Round Yon Virgin

December 23, 2014

Away in a Manger

Some of the more curious lyrics to songs seem to be evident in some of the best known Christmas-time hymns. At least it seems that way to me.

Perhaps the cause is sometimes from lack of attention. For instance, as a kid I was certain that the prolonged “glo-r-ia, in excelsius deo” of Angels We Have Heard on High was somehow about Oreo cookies.  I was in my early 20’s before I gave it enough thought and discovered the Latin lingo.  (Truth be told, even now knowing I still hear “O-re-o” echo in my head whenever the song is sung.)

But sometime it is not lack of attention, but archaic language that causes the confusion.  One such example may be some of the words to the song Silent Night, sung at the conclusion of many Christmas Eve services, as candles are being lighted all throughout the sanctuaries.  The folks from Mental Floss have shed some light on the odd phrases of that popular tune:

The “round” in Silent Night might call up imagery of the soft, maternal kind, but in the phrase “round yon virgin,” it simply means “around.” “Yon” is an antiquated word for “that one” or “over there.” The meaning of the phrase in the song depends on the line before it. It should be understood in the context “all is calm, all is bright round yon virgin mother and child.” In other words “Everything is calm and bright around that virgin mother over there and her child.” In technical terms, “round yon virgin mother and child” is a prepositional phrase.

So now we know.  The words do not describe a pregancy weight gain, or some other kind of personal allusion, but rather an idylic bucolic serenity that accompanied the Prince of Peace into this world.

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