~ A Passion Play ~



  • "Kentish Town, love-hungry pilgrims, no bodies to feed..."
    Robert Pahre suggests that " 'Kentish town' is a reference to Canterbury, seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury." Canterbury has been a city of pilgrimage since Thomas à Beckett was killed there in the 11th century. Some kind of pilgrims turn up here: "... a new breed of love-hungry pilgrims". These pilgrims don't have to be fed anymore, since they are dead: "no bodies to feed" might refer to the fact that in the middle ages pilgrims received free meals in the monastries during their stay and a place to sleep. Neil R. Thomason and Thomas Birch point out that Kentish Town is in fact the name of a district of London, near Camden. We might have to do here with one of Ian's double 'entendres'.
    * Jan Voorbij
  • "Pick up thy bed and rise...."
    Referring to the Bible-verse, John 5:8:" Jesus saith unto him, rise, take up they bed, and walk".
  • "Fell with mine angels..."
    Possibly from the first chapter of Milton's "Paradise Lost":
  • "Th' infernal Serpent; he it was, whose guile
    Stird up with Envy and Revenge, deceiv'd
    The Mother of Mankinde, what time his Pride
    Had cast him out from Heav'n, with all his Host
    Of Rebel Angels, by whose aid aspiring
    To set himself in Glory above his Peers,
    He trusted to have equal'd the most High,
    If he oppos'd; and with ambitious aim
    Against the Throne and Monarchy of God
    Rais'd impious War in Heav'n and Battel proud
    With vain attempt. Him the Almighty Power
    Hurld headlong flaming from th' Ethereal Skie
    With hideous ruine and combustion down
    To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
    In Adamantine Chains and penal Fire,
    Who durst defie th' Omnipotent to Arms."

  • "Icy Lucifer"
    Another Dante reference, this time from Canto 34, Terzetta 30 (Longfellow's translation):
  • "The Emperor of the kingdom dolorous
    From his mid-breast forth issued from the ice... "

  • "Lord of the Flies"
    Referring to Beelzebub, one of 'the fallen angels'. Beelzebub literally means "the lord of the flies" in Hebrew.
    * Leigh-Ann Hussey (The Annotated Passion Play)

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  • "Pick me up at half past none ....."
    From this verse-line up to "I'd stay but my wings have just dropped off." there are two possible references, but I am not sure which one is right. One might be referring to dying, the other might be - once again - a biblical one referring to 'resurrection on the youngest day'."Half past none" suggests the end of time, the moment when we are supposed to be"picked up", according to John in chapter 20. The train is symbolic for the life we have lived full of rush and hurry, our own personal passion play; 'the old shoes on the platform' possibly stand for everything we leave behind when dying: our earthly life, our history and our body. But departing without shoes also suggests a kind of nakedness, vulnerabilty perhaps. All that is left of us is the nucleus of what and who we essentially are. That part of us travels further. In the context of the verses that follow I tend to assume that the second reference might be correct, though the line "I'd stay but my wings have just dropped off" pleas in favour of the first one.
    * Jan Voorbij
  • "Magus Perde"
    Magus (1) -i, m. a learned Persian, a magician; magus (2) -a -um, magical. Magus Perde is a medieval latin term that translates roughly into 'Supreme Magician' or ' extreme magician'. I cannot tell you its origin however, I have two ideas - either it was a church term for the devil or it is an alchemical term for god, or both.
    * Reddred

  • After the Norman invasion of Britain in 1066 and the subsequent crowning of William the Conqueror, French became the official language of the Court and of learnèd discourse. One of the common oaths to enter into early English literature was the French 'per Dieux', meaning 'by God', with this example taken from Chaucer's poem 'Trolius and Criseyde' (c.1384):

    "I have herd told, perdieux, of youre lyuynge,
      ye loueres, and youre lewd obseruances . . .

    In the same poem, Chaucer also gives the phrase in its shortened form (a later example of this linguistic habit can be seen in the use of the exclamation 'Zounds!' rather than the original 'God's wounds!') --

    "And yet thow hast this comfort, lo, perde . . "

    As an abbreviation rather than a proper word, variants in spelling were common: 'perdee', 'pardy', 'perdi', 'parde'.

