It’s interesting where roads lead. Sometimes a little free association can take us down an amusing path to sparkling treasure.
For me, the starting point was ballroom dancing. As a freelancer, my flavor of the week can be just about anything; this time, it’s dancing. Often when I start a new writing project, I go to sleep with ideas swirling about, in hopes a few will collide and stir creative copy. Other times, it’s just dust.
While listening to the radio on Sunday, I sang along with Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” as I had a thousand times before. It’s a beautiful song. This time, though, I wondered what in the world it meant that “We skipped the light fandango.” I thought about it. Could the phrase be a variation on “trip the light fantastic?”
I always considered trip the light fantastic to be ritzy and glitzy, from another era. I’ve never found occasion to use it in conversation, and certainly never understood where it came from or what it even meant exactly. (For you younger readers, it means to dance nimbly or lightly in a pattern.)
On Monday I woke up mulling my latest writing challenge. Might there be a place for tripping the light fantastic? I looked it up to ensure I understood the meaning and origin of the expression. Good thing too because I learned that, not only did it come from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but “tripping the light fantastic” was sixties drug lingo.
I continued searching. And I found a most delightful poem by John Milton, L’Allegro, published in 1645. It’s 150 lines long; I’ll share just the first excerpt that popped up:
Haste thee, Nymph, and bring with thee
Jest, and youthful Jollity,
Quips and cranks and wanton wiles,
Nods and becks and wreathed smiles
Such as hang on Hebe’s cheek,
And love to live in dimple sleek;
Sport that wrinkled Care derides,
And Laughter holding both his sides.
Come, and trip it, as you go,
On the light fantastic toe;
And in thy right hand lead with thee
The mountain-nymph, sweet Liberty;
And, if I give thee honour due,
Mirth, admit me of thy crew,
To live with her, and live with thee,
In unreproved pleasures free …
Don’t you just love it?
Later in the poem, I found bonus words I’ll tuck away, should I ever be hired to write about beer:
To many a youth and many a maid,
Dancing in the chequer’d shade;
And young and old come forth to play
On a Sunshine Holyday
Till the live-long daylight fail,
Then to the spicy nut-brown ale.
So here’s to A Whiter Shade of Pale.