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zhonglc2020
Posted: Tuesday, November 26, 2019 5:10:28 AM
Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 7/7/2019
Posts: 205
Neurons: 2,540
Hello everyone,

To thee belongs the rural reign;
Thy cities shall with commerce shine:
All thine shall be the subject main,
And every shore it circles thine.
"Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
"Britons never will be slaves."

source: https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/rule-britannia-lyrics-composer/

It seems there aren't suitable definitions for both "subject" and "main" in my dictionary.
I guess the third line means something like: all those things of yours are under your control.
What does "the subject main" mean here?


Thank you!
NancyUK
Posted: Tuesday, November 26, 2019 8:31:39 AM
Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 6/15/2011
Posts: 776
Neurons: 102,586
Hi zhonglc2020

As Thar mentioned in a previous post, this is very old-fashioned language that can be difficult to decipher.

Having said that, Britannia is the embodiment of Great Britain - the personification of the country. Great Britain used to be an Empire, which ruled over many countries and was a master of the seas as well.

As to the meaning of subject main:

Definitions from TFD:

Subject
Adjective
12. (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) being under the power or sovereignty of a ruler, government, etc: subject peoples.

Main
Noun
The open ocean.

So my understanding is that it means Britannia ruled rural areas, cities and even the oceans.

Edited: to give a more suitable definition for the adjective subject.
Sarrriesfan
Posted: Tuesday, November 26, 2019 8:40:33 AM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 3/30/2016
Posts: 1,943
Neurons: 12,490
Location: Luton, England, United Kingdom
NancyUK wrote:
Hi zhonglc2020

As Thar mentioned in a previous post, this is very old-fashioned language that can be difficult to decipher.

Having said that, Britannia is the embodiment of Great Britain - the personification of the country. Great Britain used to be an Empire, which ruled over many countries and was a master of the seas as well.

As to the meaning of subject main:

Definitions from TFD:

Subject
Adjective
Being in a position or in circumstances that place one under the power or authority of another or others: subject to the law.

Main
Noun
The open ocean.

So my understanding is that it means Britannia ruled rural areas, cities and even the oceans.


The song was actually written in the 1740s before Britain had the largest navy in the world, it is not a statement that Britannia rules the waves, but rather for the safety and prosperity of the country it should endeavour to control the oceans.
This was around the time of The Jacobite Uprising and fears of an invasion of by Catholic forces such as Spain and France were very real.
Although the Victorians did later subtlety change the lyrics from "Britannia rule the waves " to "Britannia rules the waves" when they did do just that, which is what NancyUK is thinking of.
NancyUK
Posted: Tuesday, November 26, 2019 9:35:53 AM
Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 6/15/2011
Posts: 776
Neurons: 102,586
According to Wikipedia:

The Royal Navy

From the middle decades of the 17th century, and through the 18th century, the Royal Navy vied with the Dutch Navy and later with the French Navy for maritime supremacy. From the mid 18th century (around 1750 - my addition), it was the world's most powerful navy...

However, I do agree that the line "Rule, Britannia" Britannia rule the waves" is an exhortation rather than a statement of then-current fact.
Romany
Posted: Tuesday, November 26, 2019 9:45:01 AM
Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 6/14/2009
Posts: 17,413
Neurons: 56,028
Location: Brighton, England, United Kingdom
zhongle -

Not one person in a couple of hundred English-speakers has studied Early Modern English. So questions about earlier forms of the English language are unlikey to little more than guesses even among native speakers: one has a better chance of finding translations of Early Modern, or Old or Middle English on university sites or sites dedicated to those different, no longer used, ways of speaking English hundreds of years ago.

The average person would just know (perhaps) that "the maine" refers to the sea. So most people just note that those particular lines - like the whole song - is about the monarch ruling the seas...and that's enough for them.

"The subject maine..." would be said today as "The seas you rule over". They are all yours (the monarchs) as much as they lands they encircle, and everything in them.

"The subject maine" isn't a particularly good phrase nor, even in Early Modern English, a common one. - it's been said this way (as is often the case with lyrics) in order to fit in with the tune/melody.

It's only natural that you should want to know what our National Anthem means - you have probably heard it played or sung on TV and been curious about it.

But unless you are studying Early Modern English, it's a lot easier to understand if you go on to a site which paraphrases older English languages into modern English. (This is the way a lot of modern students look at Shakespeare - translated into Modern English.) So we aren't trying to put off answering your questions concerning English that is no longer spoken: it's just that it becomes very difficult to do so without explaining how those different languages work.

And I think most learners find it difficult enough to lern how to speak the English we speak today, without spending time learning how English has worked in different historical periods?



zhonglc2020
Posted: Tuesday, November 26, 2019 8:11:37 PM
Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 7/7/2019
Posts: 205
Neurons: 2,540
Thank you all. It really helps.Dancing
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