Terre de nos aieux?

July 2, 2007

It was Canada’s 140th birthday yesterday and we were able to watch Ottawa’s celebratory fireworks from the verge of the street where we live, the crowds around us cheering the show as usual. Earlier, a skydiver had spiralled from the clouds, pink smoke billowing from the heel of his boot, a maple leaf emblazoned parachute above him and a huge flag unfurling and flapping beside him as he fell to earth. A dozen or so more of these jumpers followed him down.

Every year, Canada Day is a great party, but there’s one thing which bothers me and which I wrote to the paper about. They haven’t got round to publishing my letter, so I’ll publish it here instead, and I warn you that if you click on the link below your ears will be bombarded by the famous tune:

When I join in with O Canada,…, I always balk at the following phrase — “our home and native land” — because although Canada is my home, although I am now also a Canadian citizen, this is not actually my native land. “Native” means “associated with a place by birth” and I was not born here. So until the national anthem is modified to suit my literal mind, I shall never be able to put heart and soul into singing this, and I dare say thousands like me feel the same.

On second thoughts, maybe thousands don’t feel the same! Not everyone out there is as word-sensitive as Chris and me. All the same, almost 20% of present day Canadians were born outside this country. The original, French version of Canada’s national anthem is even more exclusive, declaring that this is the land of our forefathers, not to mention our native land; therefore this line is true for even fewer Canadians.

O Canada!
Terre de nos aïeux…

I suppose more than one national anthem sounds a bit silly when you look at the details. The British (well, English) hymn of 1745 originally included a verse that the authorities had the sense to suppress before it turned into our national anthem:

Lord, grant that Marshal Wade,
May by thy mighty aid,
Victory bring.
May he sedition hush and like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush,
God save the King.

The Welsh and French national anthems are still a tad bloodthirsty for modern taste; in the Welsh one it’s the patriots who are willing to sacrifice their own blood…

…Ei gwrol ryfelwyr, gwladgarwyr tra mâd,
Dros ryddid collasant eu gwaed…

whereas the French are keener to spill the blood of their enemies and turn it into manure:

…Qu’un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons!

Never mind, the tunes suit every generation. Does this go to show that a good tune is more durable than poetry, or simply that in these cases the music’s superior to the words?


One Response to “Terre de nos aieux?”

  1. gloplastic Says:

    Gosh, you’ve written a lot since I last read your blog (Flottbek)! There’s lots to think about – I was particularly interested in that quote about Granddad: clearly music meant a lot to the author of that memoire.

    I know a lot of people who’d like “Jerusalem” to become our national hymn, but unfortunately it always makes me want to yell “NO!”.

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