The difference between ‘in’ and ‘to’

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the starry crown
Good Lord, show me the way !
O sisters let’s go down,
Let’s go down, come on down,
O sisters let’s go down,
Down in the river to pray.

“Down to the River to Pray” as sung by Alison Krauss in O Brother Where Art Thou?

This song, as sung by Alison Krauss, haunts me.  It’s a traditional hymn, and I’ve even seen thoughts that the tune might be Native American, from the Hupa Nation1. It’s one of those songs that, when it sticks in your head for days, you don’t mind. It’s beautiful.

But the word ‘in’ has bugged me for a long time. “Down in the river to pray.” I keep thinking, shouldn’t it be ‘to’? It doesn’t make logical sense, and even Alison Krauss titles it as “Down to the River to Pray.”

It’s an old southern hymn. Perhaps even an Underground Railroad song. I wonder, is the ‘in’ just a bit of illiteracy that crept in and stuck?

I tried singing it with ‘to’. It’s more logical, but it doesn’t sound as good or scan as well. It puts ‘to’ into the line twice, and it’s too many to’s. Despite the logic, it really sounds better as ‘in’.

So, I thought, needing to tidy this up in my mind, perhaps it’s a prayer offered up during the Christian rite of baptism — the total immersion kind where you go to the river and get dunked in the water and then pray.

There’s a certain logic to that. Baptism is a cleansing. A ritual that emerged from “one of those dusty countries,” to quote Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When you live in a dusty, dirty place, a dunking in the river undoubtedly takes on added significance, both spiritual and physical.

But, true to my agnostic leanings, I needed a better explanation to settle my word compulsion. And what I came up with is this: that the ‘river’ is the ‘stream of unconsciousness’ in the Jungian sense. From whence come our imaginations, mythologies, and symbols. The deep part of our being that we seldom perceive directly.

That river is one I can pray in. Yes. “Good Lord, show me the way.”

1 Musical Perceptions: Down to the River to Pray. See the comments.

Old Lenses on New Cameras

Nikon 135mm f/2.8 E Series

June already. I’ve celebrated my Beatles Birthday (“Will you still need me, will you still feed me…”) and am amazed that I could be 64.

The first couple of weeks of June were almost entirely given over to a magazine piece I’m doing for Here’s How on “Seniors and the Internet.” I submitted it on Monday and am now phasing back into a normal routine: photography, fiction writing, and blogging.

Yesterday two new lens adapters arrived for my Panasonic Lumix G1 m-4/3 camera: Nikon F and Pentax M42. I’ve been trying out different manual-focus lenses to see how the results look. I’ve already tried my M-mount lenses on the G1 with a Leica M to G1 adapter, and the results have been excellent. The Pentax Super-Macro-Takumar 50mm f/4 lens preserves its reknowned bokeh. The pre-AI Micro-Nikkor-P 55mm f/3.5 is incredibly sharp. The Nikon 135mm f/2.8 E-series lens is very sharp and produces a nice colour palette. Bokeh isn’t wonderful, but it never was. Sharpness is its forte. It effectively makes a 270mm f/2.8 lens equivalent.

One drawback to this is that there’s no body stabilization on the G1 and the 135mm shakes like a 270mm when shooting. I have to either rest the camera on a rail or use a very high shutter speed to get sharp images.

On another front, I’m working on my next short story. I lost momentum when I had to turn to the magazine piece, so I’ve spent time revising the opening scene. I’m now ready to proceed with the story.

And summer has arrived. We had an extended, cool spring — my favourite kind. But it’s nice to have real summer weather now.