo the caller 10 May 14 - 07:03 AM
MGM·Lion 10 May 14 - 10:35 AM
Brian Peters 10 May 14 - 12:20 PM
GUEST,Grishka 10 May 14 - 07:57 PM
MGM·Lion 11 May 14 - 01:45 PM
Mo the caller 12 May 14 - 11:19 AM
GUEST,Grishka 12 May 14 - 06:47 PM
GUEST,Jon Dudley 13 May 14 - 02:43 AM
Brian Peters 13 May 14 - 06:18 AM
GUEST,mayomick 13 May 14 - 07:00 AM
GUEST,Jon Dudley 13 May 14 - 08:35 AM
Brian Peters 13 May 14 - 08:42 AM
GUEST,Grishka 13 May 14 - 11:36 AM
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Subject: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: GUEST,Dave
Date: 07 May 14 - 06:29 AM

Many times I've sung "The time passes over more cheerful and gay, Since we've learnt a new act to drive sorrows away" without knowing what I was singing about (so what's new, you may ask).

Can anyone explain what "learnt a new act" means?

Dave


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 07 May 14 - 07:09 AM

See here, for example. Not new indeed, but (to some extent) ennobled by ancient traditions including the New Testament.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 07 May 14 - 07:24 AM

It presumably means "new to the singer". But it seems unlikely that, whatever his age, he has only just discovered the supposed consolations of alcohol. I really can't think that will do as an explanation. The DT version, under somewhat odd title of "Drive Sorrows Away", altho it attributes to the Coppers, begins differently: "You see we poor sailors", rather than "The time passes over" [although another crux in that version would be how sailors, presumably at sea while singing, would be found "at home"!]. But I agree that the lyric as a whole doesn't furnish much clue as to what the "new act" might be. I can't think of any which sailors or landsmen would only just have "found".

~M~


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: GUEST,#
Date: 07 May 14 - 08:07 AM

Perhaps an answer is here.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: Leadfingers
Date: 07 May 14 - 08:07 AM

Our folk club's been empty most hours of the day
Since they booked a new act to drive audience away


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: GUEST
Date: 07 May 14 - 08:34 AM

An "act" is the complete performance on stage. So rather than just one new song as in some versions it is the complete set of songs that are new to the singers and driving sorrows away.

Of course the songs aren't "new", they are the same songs that they have always been singing, this is called "poetic licence".


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: GUEST,Ed
Date: 07 May 14 - 08:36 AM

#,

I think you've nailed it. 'Act' and 'Song' as synonyms


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: Keith A of Hertford
Date: 07 May 14 - 08:40 AM

If you give a lewd wink as you do the line, everyone can imagine what kind of act would make the time pass more pleasant for them.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: GUEST,Ed
Date: 07 May 14 - 08:44 AM

Yes, but that would hardly be 'new' would it, Keith?

Well maybe for you...


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 07 May 14 - 08:50 AM

He could perhaps mean that, having run out of credit at the pub, he has taken to drinking at home with just one friend for company, when the evening comes & "Bright Phoebe arises", and finds he prefers it and the time passes more quickly.

Just an idea which the words, such as they are, might support. But somewhat speculative, I admit.

~M~


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: GUEST,Dave
Date: 07 May 14 - 10:01 AM

I like the idea of covering it with a lewd wink but am starting to come down on the idea of drink because most of the verses or odd and could mostly be explained by taking "act" as drink.

If "Bright Phoebe" refers to the moon, why does she have red rosy cheeks and a sparkling eye (drink?) - unless it should be "Bright Phoebus", referring to the sun ... ?

I've generally taken the third verse as "ask me for credit" but "ask for my credit" seem to be the words that are generally sung - rather odd.

I'm starting to wonder whether it was written as a nonsense song.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 07 May 14 - 10:16 AM

Phoebe [shining] was an epithet for the moon-goddess Artemis/Selene/Cynthia, as was Phoebus for Apollo the sun-god. Phebe is the feminine form. The moon often has a red tinge - note esp from Wikipedia

•Red moon, the colour of the moon in a lunar eclipse
•Red moon, another name for a full moon

"Ask for my credit, you will find I have none" surely supports the suggestion I mad a few posts back as to why he has taken to drinking at home with just one companion, rather than at the inn where his credit has run out?

