Bad Religion's "Sorrow": Anthem of the 14th century?

Here's why:

(Thanks to dogwalker for the lyrics that I'm "borrowing")

Father can you hear me?
How have I let you down?
I curse the day that I was born
and all the sorrow in the world.

The 14th century in Europe was a time of pestilence and war. (See the Black Death and the Hundred Years War.) In the latter half of the century, roving bands of mercenaries were traipsing around Europe, demanding tribute from towns, laying siege, raping and pillaging, and generally wreaking havoc. Recurring epidemics of the plague inspired terror and killed off generations. Scandal and death destroyed confidence in the Church, leaving the people with little outlet for fear or hope. The Church, which once had a strangle-hold on God (by teaching that only priests could speak directly to the divine). What John Wyclif alone decried would soon become common belief, as two centuries later Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation. This song (in my interpretation) is a plea to God from a peasant.

Let me take you to the hurting ground
where all good men are trampled down
just to settle a bet that could not be won
between a prideful father and his son.

This part refers to the Hundred Years War. The "hurting ground" is the battlefield; the "good men" are the French knights (here "good men" is synonymous with gentlemen, hence noblemen). Only men of the noble class were allowed to become knights, because only they were allowed to have the chivalric value of "honor." The 14th century was the end of what history calls the Middle Ages, and knights were already obsolete. The increasing demands for bigger, stronger, better armor (and the horses to carry it) was bankrupting; archers and infantrymen (carrying pikes) were much more effective tools of war. They were, however, made up of commoners, and the nobles' pride couldn't stand to admit that they were effective. In the Hundred Years War, England got over its pride and began to use archers and infantrymen to their full advantage, devastating the French knightly class.

The "prideful father and his son" are Edward III and his son, Edward, also known as the Black Prince (who would die before his father, thus making his son, Richard II, the next king of England). Edward III entered the war because he felt that he had a claim to France's throne; pride, yes? And the Black Prince bet that he could win France for England. He was an effective general but not effective enough... and thus the "bet could not be won," and eventually France drove England from its shores (albeit much, much later).

Will you guide me now? For I can't see
a reason for this suffering and this long misery.
What if every living soul could be upright and strong?

This part refers to the plague. No one could see a clear reason for the suffering that the disease wrought. People blamed it on Jews, witches, prostitutes, homosexuals, priests, alignment of the stars (that was the learned opinion of the leading intellectual body of the time, the University of Paris), a poisonous "miasma" floating around, and, most popularly divine wrath (in the Bible, they saw precedent: plagues were always falling upon the sinful. See the Book of Exodus). Some believed that the moral depravities of the people were to blame; hence, "if every living soul could be upright and strong", then God would have no reason to punish. And, as the chorus goes, "there would be sorrow no more." As for the kings and queens relinquishing their thrones... who else started all these wars? Who else taxed the people into starvation to afford opulent lifestyles and massive armies? The rest of the song simply reiterates my point.

sneak241 pointed out to me that I might be hearing things, so to speak, and that I might just be obsessed with the 14th century, but I think I make a good case!

Sor"row (?), n. [OE. sorwe, sorewe, sore, AS. sorg, sorh; akin to D. zorg care, anxiety, OS. sorga, OHG. sorga, soraga, suorga, G. sorge, Icel., Sw., & Dan. sorg, Goth. sa�xa3;rga; of unknown origin.]

The uneasiness or pain of mind which is produced by the loss of any good, real or supposed, or by diseappointment in the expectation of good; grief at having suffered or occasioned evil; regret; unhappiness; sadness.

Milton.

How great a sorrow suffereth now Arcite! Chaucer.

The safe and general antidote against sorrow is employment. Rambler.

Syn. -- Grief; unhappiness; regret; sadness; heaviness; mourning; affliction. See Affliction, and Grief.

 

© Webster 1913.


Sor"row, v. i. [imp. & p. p. Sorrowed (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Sorrowing.] [OE. sorowen, sorwen, sorhen, AS. sorgian; akin to Goth. sa�xa3;rgan. See Sorrow, n.]

To feel pain of mind in consequence of evil experienced, feared, or done; to grieve; to be sad; to be sorry.

Sorrowing most of all . . . that they should see his face no more. Acts xx. 38.

I desire no man to sorrow for me. Sir J. Hayward.

 

© Webster 1913.

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