    The mediaeval English mystery plays, which date from this same period, also contain many examples of the word. These mystery plays were originally oral dramas performed by different tradesmen within the towns and villages in order to enact popular Bible stories in the common tongue. The plays of York, Chester and Towneley provide the best surviving examples,  ranging from the Creation right through to Judgement Day.  This body of early English literature is also the source of what are now referred to as Passion Plays, the ritual drama of Christ's arrest, trial, crucifixion, harrowing of Hell, and final resurrection.

    Here is an example from the Towneley play of Noah:

     It is of an olif tre
    A branch, thynkys me.

    It is soth, perde,
    Right so is it cald.

    The mystery plays were all heavily rhymed, and also extremely limited in their rhymes.  From this example it is clear how 'perde' was pronounced: rhyming with 'tre' (tree) and 'me'.  In mediaeval English however, the word 'tree' sounded much like 'tray', and 'me' similar to 'may'.

    Modern editors of these mystery plays tend to indicate the correct pronunciation of 'perde' by adding an acute accent over the final 'e' -- perdé.  My guess is that Ian was doing some background reading into the original Passion Plays of 14th century England, and caught sight of this strange word 'perdé' in the text.  Looking to the footnotes or to the glossary, he would have found it translated as 'by God'.

    My own edition of the English mystery plays (ed. Peter Happé, Penguin Books, 1975) gives the word no accent, leaving it as it was originally written.  It wasn't until Lois Chadwell Cruz found this online example (line 83): , that the likely source of Magus Perdé became clear.

    As to the significance of all this, we can only guess. 'Magus' signifies either a wise philosopher or a sorcerer, which suggests a Doctor Faustus character (it may be an obvious point, but Doctor Faustus made a deal with the Devil in return for his mortal soul). If the appellation 'Perdé' is to be given any significance, we may perhaps look to one of the Christian mystics such as
    Meister Eckhart.
    * Andy Jackson
  • I come from Lebanon (an Arab speaking country) and until I read your annotation of A Passion Play, I had thought that Magus Perde was a person. Then it struck me that 'magus' sounds like a word used in Arabic which roughly translates: a word of Persian origin- which signifies a sect of people who worship fire or the sun. As for the information on the sun or fire worshiping, I found that under the definition of Magus in an Arabic dictionary called 'Al Munjid' which is considered the bible of Arabic language. It also means a philosopher or wiseman. And from my own knowledge I believe that the word magus in Arabic signifies the 3 kings who come from the orient (probably Persia) to bring gifts to baby Jesus.
    * Ghayya Al Amine

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  • "Tread the knife's edge"
    There is a pun on this, of course -- "tough are the souls", but this line also refers to the sword-bridge over the Abyss, the most famous instance of which is in the tale of Lancelot told by Cretien de Troyes called "Le Chevalier de la Charrete", or the Knight of the Cart. In it, Lancelot must undergo numerous humiliating ordeals before finally coming to the Pont de l'Espee, the Bridge of the Sword, which he must cross to rescue Queen Guenevere ("Ganievre" in the French), who has been kidnapped by Sir Meleagans. To cross it, he must divest himself of all but his helmet and hauberk and cross on bare hands and feet.
    * Leigh-Ann Hussey (The Annotated Passion Play)
  • "Hail! Son of kings make the ever-dying sign...."
    From this point in the lyrics Ian makes use of several elements of the visions of St. John concerning the fate of mankind and the universe, as described in the Book Of Revelation. The apocalyptical conflict between the powers of good and evil, God and the devil might be referred to in these verselines:

  • "...cross your fingers in the sky for those about to BE.
    There am I waiting along the sand.
    Cast your sweet spell upon the land and sea.
    Magus Perde, take your hand from off the chain.
    Loose a wish to still, the rain,
    the storm about to BE. (...)
    Break the circle,stretch the line, call upon the devil.
    Bring the gods, the gods' own fire. In the conflict revel".

