There’s hardly an American alive who is not familiar with ‘the Graduation song’, otherwise Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No 1. Probably fewer are familiar with the words, penned by the Englishman, Arthur C. Benson prior to the ‘Great War’ of 1914-18.
Conjoined, the tune and words became an English anthem many preferred to the more staid and official British National Anthem. There can be little doubt Brits of the day believed the words to be worthy. They were certainly stirring and patriotic at a time when patriotism and nationalism still ruled the British Empire.
I was introduced to this anthem while still a small boy in short trousers. I well remember the feelings roused inside me by the glorious words and their accompanying majestic, and thundering, crescendos.
“Land of Hope and Glory” made one proud to be British.
Of course, all that was fifty or more years ago, but the orchestral version, along with it’s four relatives, remains one of my musical favorites. Now, I enjoy the recollections of early childhood its tones recreate, still managing to surface and reveal themselves through the mental miasma of sixty-two years of memories.
Listening the other day, however, I was struck by the notion of history once again repeating itself, and how we as nations fail to heed the wisdom available to us through our history books. Now, the words bear little relationship to present day Britain, but as an incitement to nationalism and patriotic fervor, they may well sit snugly inside the national psyche of the United States of America.
“Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free……”
This was written of a nation that saw itself as the ‘mother’ of the world, spreading freedom and democracy throughout the globe. In truth, the British Empire was a militarist occupation enslaving its victims and pillaging its conquests of all that was valuable.
Today, a new ‘mother’ has arisen, yet ignoring the lessons of the British Empire she weaves a course of militarism across the world, determined to succeed even though history reveals the failures of all who went before her.
Benson’s words to Pomp and Circumstance continue to accurately describe the American psyche of the 21st century. Such phrases as, “Fortress of the Free” (Fortress America?) and “Strong in Faith and Freedom”, as accurately describe the indoctrinal political messages emanating from the US today, as they did their British counterparts back in the early 20th century.
Elgar’s music still stirs the soul. Benson’s words today rouse the English spectators at international soccer games, as efficiently as they goaded young men to sacrifice their lives on the poppy fields of Flanders all those years ago.
It took the massacre of millions in WW1, and the much more intimate involvement of Europeans in WW2, to realize that rousing stanzas are no substitute for peace and security. War solves nothing, despite political rhetoric to the contrary.
The British learned of this the hard way. It seems Americans, loathe to attend the school of history, are determined to do the same.
To you, America, I am happy to bequeath our redundant anthem, still a tune we will rousingly enjoy at sports events and the ‘Last Night of the Proms’, but hopefully never again to be played in Britain as a prelude to mass slaughter.
One hundred years ago, the prize was silk and spices from India. Today, the reward is Middle Eastern oil.
You need all the help you can get:
“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!
Truth and Right and Freedom, each a holy gem,
Stars of solemn brightness, weave thy diadem.
Tho’ thy way be darkened, still in splendour drest,
As the star that trembles o’er the liquid West.
Throned amid the billows, throned inviolate,
Thou hast reigned victorious, thou has smiled at fate.
Land of Hope and Glory, fortress of the Free,
How may we extol thee, praise thee, honour thee?
Hark, a mighty nation maketh glad reply;
Lo, our lips are thankful, lo, our hearts are high!
Hearts in hope uplifted, loyal lips that sing;
Strong in faith and freedom, we have crowned our King!”
Filed under: Mother’s Day