[Ads-l] Antedating of "Torch Song," "Carry the Torch"

James Eric Lawson jel at NVENTURE.COM
Mon Sep 27 20:30:51 EDT 2021


I would be interested in seeing the article, if for no other reason than
that Prometheus also carried a torch, because of his love for humanity.
Hesiod's _Theogeny_ is probably roughly contemporaneous with Homer's
_Odyssey_.

On 9/27/21 3:18 PM, Cohen, Gerald Leonard wrote:
> Of possible interest: a brief article I wrote titled
> Carry The Torch For Someone -- From The Odyssey?
> (Comments on Etymology, vol. 38, no. 5-6, Feb./March
> 2009, pp. 7-8).
> 
> We deal here with the literal carrying of a torch
> plus a deep, albeit not romantic. love.  In the Odyssey,
> Book 1, lines 433-434), we see the following lines about
> the old woman servant Eurycleia, who carries a torch
> as she accompanies Odysseus' son Telemachos to his
> room.
> 
> The relevant passage says: This was the woman who carried
> the torch for Telemachos; she loved him more than any other of
> the household, and she had been his nurse when he was a little
> tot.
> 
> The Odyssey has been one of the most read books of world
> literature, and countless students over the centuries must
> have read about Eurycleia.  Perhaps some of them combined
> the notions of the words (loved more than any other)
> and the immediately preceding words (carried the torch
> for Telemachos).  And since most young people are more
> preoccupied with romantic than parental-type love, the
> love reference in the words (carry the torch) was applied to
> romantic love.
> 
> I could put the article online later this week.
> 
> Gerald Cohen
> 
> ________________________________
> From: Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
> Sent: Monday, September 27, 2021 6:50 AM
> To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Subject: Re: Antedating of "Torch Song," "Carry the Torch"
> 
> 
> 
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Antedating of "Torch Song," "Carry the Torch"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 
> John, I've never heard of "torch" in the claimed sense of "beloved."
> 
> But cf. "flame."
> 
> My interpretation was always that the carrier is searching everywhere, even
> in the middle of the night, for the elusive beloved.
> 
> The world's most famous torch-carrier was, of course, the Statue of Liberty.
> 
> JL
> 
> On Sun, Sep 26, 2021 at 10:56 PM Peter Reitan <pjreitan at hotmail.com> wrote:
> 
>> These links might help, from 1928.
>>
>> "Carrying a torch" is to have a broken heart, or to bemoan the lack of
>> feminine co mpany.
>>
>> https://nam02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Flantern.mediahist.org%2Fcatalog%2Fphotoplayvolume33435chic_0054&data=04%7C01%7C%7C0635029b07174a7f542f08d981ad2615%7Ce3fefdbef7e9401ba51a355e01b05a89%7C0%7C0%7C637683404116942226%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000&sdata=y%2F24CxNt6lRBnglZjB%2Fqx%2FAladXUKUrJmsmcVxDkOeg%3D&reserved=0
>>
>>
>>
>> https://nam02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Farchive.org%2Fdetails%2Fphotoplayvolume33435chic%2Fpage%2Fn54%2Fmode%2F1up%3Fview%3Dtheater&data=04%7C01%7C%7C0635029b07174a7f542f08d981ad2615%7Ce3fefdbef7e9401ba51a355e01b05a89%7C0%7C0%7C637683404116942226%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000&sdata=hqSaygA7gEs9CjUS%2BMH4L5OlM10Z1pMBdl7%2B4USbudk%3D&reserved=0
>> ________________________________
>> From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of
>> Baker, John <JBAKER at STRADLEY.COM>
>> Sent: Sunday, September 26, 2021 5:33:11 PM
>> To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Subject: Re: Antedating of "Torch Song," "Carry the Torch"
>>
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>> -----------------------
>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       "Baker, John" <JBAKER at STRADLEY.COM>
>> Subject:      Re: Antedating of "Torch Song," "Carry the Torch"
>>
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>>
>> Thinking about this further, I'm still curious about the word "torch" in
>> bo=
>> th "torch song" and "carry a torch."  Damon Runyon's column, based
>> primaril=
>> y on a letter from the singer Tommy Lyman, asserts that both terms are
>> base=
>> d on the word "torch," which in the "Roaring Forties" came to mean the
>> obje=
>> ct of one's affections.  Is there any other evidence that "torch" ever had
>> =
>> that meaning?  Even if it did, "carry a torch" seems to refer to the
>> frustr=
>> ated lover, not the object of the lover's affections.  Green's Dictionary
>> o=
>> f Slang suggests that "the 'light of love' is still burning, even if it is
>> =
>> unreciprocated."  I suppose that makes more sense, but it isn't clear what
>> =
>> evidence there may be for this analysis.
