Yesterday my daughter, who was visiting me, asked me to Google the word of the song "My Grandfather's Clock" so that she could sing it to my granddaughter. I remarked that I'd known all the words of the song for 50 years and could have written it out for her, but since it was actually quicker to Google and print I did so. As usual in these cases, not every single word conformed with the version I learnt, but one in particular really threw me.
When I learnt the song, the last verse contained the lines

"And we knew that his spirit was poised for its flight, That the hour of departure had come."
The first version I got from Google had "pluming his flight" instead of "poised for its flight". I was mildly baffled and I looked further. I found versions with "pluming for flight", "pluming its flight" and even "plumbing in flight".

Main Entry: 2plume
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): plumed; plum·ing

1 a : to provide or deck with feathers b : to array showily
2 : to indulge (oneself) in pride with an obvious or vain display ofself-satisfaction

3 of a bird a : to preen and arrange the feathers of (itself) b : topreen and arrange (feathers)
The Concise Oxford adds two nouns, which in principle might be verbed:
2 a long spreading cloud of smoke or vapour.
3 (Geology) a column of magma rising by convection in the earth'smantle.
With considerable contortion I could just about get my mind around plume as in preen in the sense of preparing the feathers for flight. It seems pretty contrived, and I can't see it making much sense to the average child listening to the song. I assumed the "plumbing" version was a mistake, but at this stage I'd believe anything.

Am I missing something obvious? And does anyone else remember the words as I do?

Katy Jennison
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Main Entry: 2plume Function: transitive verb Inflected Form(s): plumed; plum·ing 1 a : to provide or deck with feathers b ... this stage I'd believe anything. Am I missing something obvious? And does anyone else remember the words as I do?

I remember the first verse well but not the rest and not that poised / pluming verse.
The song was originally a nineteenth century one however - author Henry Clay Work in 1876. Here's a text at the U of Toronto English Dept so I give them advance credit for being likely to have taken trouble getting it right:

http://eir.library.utoronto.ca/rpo/display/poem2386.html

Sure 'nuff:
37(Solo) It rang an alarm in the dead of the night 38An alarm that for years had been dumb;
39And we knew that his spirit was pluming for flight 40That his hour of departure had come.
Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
If you compare your Google hits, it may be that those which claim it as 'a children's song' have 'poised' (maybe where someone in the past heard it and thought 'WTF does 'plumed' mean? They must mean, er, 'poised' ' in the old tradition of memes of popular song, not to mention mondegreens. Don't mention the mondegreens. (I mentioned mondegreens once but I think I got away with it). Whereas those which attribute it to Henry C. are more likely to have 'plumed' because they still have some connection with the original which was, as it reads to me, a piece of work intended for an adult audience And OED has several meanings of 'plume' as a verb relating to various activities involving birds and / or flight with the likely candidate being, I venture:
6. trans. To preen, trim, or dress (the feathers or wings); to prepare forflight. Also fig.

1821 Byron Heav. & Earth iii. 222 The winds, too, plume their piercingwings. 1859 G. Meredith R. Feverel xii, Pluming a smile upon his succulent mouth. 1867 'Ouida' C. Castlemaine (1879) 17 Herons plumed their silvery wings by the water-side. 1874 Motley Barneveld I. v. 273 And calumny plumed her wings for a fresh attack. 1878 M. A. Brown Nadeschda 26 She sits there+Pluming daintily her feathers.
Armed with that, I would say the image is of a wingèd spirit (I think the è just feels right here) which is fluffing up its feathers as the old man starts to slip away. And 'pluming for flight' does seem like the best candidate - a 19th Century audience may well have been more familiar, from, eg, the Byron cited above, with the concept and would have understood 'pluming ( its wings OR its feathers ) for flight.

John Dean
Oxford
Here's a text at the U of Toronto English Dept so I give them advance credit for being likely to have taken trouble getting it right: http://eir.library.utoronto.ca/rpo/display/poem2386.html

(snip)
6. trans. To preen, trim, or dress (the feathers or wings); to prepare for flight. Also fig. 1821 Byron Heav. ... Byron cited above, with the concept and would have understood 'pluming ( its wings OR its feathers ) for flight.

Thanks muchly for those. Thinking about it, I expect many members of a C19 audience would readily have visualised spirits having wings, too, whereas I don't think this would have occurred to me when I was a child.
Since you ask me not to mention the mondegreens, I won't.

