Tuesday 4 June 2013

Patience Strong's Tango

I remember coming across the sententious verses of  'Patience Strong' in my boyhood - probably in my mother's Woman's Own, of which I and my brother were, for some reason, avid readers. Even to my unformed judgment they appeared pretty terrible. Here's the kind of thing:

If you stand very still in the heat of a wood
You will hear many wonderful things;
The snap of a twig and the wind in the trees,
And the whirr of invisible wings.

If you stand very still and hold to your faith
You will get all the help that you ask;
You will draw from the silence
the things that you need,
Hope and courage and strength for your task.
[that last line a little crowded?]

Or this exercise in bathos:

Calm your mind, get quiet within
And hold yourself in check,
Try to do too much and you
Will end a nervous wreck.
Do not rush and tear through life,
Conserve your energy.
Keep on at a steady pace
And take things easily.

But the enduring - and more than surprising - legacy of Patience Strong (real name Winifred Emma May, born on this day in 1907) is  a lyric that, by her own account, she dashed off in 15 minutes, putting words to the Danish composer Jacob Gade's all-conquering tango, Jealousy, which became a huge international hit. Here's Kathryn Grayson giving it some in Anchors Aweigh, while young Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly look on in stunned admiration. As well they might.

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