Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Learning to Live in England, Part 16

Friday, 16 July

Yesterday, Thursday, we ate lunch at the Swan Inn, together with David and Julia. They have been out of town for a while, visiting friends and family. It was good to see them again, and of course the meals were all very good. 

We were going to go to Rufford Old Hall, a nearby manor house, afterward, but found it closed due to a wedding being held there.  As it was already rather late in the afternoon, and we were tired from the afternoon and evening and night before, we were quite happy to call it a day, and hope to get back to Rufford Old Hall some other day.

Tonight Julia and David brought us to Rainford to hear a concert by the Rainford Band and the Ecumenical Ladies' Choir. It was held on a farm, inside a large corrugated building that may be a barn but is big enough to be a hangar.

The Rainford Band is quite good. They have entered national competitions and have come in second more than once. In fact, we won't be able to hear them in Rainford any more, as after this they are entering the big leagues, going on a more prominent circuit.

The Ladies' Choir was also good, although we didn't give a hoot whether they or the band was any good at all. They sang and played with all their hearts, and that is what mattered to us.

The band also did some clowning around, and the music director told a couple jokes as well.

The last set consisted of songs usually sung on the last night of the Proms.  The conductor said, 'Let's pretend we mean it as we sing these,' so that is exactly what we did.  I have always thought it sounded like great fun to sing these in an enthusiastic crowd, and here, at last, was my chance.  But we all did have to pretend, to varying degrees, because the lyrics don't bear much scrutiny.
We sang Land of Hope and Glory, known to Americans as Pomp and Circumstance, that music always played when graduates, from kindergarten to university, march in. 

Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,
How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?
Wider still, and wider, shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet!
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet!

Now that bit about 'Mother of the Free' obviously sounds weird in American ears, and probably in the ears of other former colonists, but especially in ours, as we are used to thinking of America as the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

And then we come to Wider still, and wider, shall thy bounds be set and we begin to wonder how much territory do they want? And how much might?  Just pretend and sing your heart out and have fun.  It's no worse than some patriotic American lyrics:

O beautiful for Pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wildnerness.

I once heard that sung in a room full of mostly Native Americans.  Oops.

We sang Jerusalem, too. No, it's not Jerusalem, My Happy Home, nor yet Jerusalem, Jerusalem. No, this -are you ready?- this is an English Jerusalem. Yes.

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark Satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold,
Bring me my arrows of desire,
Bring me my spears o'clouds unfold,
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
'Til we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land,

'Til we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

And finally, of course, Rule Britnania, sung twice:

When Britain first, at Heaven's command

Arose from out the azure main;
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain:
"Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves:
"Britons never, never, never shall be slaves!"

Apparently the choice is between being slaves or ruling, i,e., making everyone else slaves. 

The flip side of empire, of course, is brutality.  That's why Gandhi's tactics were so effective; he correctly reckoned that the British were not brutal enough to do what he was going to make them have to do to keep India.  Lessons there for Brits and Americans alike. 

Never mind; we stood up and waved our English flags and Union Jacks and sang lustily and with huge smiles, pretending (with the English, who were also pretending) to mean it.

We had an absolutely glorious time and went home thoroughly happy and thoroughly worn out!

P.S.)  Demetrios would probably like me to add a point he is always making:  that patriotism, as distinguished from both chauvinism and imperialism, is a virtue.  One should love his country.


Anam Cara said...

I have Land of Hope and Glory and Jerusalem on my iPod. I adore them both. (Although I don't have Rule Britannia - it is a bit much for an American!)

Jerusalem is a poem by William Blake based on the story that Jesus went to England with Joseph of Arimathea who was a mariner. These are the same stories that tie the Holy Grail to Glastonbury. Lovely mythologies that one wishes would be true!

"And did those feet" (Jerusalem) used to be sung until recently in CofE churches. I think it was banned as too nationalistic by the AB within the last year. The poem never actually says that Jesus was there. The idea is that whether or not Jesus walked in England, but rather whether or not it was once "heaven on earth" we now have to deal with problems brought about by the Industrial Revolution. We must work hard to bring "heaven" back to England - to make it the place it once was. With that sentiment, I can wholeheartedly agree!

Will you be able to go to the Proms at all? The last night is the BEST! (Sept 11th!) I imgaine tickets are so hard to come by, you will find it easiest to just grab a group of friends and watch it on a big screen somewhere.

As for America the Beautiful, the verse I know that begins with patriot dreams is:
"O beautiful for patriot dreams that see beyond the years,
Thine alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears"

I think the verse you mentioned starts with "O beautiful for pilgrim feet."

Your comment about Rule Britannia makes me think of another good old song from the Napoleonic Wars (also an iPod favorite):

Now, come , my brave boys, as I’ve told you before,
Come drink, my brave boys, and we’ll boldly call for more,
For the French they’ve invaded and they say that they will try,
They say that they will come and drink old England dry.

Aye dry, aye dry my boys, aye dry,
They say that they will come and drink old England dry.

Supposing we should meet with the Russians by the way,
Ten thousand to one we will show them British play,
With our swords and our cutlasses we’ll fight until we die,
Before that they shall come and drink old England dry.

Aye dry, aye dry my boys, aye dry,
They say that they will come and drink old England dry.

Once again, I wish I were there!!!! It is almost too painful to read your blog because of my longing.
Someday, someday.....

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Thanks for the info re 'Jerusalem'. Interesting stuff. I knew it was by Wm. Blake but didn't know the rest of it. (Have been to Glastonbury, back in 1994.)

So, pack up your suitcase and come on over! Seriously. But hurry, as we will only be here until the end of August.

Which means, no, we won't make it to the Proms.

You're right, of course, about 'America the Beautiful' - it's Pilgrim feet, not patriot dreams. Will change it. Am also adding a P.S.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anastasia, I cannot tell you how much I am enjoying your messages from England - this one even more than the previous ones. There is a feeling here of a life we in America have lost. I feel nostalgic.

With regard to uniquely “English” words in an earlier posting, I am reminded of Winston Churchill’s quip, “England and America are two countries divided by a common language.”

I hope you continue to enjoy your stay and that you will continue to provide us with your wonderful travelogue.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anam Cara said...

Unless you absolutely have to be back the end of August, you should stay for the last night of Proms. It is an experience you will never forget.

Anonymous said...