Katy Jennison
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Main Entry: 2plume Function: transitive verb Inflected Form(s): plumed; plum·ing 1 a : to provide or deck with feathers b ... this stage I'd believe anything. Am I missing something obvious? And does anyone else remember the words as I do?

When it comes to composed songs, I would trust printed sheet music more than any Internet version. Best Loved Songs of the American People (Doubleday, 1975) has "Grandfather's Clock," Words and music by Henry C. Work, and it says "And we knew that his spirit was pluming its flight". That's the way I learned it, too.
I pictured it like making an arrow, setting the feathers in place. But don't fret, you know that songwriters will sacrifice sense for the sake of rhyme.
The book's notes say, "Dating from 1876, this was one of Work's most successful sentimental ballads. A well-written and effective song, which never has failed to impress audiences in the theater or gathered around the piano in the parlor."

Best Donna Richoux
(snip question re song "Grandfather's Clock":)
Main Entry: 2plume Function: transitive verb Inflected Form(s): plumed; plum·ing ... feathers of (itself) b : to preen and arrange (feathers)

(snip)
When it comes to composed songs, I would trust printed sheet music more than any Internet version. Best Loved ... effective song, which never has failed to impress audiences in the theater or gathered around the piano in the parlor."

Out of curiosity I looked a little longer, and although I couldn't find a facsimile of the complete sheet music on line (I found a cover), three sites that appear to be careful and knowledgeable (for example, they know the songwriter's full name and the year, and one appears to have seen the original printed version), have the line as:

And we knew that his spirit was pluming for flight

So that calls my book into question. It's been pretty reliable, as far as I can tell, but this discrepancy might have occurred very early in the song's history...

Best - Donna Richoux
Main Entry: 2plume Function: transitive verb Inflected Form(s): plumed; plum·ing ... And does anyone else remember the words as I do?

I remember the first verse well but not the rest and not that poised / pluming verse. The song was ... the concept and would have understood 'pluming ( its wings OR its feathers ) for flight. John Dean Oxford

Here is an interesting 19th century usage. The author, Louisa May Alcott in a clever story "How I Went Out to Service," uses all means fair and foul to disassociate plume from feather and flight:
and there I drew the line. I would have cleaned the old man's shoes without a murmer Josephus, however, plumed himself upon his feet, which like his nose, were large, and never took walks abroad without his boots in a high state of polish. He had brushed them himself at first; but soon after the explosion I discovered a pair of muddy boots in the shed, set suggestively near the blacking-box. I did not take the hint

Jim
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I remember the first verse well but not the rest and not that poised / pluming verse.

I can sing the first verse and the chorus, and I have memories of the second verse, mostly of the storyline.
I'm stunned at how many people know this song, and on two continents, no less! I learned it in elementary school, back in the days when California elementary schools still had a music curriculum. I doubt they still do, but I'd be pleasantly surprised to learn otherwise.

Dena Jo
You can email me at denajo2 at the usual Yahoo domain
When it comes to composed songs, I would trust printed sheet music more than any Internet version. Best Loved ... setting the feathers in place. But don't fret, you know that songwriters will sacrifice sense for the sake of rhyme.[/nq]It's not an internet version (and nor, of course, is print necessarily immune from repeating earlier errors, if such there were). Doubleday clearly shares a common heritage to you, whereas by contrast I learned the song as "pluming for flight", and also have a copy of The Yetties album "A Little Bit of Dorset" (ASV label, 1981) which follows that pattern. Of the two, I tend to suspect "for" to be original; it's not a modern usage, but it's always made perfect sense as "preening its feathers in preparation" (evoking in particular a number of Victorian religious paintings of angels and so forth that used to hang on the wall in my grandparents' house).

By contrast, "pluming its flight" doesn't easily make sense at all, unless there's a pondian difference at work that I'm not aware of. (I can see why you'd go that way, but it's not a good reference to arrows, which always have flights in the plural). "Its" also seems a rather clumsy construction in what is otherwise throughout a very tight piece, and it's difficult to see why Work would have chosen such a precise and evocative word as "pluming" and then promptly wrecked it with such a strange turn of phrase..

Cheers - Ian
(snip question re song "Grandfather's Clock":) (snip)

When it comes to composed songs, I would trust printed ... the theater or gathered around the piano in the parlor."

Out of curiosity I looked a little longer, and although I couldn't find a facsimile of the complete sheet music ... was faulty (or influenced by hearing the Yetties sing the thing so often), but came to the same conclusion. Eg.:

http://eir.library.utoronto.ca/rpo/display/poem2386.html

Cheers - Ian
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