~M~


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 07 May 14 - 10:45 AM

... So might this be a reasonable attempt to interpret this apparently somewhat random series of short stanzas into a coherent train of thought?:

"My life has taken a turn for the better since I made a new discovery as to how to spend the evening hours. Instead of going to the pub, which I can't manage as my credit has run out, I can get as much satisfaction staying in with just one good friend and a bottle to finish up between us. Although I am not rich, I can afford this, and find it makes me as content as if I really was a very wealthy man."

OTOH, maybe Dave was right, and it is only meant as a nonsense song, at that. Still, I think that makes for a reasonable interpretation???

~Michael~


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: GUEST,Dave
Date: 07 May 14 - 11:59 AM

That seems an excellent interpretation, although the original words probably make for a better song ;-)

This little exercise has made me wonder what other nonsense we sing without understanding what the words mean. I'll listen to myself next time ;-)

Thanks to all for the discussion.
Dave


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 07 May 14 - 01:56 PM

Michael_theGM, very reasonable, in my opinion a bit too reasonable for a drinking song. Those who count their pennies cannot claim to have driven sorrow away, can they?

What about a new drinking ritual, such as a game where the winner or loser must drink a glass of gin?

Somewhere I read the (presumed) original lyrics, quite different in meaning but similar in structure. Probably this is just another sad case of corrupted lyrics - not nonsense, but with features that do not make really good sense.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 07 May 14 - 05:03 PM

Not sure I would call it "a drinking song"; moderation seems to me to be the narrator's keynote ~~ "my bottle", in the singular note, shared with a friend. ½-bottle an entire evening's drinking: scarcely excessive... Moderate drinking, as well as moderate but adequate financial resources, seem to be enough to make him "as happy as those who have thousands or more"!

~M~


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: GUEST
Date: 07 May 14 - 05:13 PM

Thousa-ands a-a-way-ay-ay,
Since we've learned a new act to drive thou-ousands a-away


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 07 May 14 - 05:57 PM

We agreed that the lyrics do not seem entirely consistent, perhaps by corruption, but there are strong hints of what we would nowadays call alcohol abuse:
  • The narrator, though not yet really poor, has lost credit, which means s/he has lost social respectability
  • Under these circumstances, s/he should have sorrows, of which s/he "drives away" only the awareness, by getting drunk.
The bottle, even if shared with friends in the plural (as some versions state), can be refilled from a barrel, or there may be one after the other.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: GUEST,JHW (reformatted laptop)
Date: 08 May 14 - 05:42 PM

Sadly we can't ask Mike just what he meant but I'd say the Watersons were for very many a new act that drove sorrows away.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: doc.tom
Date: 10 May 14 - 06:07 AM

Although I'm not rich - and in fact I'm quite poor...


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: Marje
Date: 10 May 14 - 06:29 AM

I always assumed that singing together was the "new act" that would drive sorrow away. But I suppose it could be drinking, or doing the two in combination (works for me!).

Marje


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: Mo the caller
Date: 10 May 14 - 07:03 AM

Yes, I agree with Marje. It seems to be about singing, companionship, and being content with little money (oh, and probably drinking too).

But does Phoebe really mean the moon? I thought it was a mishearing/corruption of Phoebus.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 10 May 14 - 10:35 AM

Mo --

"Phoebe, an epithet of Selene" --

one of meanings of Phoebe given in Wikipedia.

Selene one of the names of moon-goddess, along with Cynthia or Artemis. So it is a case of the conventional adjective [meaning 'shining'] being used attributively in place of the actual name (IIRC the technical name for tropes of this kind is antonomasia). Similarly, the masculine form Phoebus sometimes used for Apollo the sun-god. So Phoebe here does mean the moon, rather than being an alternative for Phoebus; the point being that the singer drinks at home in the evening after moonrise, with just one companion, instead of going out to the inn where he has run out of credit.

~M~


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: Brian Peters
Date: 10 May 14 - 12:20 PM

Sorry Mike, but I'm with Mo - I always read 'Bright Phoebe' as the sun, whatever evidence from Greek mythology, or the rare occurrences of rosy-tinged lunar manifestations you might be able to quote. I was hoping Jon Dudley might have shown up by now to tell us what the Coppers think it all means.