>>
>> It turns out to be really hard to search for "carry a torch."  There is a
>> f=
>> ar greater number of literal examples of torch-carrying than I would have
>> s=
>> upposed.  "Carry a torch" was indeed included in the lyrics of the song
>> tha=
>> t Runyan said Lyman wrote, known as When You Carry the Torch and various
>> ot=
>> her names.  The lyrics include the lines "Ev'ry tear seems to scorch, When
>> =
>> you carry the torch And the gang's gone home," according to the website
>> quo=
>> ted below.  However, I don't know how early the full lyrics can be
>> confirme=
>> d, and in any case it seems to be unresolved whether Lyman created both
>> ter=
>> ms, or named "torch song" after an existing phrase.
>>
>> I suppose that "Roaring Forties" is a mistake for "Roaring Twenties,"  the
>> =
>> decade of the 1920s.  "Roaring forties" is the original term, but refers
>> to=
>>  stormy areas of the ocean between 40 and 50 degrees north latitude.
>>
>> Here is the discussion of When You Carry the Torch, from the website
>> linked=
>>  in my previous email, including the lyrics:
>>
>> "The song is called variously:
>> The Torch That Didn't Go Out
>> The Kansas City Torch
>> The Torch of Kansas City
>> When You Carry The Torch
>> and was, allegedly, taught to Turk Murphy by Patsy Patton (cabaret
>> singer and wife of banjo player Pat Patton. We know him from when he
>> came to Sydney on the Matson Line ships). The first 'jazz' version was
>> reco=
>> rded by Turk Murphy for a Columbia LP on 19 Jan. 1953. The notes by George
>> =
>> Avakian to that 'Barrelhouse Jazz' LP says that Turk came to it from the
>> Ca=
>> stle Jazz Band (who recorded it later in Aug 1957) via Don Kinch and Bob
>> Sh=
>> ort, ex Castle band members).
>>
>> It was composed (music and lyrics) in 1928 by the great Harry Warren
>> (we all know him) using the name Harry Herschel and originally
>> published by Robbins Music Corp.
>>
>> WHEN YOU CARRY THE TORCH
>> [Verse]:When the gang has turned you down,
>> And you wander 'round the town,
>> Longing for someone in sympathy.
>> As you go from place to place,
>> Looking for some friendly face,
>> You can hear the old town clock strike three;
>> Then you wish you had your old gal back again.
>> You're lonesome, oh, so lonesome,
>> And your poor hear cries in vain:
>>
>> [Chorus]:
>> Oh, gee, but it's tough,
>> When the gang's gone home;
>> Out on the corner,
>> You stand alone;
>> You feel so blue
>> With nothing to do;
>> You're cravin' someone's company.
>> The gang leaves you there
>> With an old time stall,
>> While you go home and gaze
>> At the four bare walls.
>> Ev'ry tear seems to scorch,
>> When you carry the torch
>> And the gang's gone home.
>>
>> [2nd Verse]:
>> When you haven't got a friend,
>> And your worries never end,
>> When the future doesn't look so bright.
>> As you sit there in the gloom
>> Of an empty silent room,
>> As the hallway clock ticks through the night,
>> Then you long to hear a knock upon your door.
>> You're weary, oh, so dreary,
>> And your poor heart cries once more:
>>
>> [Chorus]"
>>
>>
>> John Baker
>>
>>
>> From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> On Behalf Of
>> Baker,=
>>  John
>> Sent: Thursday, September 23, 2021 6:49 PM
>> To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
>> Subject: Antedating of "Torch Song," "Carry the Torch"
>>
>> A torch song is a song of unrequited love, especially of longing for a
>> form=
>> er lover, and is thought to derive from the phrase "to carry a torch" (for
>> =
>> someone). The OED's earliest citations for both terms are from 1927, and
>> th=
>> e citation for the former says that the term "torch song" is said to have
>> b=
>> een created by Tommy Lyman in reference to his song "Come To Me, My
>> Melanch=
>> oly Baby." Here is an earlier example from 1926, in a column by Damon
>> Runyo=
>> n. Monroe (La.) News-Star (Oct. 29, 1926) (NewspaperArchive). The column
>> ag=
>> rees in giving credit to Lyman for "torch song" and also addresses "to
>> carr=
>> y a torch."
>>
>> <<I have a letter from Mr. Tommy Lyman, who is over in that dear Paree . .
>> =
>> . .
>>
>> All persons on Manhattan Island who were carrying the torch invariably
>> woun=
>> d up in the good Signor's premises to hear Mr. Lyman sing. Carrying the
>> tor=
>> ch describes the sad condition of a person, male or female, who has had a
>> f=
>> alling out with their loved one, sweetheart, wife, or husband.
>>
>> Such fallings out produce in the human bosom a terrible burning sensation
>> -=
>>  phew, how it burns! - but perhaps I am telling you something you already
>> k=
>> new. A man carrying the torch has been known to walk ten miles and not
>> real=
>> ize he has gone a block. He is practically unconscious.
>>
>> The object of one's affections has come to be described as a torch in the
>> R=
>> oaring Forties. Thus Mr. Doaks is said to have gone to the theatre with
>> his=
>>  torch, meaning his wife or perchance his sweetheart.