    * Jan Voorbij

  • "The gods' own fire"
    This probably refers to the Greek myth of Prometheus, but one should also bear in mind that "Lucifer" is Latin for "light-bearer".
    * Leigh-Ann Hussey (The Annotated Passion Play)
  • "The passengers upon the ferry crossing, waiting to be born...."
    I assume that here Ian refers to the river Styx, the river in Greek mythology, that parts the living from the dead and from where - once crossed - no return is possible. Only this time the dead are returning to live and cross the river once again, called awake by the reveille horn , to make their appearance for the Last Judgement, in the hope to gain eternal life ("From the dark into the ever-day"):
    "renew the pledge of life's long song rise to the reveille horn.
    Animals queueing at the gate thatstands upon the shore
    breathe the ever-burning fire that guards the ever-door".

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  • "Roll the stone away from the dark into the everday"
    Referring to the Bible-verse, John 20:1: "Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance." (English - NIV)
    * Jan Voorbij
  • Andy Jackson has a different view on Leigh-Ann Hussey's annotations in which she states there are references to Dante and Milton in the lyrics of A Passion Play:
    "I must admit I've never really bought the idea that A Passion Play was *directly* inspired by Dante or Milton. I don't know how many people on this list have sat down to read either 'Paradise Lost' or 'The Inferno'. I read Paradise Lost at university when I was 18, and Christ it was a chore. All twelve books, over 10,000 lines. Not exactly bedtime reading. And more to the point, not part of the 'O' level curriculum (neither is Dante of course, also a similarly mind-numbing epic for the first-time reader). So you would have to assume that Ian read both of these in his spare time, at some point after finishing school, just for the hell of it . This is a guy who says he doesn't like poetry as well . . . . I just don't see it. What are supposed to be references to Milton (the fall of Lucifer seems to be the only one) are pretty much part and parcel of general knowledge. Next to the Bible, 'Paradise Lost' was usually the only book you'd find in your average Protestant household. The two went hand-in-hand, as being the
    'same story'. And anyway, the story of Lucifer's fall is right there in the Bible -- Ezekiel, Isaiah, Job, etc. So knowledge of this particular story requires no knowledge of 'Paradise Lost' . . . it's there in every sermon already, as well as being embedded in the Protestant psyche. The references to Dante -- again, I don't see it. 'The old dog howls with madness' being a nod to Cerberus . . . . Cerberus originates in Greek myth -- the labours of Hercules -- common stories for most schoolboys. Even having said that, I don't see any indication that this is a reference to Cerberus at all -- Ian's lyrics are full of dogs. To go from dogs to Dante is stretching it to say the least. It's more of a challenge to make some sense out of Ian's constant use of the 'dog' as a private symbol I think. The 'sweetly-scented angel' being a reference to Beatrice, or maybe it's just an angel? No need for Dante here. Hell being 'icy' -- to me this looks like a simple creative paradox. Lucifer is 'freezing', i.e. *non-creative*, as opposed to the fire or flame of Life. He's a dead-end. You don't have to plough through 32 Cantos of Dante to come up with that idea. Also, Ronnie Pilgrim isn't *in* the lowest circle of Hell at this point on his journey through the 'icy wastes' -- he's in limbo -- so the reference wouldn't make sense even if it were intended. And I guess we're all familiar with the phrases "It'll be a cold day in hell before . . ." or "When hell freezes over." My guess -- Ian has never read a word of Dante in his life. The poetics of Milton are as much an accepted part of the culture as Shakespeare, i.e. you can know the phrases and images without necessarily knowing their source. So while these references may strike a chord with folk who happen to be (perhaps only slightly) familiar with these works, I've never seen them as being of any real use in approaching the Play itself. I guess it's understandable though -- Satan's fall is described in the first 300 lines of 'Paradise Lost' -- anyone picking it up for the first time gets to read all the racey bits without having to go any further. Young master Ian may have done the same I guess".
    * Andy Jackson

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Back to "A Passion Play" lyrics page

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Forward to "A Passion Play Analysis"

(Note: Currently Neil Thomason is working on An Annotated Passion Play
and he just finished analysing the first two acts.)


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