Wednesday, April 25, 2007

English Hymns and meta-narrative

England is a story. Is a story that has come define the sceptered island and to a large part, the English speaking western world. It is a story that is full of contradictions. Notably, this story is founded upon the principles of freedom, liberty and equity; however it is fed and sustained by the story of empire.
The English story is constituted and defined by its own meta-narrative - which is most commonly expressed in the national and anthems of England.
This story tells of England, the divinely appointed vicegerent who is allotted as the steward on this globe of freedom and right, of morals and justice. Not only is this the "White Man's burden", it is every decent Englishman's burden - to bring "civilisation to the uncivilised"; to resist the tyranny of European tyrants, whether it be 1940, 1805, 1588, or 60AD; to set men free and stave off the encroaches of popery; to challenge the ugly power off rule at home (1215, 1641, 1688), and give power to those who don't have it (begrudgingly in 1830 and 1833). This is the story of Magna Carta, the Glorious Revolution, the Armada, Waterloo, the Charist movement and so much more. This is a land of hope and glory, where the people shall never be slaves, and the King, crowned as Solomon to the splendour of Handel, shall be sent victorious and reign happy and glorious over his new Israel.
This is the English story, well, at least what we've been told for the past three centuries. This next series of posts will analyse how famous English Hymns and Anthems were written as an embodiment of this story. Until then, ponder these words:

When Britain first at Heav'n's command
Arose from out the azure main;
Arose, arose from out the azure main;
This was the charter, the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain:
Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!
Britons never, never, never will be slaves!
Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!
Britons never, never, never will be slaves!
10 points for the identity and location of the statue. Another 10 points for the irony in the symbolism of the statue.

6 comments:

Martin Kemp said...

Boudica: Westminster Bridge, London.

Two ironies re the statue:
1. The chariot has Persian spears sticking out of the wheels. Boudica was a Briton;
2. The horses are rearing up on their hind legs, a symbol that rider was killed honorably in battle (one leg lifted would suggest a battle wound). Sources say the queen actually killed herself.

James said...

The words of Rule Britannia are taken from an opera by Thomas Arne, called "Alfred".

Do I get points for that? :-)

Moffitt the Prophet said...

Martin:
1. Spot on, 10 points.
2. True. I'll give you 5 points, but there is a deeper irony that I'm looking for.

James:
Five points...did you use wikipedia? Interesting that the song looks back to when England had a top navy, bu was written at a time when England's naval power was far from unchallenged.

James said...

Nope - I knew that beforehand. It is interesting about the naval power - but that's why the song is important - it was used for propaganda purposes.

Martin Kemp said...

Boudica is seen as a symbol of the empire (associated with Queen Victoria), yet Boudica fought against the imperialistic Romans.

Moffitt the Prophet said...

Mister Kemp, you are too good - another 10 points!