Thursday, February 24, 2005

Just "Well, Well, Well"

Here's some more about the word well. My main posting on this topic is the extract from the book by David Crystal below. Thinking about Crystal's discussion of well in Middle- and Early Modern English, I wondered how Christopher Ricks would treat the topic and that led me to think about one of Ricks' passions, the lyrics of Bob Dylan. Hardly surprising that Dylan has used well extensively. It's an attrative word for song writers: lots of grammatic uses, amenable to interesting ambiguities of meaning, and, probably most important it's a sound that works well in song as well as poetry.

I limited myself to occurances of the phrase "well, well, well" because that's something you can search without getting overwhelmed by results and because it's just an interesting phrase.

Here's one part of Dylan's song, Well, Well, Well. Dylan just uses the watery noun form and obviously appreciates the rhyming potential:
Bob Dylan/Danny O'Keefe - Well, Well, Well
Dig your hole in the ground
All the way down to hell
'Til there ain't no more water
In the well, well, well
When you're down on your knees
With nothin' left to sell
Try diggin' a little deeper
In the well, well, well


That phrase, "well, well, well" shows up in the blues quite frequently, mostly used to impart or reinforce emotions and sometimes, as below, calling to mind associations, as, this case, the idea of well-being (associated with the prase "die easy") that comes with the peace of death. Dylan did a cover of a song by Blind Willie Johnson that uses the word over and over.

Bob Dylan - In My Time Of Dyin'
Well, in my time of dyin' don't want nobody to mourn.
All I want for you to do is take my body home.
Well, well, well,
so I can die easy.
Well, well, well.
Well, well, well,
so I can die easy.
Jesus gonna make up,
Jesus gonna make up,
Jesus gonna make up my dying bed.


Here's a treatment by Muddy Waters, who could use the well sound better than just about anyone. I can't explain the associated meanings of the word in this usage; there's more than just pure sound, but what I can't say.

Muddy Waters - Mannish Boy
I'm a full grown man
I'm a natural born lovers man
I'm a rollin' stone
I'm a man-child
I'm a hoochie coochie man
well, well, well, well
hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry
Don't hurt me, don't hurt me child
don't hurt me, don't hurt, don't hurt me child
well, well, well, well



Guns N' Roses seems to like the rhyming potential:
Guns N' Roses - My Michelle
Well, well, well you just can't tell
Well, well, well my Michelle


John Lennon seems to me like Hamlet in his usage:

John Lennon - Well, Well, Well
I took my loved one to a big field
So we could watch the english sky
Were both feeling guilty
And neither one of us knew just why
Well Well Well Oh Well

OPHELIA: Good my lord,
How does your honour for this many a day?

HAMLET: I humbly thank you; well, well, well.

OPHELIA: My lord, I have remembrances of yours,
That I have longed long to re-deliver;
I pray you, now receive them.

HAMLET: No, not I;
I never gave you aught.

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