>>
>> It was Mr. Tommy Lyman who, out of the depths of his great personal
>> experie=
>> nce, originated the expression, carrying the torch, to describe the
>> conditi=
>> on of mind and body aforesaid. Also Mr. Tommy Lyman wrote the first really
>> =
>> important torch song.
>>
>> A torch song is the product of a song writer suffering in the manner set
>> fo=
>> rth. Some very good torch songs have been written by Mr. Walter Donaldson,
>> =
>> Mr. Billy Rose, and Mr. Roy Turk, among others. But Mr. Tommy Lyman's
>> torch=
>>  song remains to this day the official anthem of the torch carriers. It
>> run=
>> s: "Gee, but it's tough when the gang's gone home," etc.>>
>>
>> The headings for the column include "The Torch Singer Writer," in
>> reference=
>>  to Lyman's letter, so this is also an antedating of "torch singer" (1934
>> i=
>> n OED). Runyon subsequently used some of this information in his story
>> "The=
>>  Lily of St. Pierre" (1930). There is some information on the song with
>> the=
>>  lyrics "Gee, but it's tough when the gang's gone home" at the end of a
>> blo=
>> g post at
>> https://nam02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fjazzlives.wordpress.com%2F2015%2F01%2F26%2Fgood-for-what-ails-you%3D&data=04%7C01%7C%7C0635029b07174a7f542f08d981ad2615%7Ce3fefdbef7e9401ba51a355e01b05a89%7C0%7C0%7C637683404116952181%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000&sdata=xIZRsPEkLpyGYE%2Bc5TyFYpS3CfUsaKhZ1YR319rXexY%3D&reserved=0
>> -steve-wright-ray-skjelbred-dave-brown-mike-daugherty-january-24-2015/
>> <https://nam02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fjazzlives.wordpress.com%2F2015%2F01%2F26%2Fgood-for-what-ails-you%3D-steve-wright-ray-skjelbred-dave-brown-mike-daugherty-january-24-2015%2F&data=04%7C01%7C%7C0635029b07174a7f542f08d981ad2615%7Ce3fefdbef7e9401ba51a355e01b05a89%7C0%7C0%7C637683404116952181%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000&sdata=nUwybijzwzG4KA4YONNdPOdPRtaCXVCf1oqyGPVNv%2Fk%3D&reserved=0>
>> <http=
>> s://
>> jazzlives.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/good-for-what-ails-you-steve-wright-=
>> ray-skjelbred-dave-brown-mike-daugherty-january-24-2015
>> <https://nam02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fjazzlives.wordpress.com%2F2015%2F01%2F26%2Fgood-for-what-ails-you-steve-wright-%3Dray-skjelbred-dave-brown-mike-daugherty-january-24-2015&data=04%7C01%7C%7C0635029b07174a7f542f08d981ad2615%7Ce3fefdbef7e9401ba51a355e01b05a89%7C0%7C0%7C637683404116952181%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000&sdata=SXLCosKYW%2Fa4Tc71ZgAg%2Bb8DYaWMIarquSyL7Bt6qjE%3D&reserved=0>>,
>> although the post=
>> er thought the song to have been composed by Harry Warren, writing as
>> Harry=
>>  Herschel, in 1928. Since Runyon, who thought that Lyman wrote the song,
>> wa=
>> s quoting it in 1926, it could not have been written by Warren/Herschel in
>> =
>> 1928.
>>
>> There are earlier examples of "torch song," although these may not be the
>> s=
>> ame usage. From the Los Angeles Herald (July 21, 1908) (Newspapers.com):
>> "T=
>> he decorations of the house boat, as well as the illuminations used with
>> th=
>> e torch song, form an effective bit of novelty, and the eight or nine
>> membe=
>> rs of the company each do a stunt, which is sufficiently good to make the
>> n=
>> umber one of the best on this week's bill."
>>
>> From the Sydney (Aust.) Newsletter (Jan. 23, 1909) (NewspaperArchive):
>> "Hel=
>> lo, Little Boy. Hello, the electric torch song, was first popularised in
>> Gr=
>> eat Britain by Violet Loraine, who made her name with it. It has been
>> featu=
>> red in almost every British pantomime this year."
>>
>> From the Boston Globe (Mar. 18, 1915) (Newspapers.com): "Miss Dora I.
>> Brown=
>> , dancing exhibition and torch song".
>>
>> From the (Mount Vernon, Iowa) Cornellian (Jan. 25, 1924)
>> (NewspaperArchive)=
>> : "Interest and inspiration in songwriting are waxing more intense as the
>> t=
>> ime draws near for the Torch song contest to be closed. . . . The previous
>> =
>> deadline was set for February first, but the Torch has now determined upon
>> =
>> February 6th as the last day on which songs can be submitted for the
>> contes=
>> t."
>>
>>
>> John Baker
>>
>>
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>>
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> 
> 
> --
> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
> 
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James Eric Lawson

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