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I am Korean. I like a song, "Wayfaring Stranger" sung by Emmylou Harris. Then I can't understand one line of the lyrics:

Where Gods redeemed their vigils keep

What does it mean? What does "their vigils" mean? What does "their vigils keep? Will you make me grammatically understand it?

The lyrics are ...

I am a poor wayfaring stranger
While traveling thru this world of woe
Yet there’s no sickness, toil or danger
In that bright world to which I go

I’m going there to see my father I’m going there no more to roam
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home

I know dark clouds will hang around me
I know my way is rough and steep
Yet beauteous fields lie just before me
Where Gods redeemed their vigils keep

I’m going there to see my mother
She said she’d meet me when I come
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDZkg5_YSWc

  • 4
    I suspect it should read: God's redeemed...., with a possessive apostrophe, referring to those whom God has redeemed (or saved), according to Christian teaching. – Ronald Sole Jan 17 '18 at 11:19
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Like many songs in the "country" or "bluegrass" genres, this is a Gospel song:

Gospel music is a genre of Christian music. The creation, performance, significance, and even the definition of gospel music varies according to culture and social context. Gospel music is composed and performed for many purposes, including aesthetic pleasure, religious or ceremonial purposes, and as an entertainment product for the marketplace. Gospel music usually has dominant vocals (often with strong use of harmony) with Christian lyrics.

The Christian theme should help us interpret the lyrics. Overall, the song is about someone who is dying and is feeling joyful about going to Heaven.

In this specific line, "God's Redeemed" are those Christians who have been saved and are already in Heaven. See more information here about what this means and why some Christians like to call themselves "redeemed".

Vigil (n): A period of keeping awake during the time usually spent asleep, especially to keep watch or pray.

This definition is, I think, too narrow. A "vigil" is a period of waiting and watching, usually for something to happen, or to guard against something happening. There are many kinds of vigils, but this case evokes the image of a group of waiting/watching "protectors" or "guiding spirits".

Grammatically the line uses a form of literary inversion to place the verb at the end of the sentence rather than its usual place in the middle. One famous example of inversion is the opening line of the epic poem Kubla Khan by Samuel Coleridge:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure-dome decree

Inversion adds extra drama and significance to a sentence, and should only be used if you intend to sound overly dramatic (and somewhat archaic). Example:

The general rallied his men, crying, "On this ground we stand, and to no man nor god shall we yield!"

Taken as a whole, "Where Gods redeemed their vigils keep" means something like:

(In Heaven) where those who have been saved have been waiting for me.

-2

! I've amended my answer in light of restrictive bias.

! Although Andrew's well structured answer does lend weight to his argument, I fear that limiting your vision to grammatical analysis only takes many things away from the interpretation of the poem. This does not mean to say that Andrew's response is incorrect.

! Ballads are and should be lyrically pleasing and if there are subtle innuendoes and multiple layers of interpretation to be discovered - the value of the content is much increased.

! As the use of English does allow for ambivalent interpretations especially in poetry, lyrical or other, I would urge you to not to base your judgement on your own personal belief system.

! Andrew's answer is craftily written and as such it exemplifies the lengths to which language can be twisted to suit ulterior motives.

!My own interpretation stems from an entirely different viewpoint of the cosmogenesis and as such it presents a richer and less dogmatic landscape.

!Gods may or may not have existed - unless people in Heaven are Gods as Andrew claims - but they (the Gods) are where they are, either because they've earned the right to be there or as per my initial response below)

It has very deep connotations. A vigil refers to a guard-duty/watchtower scenario. So 'their vigils keep' definitely refers to many, in this case it is of the 'gods'.

The songwriter uses the verb 'redeem' to highlight the meaning of 'redemption'. It is a very poetic line and quite beautiful.

Added:

Although the double-usage also alludes to the 'cashing out' on good actions and in the Christian sense, may indeed mean that the 'Gods' are those who made it to Heaven.

So in a very loose translation within the context of the whole song and the couplet in which the lyrics are found, the line probably means that

The "beauteous fields" were brought into existence when the gods were granted redemption after keeping watch for the eons before Christ came to Earth.

'where gods redeemed their vigils keep' this refers to the location where the gods were keeping watch. After their redemption, that place was transformed into the beauteous fields that the wayfaring stranger arrives at after their long and difficult journey.

Added:

!This is the Judeo-Christian-Islamic version of afterlife known as Heaven, although other cultures have their own versions, this specific line seems to indicate the Elysian Fields of Greek Mythology and bucolic pastoral renditions of English writers such as John Donne (sermons and lectures) and the vivid imagination of John Milton(Paradise Lost).

Pre-Christian Pagan concepts were colonized by the early Christian Church and assimilated to create a cohesive world view for Jesus.

I cannot claim knowledge of the workings of the afterlife, but dogmatically speaking, Christian doctrine states that redeemed souls go to Heaven and the title of God is reserved for the Holy Trinity and ONLY the Holy Trinity.

Ascribing the title of God to any other entity would be blasphemous according to the first 2 commandments (see the stoning scene in Life of Brian by Monty Python for a comical interpretation of this) Other traditions offer karma and reincarnation and bliss and nirvana as part of their redemption package (Christianity gives you 3 packs to choose from: Heaven, Hell and Limbo) but they all share a common theme.

Final Thoughts:

Although the accepted answer is grammatically sound based on the academic interpretations provided by Andrew, I can not in good conscience agree with the direction he has taken in his analysis. Should he have chosen another train of thought I am certain he could just as easily have provided another valid 'accepted answer'. And that is my challenge to Andrew.

Andrew I've down voted your answer for 3 reasons:

  1. Perjury - claiming my response was invalid
  2. Pride - assumption of Christian and Pagan Dogma
  3. Prejudice - viewpoint is not entirely academic

However, your keen analytical mind does have a lot to offer and for the sake of this topic I urge you to explore an alternative hypothesis - perhaps another response by you may very well be perceived as the 'accepted answer'.

  • Sorry, but you're actually fairly far off the mark. Please see my answer. – Andrew Apr 10 '18 at 22:12
  • Again, to answer this question accurately you must recognize that the line is God's redeemed (the possessive), as in "those redeemed by God". "Redemption" is an ubiquitous theme in evangelical Christianity. Gospel music is usually based on one flavor or another of evangelical Christianity. Your interpretation displays an understandable lack of familiarity with this well-established musical genre, which includes perhaps tens of thousands of songs, both original (like this one) and based on traditional hymns. – Andrew Jul 21 '18 at 15:58

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