One possibility I might suggest is that 'the new act' is the act of inebriation, and 'bottle and friend' means 'the bottle is my friend', i.e. the song is a hymn to alcoholism.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 10 May 14 - 07:57 PM

doc.tom (10 May 14 - 06:07 AM) mentions a variant that may be nearer the original meaning. Also, the number of persons involved in the ritual seems to vary from singer to singer. The word "We" in the beginning suggests some human company: even if the bottle were considered a friend, it would not have participated in the finding.

The following main points can be considered well-established: The narrator has no credit, which means social and financial problems. S/he needs to drive the resulting sorrows away. To achieve this, s/he and others designed a ritual ("act") which involves a bottle. To be sure, bottle-whistling can be great fun, but it takes more than one bottle. Spin-the-bottle is not such a thrilling pastime in the long run. Thus, it stands to reason that the trick involves drinking alcoholic beverages. The feeling of sorrow is driven away, but its causes are not - probably worsened. Priding oneself with disregarding these consequences (temporarily) is a fixed topos of drinking poetry since ancient times, not meant to be taken literally as a recommendation for a permanent way of life.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 11 May 14 - 01:45 PM

Brian -- In what way can the asun be said to have red rosy cheeks, except at sunset, when it is not "arising". The moon, otoh, does rise at the time one would expect to go out to the pub if one has credit or means to pay; or to stay at home drinking otherwise. I think this patently an after-dark, rather than a morning, song. Anyone who will habitually be 'found at home', drinking with one friend first thing in the morning & onwards, is surely in some trouble!?

~M~


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: Mo the caller
Date: 12 May 14 - 11:19 AM

So it's back to the OP.
Is this a song with a coherent story (even if we have to search Greek myths and Wiki to find it). Or a series of floating verses in praise of drink, company and harmony singing.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 12 May 14 - 06:47 PM

Only the full moon rises at sunset and sets at sunrise. If this is the time of the ritual, it takes place at intervals of 28 days in the evening, thus with a tolerable risk to health, fitness for work, and finances. But will it drive away sorrows reliably?

As Mo writes, floating or corrupt verses are very likely. Anyway, the song hardly claims correctness of psychology, astronomy, and budget management.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: GUEST,Jon Dudley
Date: 13 May 14 - 02:43 AM

Sorry chaps, Mudcat appears to have been on some sort of 'reduced speed due to buckled rails' thing, but I've just learnt a new act to drive sorrows away and I'm pleased to report that it's based around Harveys brewery in Lewes. As you know Brian, we don't think much...just sing...and this was Bob's favourite folk song - that we do know;-)


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: Brian Peters
Date: 13 May 14 - 06:18 AM

Ah, Jon, but you can now see from this thread how much fun the family has been missing out on, by not inventing complicated rationalizations for every floating verse in their repertoire. Thanks Grishka and Mike for some good laughs (Mike, you have almost convinced me), but my mind's eye still likes to see the 'Phoebe' verse as a simple celebration of the joys of a sunny morning, to balance the equal joy of slumping into a drunken stupor, desperately clutching an empty - but still beloved - bottle.

I hate to spoil the party by mentioning the Roud Index, but it's interesting how rare this song seems to be: only two sightings other than the Coppers, and no broadside copies. I wonder whether it's in an obscure book somewhere? So, not much chance to corroborate 'new act' or Phoebe / Phoebus etc from another version, without tracking down a couple of tricky sources.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: GUEST,mayomick
Date: 13 May 14 - 07:00 AM

"Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,
Toward Phoebus' lodging ............"

"In the darkness, let me, a shy virgin, learn the strange act of sex so that it seems innocent, modest, and true."

ROMEO AND JULIET


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: GUEST,Jon Dudley
Date: 13 May 14 - 08:35 AM

Fantastic new research by Dr. Vic Gammon has revealed a written source. I won't steal his thunder but it's remarkable…suffice to say the written lyric is- 'For I've learnt the true art to drive sorrow away'. Without doubt when you see the rest of the lyrics it's a drinking song!


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: Brian Peters
Date: 13 May 14 - 08:42 AM

Can't wait to read that, Jon!


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Subject: RE: Meaning of 'learnt a new act ...'
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 13 May 14 - 11:36 AM

Jon, that looks like the original alright, and makes more (though not "better") sense. I half remember to have read it somewhere as well, as I mentioned on 07 May 14 - 01:56 PM.


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