Monday, April 17, 2023

A Small Rain's A-Gonna Fall

A lovely and curious turn of phrase with a story behind it almost slipped my notice when I was re-reading Rafi Zabor's novel The Bear Comes Home. Two men, Jones and Levine, stand outside a jazz venue that Levine is constructing within the body of the Brooklyn Bridge.
They stood on the large square landing atop the roughed-out stairway and looked riverward across to Brooklyn. It was an indecisive afternoon: the small rain down had rained and now, south on their right to the Battery, a white winter sun alternately masked and unmasked itself behind migrating cloud. The grey underside of the bridge soared out over the river and diminished toward its farther landing, the water beneath the bridge dull as lead except where the sun found it and tipped the surface. (Emphasis added.)
The words "the small rain down had rained," which puzzled me at first, are an allusion to this haunting little fragment of 16th-century song lyric:
Westron wynde when wyll thow blow
the smalle rayne downe can Rayne
Cryst yf my love were in my Armys
and I yn my bed Agayne
The interpretation of the lines and even the parsing of the syntax is somewhat uncertain, but "the small rain down can rain" should probably be read as meaning "the small rain can rain down." The ultimate source of the phrase may be from Deuteronomy (KJV): "My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass." Thomas Pynchon's first short story was entitled "The Small Rain," and Pynchon scholar Richard Darabaner (1952-1985) believed that he borrowed the title directly from Deuteronomy.

There's a discussion of "Westron Wynde" at Early Music Muse.

No comments: