From the earworm deconstruction department

by , under earworm deconstruction, thinking

In Oostenrijk daar staat een huis

This is from a Folkcorn record, format-shifted four times (tape, CD, computer, phone), turned up in shuffle this morning when I was cycling to the pool with music in my ears.

I’m using the words I actually hear them singing rather than what is on their own website– either someone else must have put the lyrics on, or they really don’t know that ‘veertig vademen’ is a measurement and ‘veertigsademen’ is nonsense (but sing it right anyway).

The blurb on the site says “This is a ballad about a young man who is hanged for his marriage or engagement to a girl above his station. The young man’s father takes revenge and kills thirty servants of Lord Rosemount.” The “above his station” doesn’t come into the song explicitly, but we’ll get to that. (I had “Rozenberg” translated as “Rosehill” until I got a brainwave in the shower)

In Oostenrijk daar staat een huis, zeer fraai en wel ten tone
van marmer en albasten steen en blinkt van goude schone.

In Eastland there is a house, very fair and well-appointed, of marble and alabaster stone, glittering with pretty gold. (There are several different words approximately meaning ‘beautiful’ in this song. I’ll just pick one that seems appropriate every time. I may not be consistent.)

Oostenrijk, even though it’s the Dutch name for it, probably doesn’t mean “Austria” as in “the country between Germany and Hungary”, but “the Eastern Realm”: either a fictional Oriental-ish or Ruritania-like country or the Baltic (which many people from the Low Countries emigrated to in the late Middle Ages).

Daar op zo leit een jong’ling teer, op zijnen hals gevangen
wel veertig vademen onder de aard’ bij add’ren en bij slangen.

On it a tender youth lies, condemned to be hanged, as much as forty fathoms under the earth with adders and with snakes.

‘Tender’ might mean that he’s really young, in his early teens, making the story even more poignant. I can imagine the boy fostered or working at the castle, making friends with the lord’s daughter –about his own age– who has been promised in marriage to someone else. “Here, wear my necklace, it’s you I love really”– a child’s pledge, but no less serious for that.

Forty fathoms –more than seventy meters– underground seems excessive, but I think we’re meant to go “Wow! Forty fathoms!” because of the intensifier wel.

Apparently adders aren’t snakes, like the sign on a fish stall near where I used to live, “Stuif’s haring en vis, het beste dat er is” — “Stuif’s herring and fish, the best there is”. Bij ‘with, near’ seems to imply that he wasn’t thrown into the oubliette together with the snakes, but the snakes were already there (as a feature of the dungeon) and he was thrown in with them.

Zijn vader kwam tot Rozenberg al voor den toren gegangen
“Ach zone, liefste zone van mij, hoe zwaar ligt gij gevangen.”

His father came to Rosemount and stood before the tower, “Oh, son, dearest son of mine, how grievously art thou imprisoned.”

Now is he forty fathoms under the earth with the adders and the snakes, or on/in a tower where his father can reach him to speak to?

Zijn vader tot de here sprak “Wilt mij den gevangene los geven,
driehonderd gulden zal ik u strak wel voor den jongeling geven.”

His father spoke to the lord: “Would you yield me the prisoner? I shall presently give you three hundred guilders for the youth.”

Presumably Lord Rosemount wasn’t interested in the three hundred guilders, seeing that his house was gleaming with gold already. These were serious guilders, worth about a hundred and ten modern euros each (I made this site do the math) but still it’s an indication that the boy’s father wasn’t rolling in money or he might have offered more.

“Driehonderd gulden helpen u niet, de jongeling moet sneven.
Hij draagt een gouden keten, ziet, die brengt hem om het leven.”

“Three hundred guilders won’t help you, the youth must die. He is wearing a gold chain, see, that will be his death.”

He’s wearing a gold chain in the snake pit? I can imagine that Lord Rosemount didn’t want to give it back to his daughter, but he might at least have taken it away.

“Dat hij een gouden keten draagt, die heeft hij niet gestolen,
die heeft hem vereerd een schone maagd uit liefde onverholen.”

“That he’s wearing a gold chain, he hasn’t stolen it, a fair maiden gave it to him out of guileless love.”

But Lord Rosemount is framing him. (I’m starting to want to write the book!)

Men voerde hem ter poorte uit, die leere moest hij opstijgen
“Och meester, laat mij een kleine tijd mijn jong leven beschreien.”

He was taken out of the gate, he had to climb the ladder. “Oh master, let me have a short time to mourn my young life.”

That he calls Lord Rosemount ‘master’ might be another indication that he’s rather lower class than the lord (and the maiden).

“Een korte tijd en laat ik u niet oft gij mij moogt ontrinnen.
Geeft mij een zijden doekje, ziet, dat ik hem zijn ogen verbinde.”

“I won’t let you have a short time, or you might escape me. Give me a silk cloth, see, so I can bind his eyes.”

People who are hanged often get blindfolded– so that they don’t see it coming? So that the bystanders don’t see their eyes pop out of the socket? But I think that Lord Rosemount might have been right about the boy asking for time to, er, take his chance.

“Verbinde toch mijn ogen niet, die wereld moet ik aanschouwen,
ik zie ze nu en nimmermeer, dies leit mijn hert in rouwe.”

“Please don’t bind my eyes, I must look upon the world, I see it now and nevermore, for that my heart lies in mourning.”

Poor brave boy. The song doesn’t say whether Lord Rosemount let him have this last wish.

Omtrent drie maanden na dien dag zijn dood die was gewroken,
daar waren al over dertig man om den jongeling doodgestoken.

About three months after that day his death had been avenged, over thirty men were stabbed to death on account of the youth.

The father needed three months to get enough troops together to tackle Lord Rosemount’s men? Then he must indeed not have been rich (he had the three hundred guilders to pay them, I suppose). Thirty men might have been a substantial dent in the castle troops– I find numbers of a few hundred being called “a large garrison”.

  1. Anna

    Wow! Is Oostenrijk a real region? I’d taken it to mean a generic, legendary “land/kingdom of the East”, and the song sounds like a fairytale right up until the last two lines, where it suddenly turns into a ballad about a local vendetta between clans…


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