Tuesday, June 03, 2008
The Strand: Postscript Word Trip
From the first entry for the word "strand" in the Oxford English Dictionary:
strand (straend) sb [OE. strand = OFris. strond, MLG strant(masc), ON. strond (strand-)fem. border, edge, coast (Sw., Da. strand).]
1.a. The land bordering a sea, lake, or river; in a more restricted sense, that part of a shore which lies between the tide-marks; sometimes use vaguely for coast, shore. Cf. SEA-STRAND. Now poet.., arch.. or dial.
Going back to 1000, the OED then cites various quotes using the word "strand", in the above sense, in English.
For instance, from Chaucer in 1386;
"Thanne longenfolk to goon on pilgrimages. And Palmeres for to seken straunge
Then later, a poem of Shelley's in 1817:
"On the bare strand
Upon the sea-mark a small boat did wait."
The love of a person, place or thing is a layering of many parts and threads; when any one of those parts and threads is singled out and examined closely they become less and less significant in isolation, losing the drawing power of the whole, and (to drag out the oft-used physics simile) like subatomic particles under microscopic view, utterly lose materiality, or rather, their materiality appears and disappears in waves. On the other hand, more threads may be revealed; an endless road of them. Knowing this, if only intuitively, my inclination is to lay back with an attitude of acceptance or gratefulness - content not to see or comprehend the whole picture, enjoying the detailed pathways and detours, but accepting the "mountain obscured by mists".
For me merely the sound of "strand" resounds, by a myriad of associations, with a feeling of refuge and repose, stretches of sand and tide to walk along.
In America we generally associate the word "strand" with the condition of being stranded, "he was stranded on a desert isle" or "I was stranded in traffic", and to a lesser degree, strands of hair.
In England up until the 1600's a "strand" usually signified a beach or shore. Those words gradually supplanted "strand" which was retained in placenames and poetic usage.
The shoreline of the Thames lent its name to Londons's Strand Street and district - once the site of vaudeville and "serious" theatres. Sherlock Holmes was first featured in stories published by The Strand Magazine.
In Ireland however, to this day "strand" retains its old meaning and commonly refers to a beach, shore, or a riverbank.
In the case of Ireland the usage of the word is more likely to come directly from the Danish and Norwegian vikings who gained a foothold there beginning in the early 800's. As they took a liking to the estuaries and coastal harbors reminiscent of their Scandinavian homeland the enterprising Norsemen proceeded to found what became the major Irish towns; Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Wexford to name a few. Scandinavian words connecting with sea travel and trade thus entered into the Irish language. Eventually the Norsemen and later the "conquering" Normans (descendants of Danish vikings themselves) were absorbed into the culture and bloodlines of the Irish; leaving not but the towns, castles, surnames (Macmanus and McAuliffe from the Norse; Fitzgerald and Burke from the Normans) and a few words like "strand".
When I hear the word I also think of the lovely irish jig "The Lark On the Strand".
There are many varied samplings of it to be heard on youtube and trad Irish records. My favorite on youtube is this one, a rendition by the young harpist Michelle Mulcahey. The Lark on the Strand is the second tune of the two jigs. This is the clearest and most fluent, affecting version in my mind and I enjoy watching the movement of her hands on each side of the strings, weaving the melodic line.