Monday, July 02, 2007

What is a rill?

Who's asking: Jennifer Lechner, Freeport, ME

The closing hymn at Wyatt Bragdon's baby-dedication ceremony yesterday was "America," more commonly known (and in fact listed in the hymnal) as "My Country, 'Tis of Thee."

Most Americans can sing this verse by heart without giving a thought to what the words mean:

My native country, thee,
land of the noble free, thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
thy woods and templed hills;
my heart with rapture thrills, like that above.

So what, Jen wanted to know, is a rill?

A rill is a brook, small river or rivulet. The Cobbosseecontee, across from my apartment, is big to be called a "rill," but you could stretch the word to include it.

The Reverend Samuel Francis Smith wrote the lyrics to the American version of the song in 1832, before moving up to Waterville, Maine -- so the song has special resonance in this part of the country. I'm not sure that Smith even knew, when he wrote the words, that the tune belonged to the British first, as "God Save the King/Queen." He found it in a book of German songs a friend had brought back from Europe, and was inspired to write his lyrics after translating the German poem that had been set to the tune.

This entire week, I think, will be Independence Day-related questions. It was one of my favorite holidays as a child, and I still love it, despite -- well, despite. G.K. Chesterton put it better than I could:

"My country, right or wrong" is a thing no patriot would ever think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying "My mother, drunk or sober."

My mother, drunk or sober.


Anonymous said...

I always liked Chesterton's line about voting not destroying democracy. Viz., "The unconscious democracy of America is a very fine thing. It is a true and deep and instinctive assumption of the equality of citizens, which even voting and elections have not destroyed." (I never knew it exactly until now.)

For a whole lot of the best of this esteemable convert to Catholicism -- seriously, read _Orthodxy_ everyone who doubts his/her Catholicness -- check out

Anonymous said...

Duh, the above comment is from me, Ed.

Anonymous said...

I'm not familar with the term baby-dedication ceremony. I'm assuming it has someing to do with an adoption, but not sure. Please enlighten me.

St. Louis

AnswerGirl said...

Although Wyatt is adopted, the term has nothing to do with that. It's what Baptists have instead of christenings or baptisms, because Baptists do not believe in infant baptism.

It was a very nice ceremony.

Linda Brown said...

Clair, why is your picture no longer up on your blog?

I think it's the Unitarians who have a baby naming ceremony, rather than a baptism or what the rest of us call a christening. I'm not sure what the difference is, to be frank; but, call it what you will, those ceremonies are always lovely and moving, aren't they?


AnswerGirl said...

My photo was hosted on a friend's website that no longer exists, and I can't figure out how to post it again. I dislike pictures of myself, anyway.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe I have ever sung more than the first verse of "My country tis o' thee" so rill never came up in a lyrical context.

Possible the way it is rhymed there would make Sondheim jealous


Claire said...

That particular G.K. Chesterton quote has been running through my head, too. He was a smart, smart man.