The last "In Case You Didn't Know"...for now

Yeah About That:

(but the last one, I promise),

in Case You Didn’t Know

“Oh, God, not more national anthems!” Notta groaned, as she looked over the papers I had copied for our class last week. “What is it with you?”

“Ever try to teach poetry to non-poet Americans?” I asked. “Unless they’re in love or writing advertising jingles, most of our cherubs don’t have the time of day for such stuff. A few more might read a novel if there’s a movie about it. And nonfiction? If it comes in a 30-second sound byte, a quick and peppy PSA, there’s a chance they might remember it. For a few minutes. Look, sung or not, poetry has a lot to say; and I have to put this stuff into some context to get them to even consider poetry.”

“I’m with you on that. But I can hear our class now: these national anthems, they’re old and boring.” Notta sat down heavily. “Ask people today about it and all they seem to know is what their current opinion of the football protests is. Nobody even knows what the words mean or should mean. It’s all so stuffy and, well, church-y. You know, preach-y.”

“As in hopes and aspirations of a people however momentarily united?”

She sniffed. “Something like that.”

I made a humming sound, pretending to think. “And then there’s the French National Anthem.”

“Oh, do tell.” There are days I believe Notta has a doctoral degree in Sarcasm.

“Well, it was written during the French Revolution.”


“So, as far as I can tell, it’s never been ‘cleaned up’ or made politically correct from that bloody time. Have a look.” I passed her a copy of “La Marseillaise.”

Words to the French national anthem 'La Marseillaise':

Allons, enfants de la Patrie Le jour de gloire est arrivé! Contre nous, de la tyrannie L'étendard sanglant est levé Entendez-vous dans les campagnes Mugir ces féroces soldats? Ils viennent jusque dans nos bras Égorger nos fils, nos compagnes!

Aux armes, citoyens! Formez vos bataillons Marchons, marchons! Qu'un sang impur Abreuve nos sillons!

“I don’t speak French,” Notta said, pushing the paper back to me.

“Patience,” I said. “Turn the paper over.”

English translation:

Arise, children of the Fatherland The day of glory has arrived Against us tyranny's Bloody banner is raised Do you hear, in the countryside The roar of those ferocious soldiers? They're coming right into your arms To cut the throats of your sons, your women!

To arms, citizens! Form your battalions Let's march, let's march Let an impure blood Water our furrows!1

“Oh, they are going to love this!” Notta said, her eyes twice normal size. “Nothing like blood, fear and murder to attract American attention. But do they mean it literally?”

“No idea,” I said. “Given the time of its writing, perhaps. Like other great expressions of a nation like this, I imagine it means different things to different Frenchmen and women. Now, look at this one, the Croatian National Anthem.” I passed her a second paper.

“Again with the World Cup,” Notta groaned. But she read.

Croatian National Anthem: Lijepa Nasa Domovino:

Lijepa naša domovino,

Oj junačka zemljo mila,

Stare slave djedovino,

Da bi vazda sretna bila!

Mila, kano si nam slavna,

Mila si nam ti jedina.

Mila, kuda si nam ravna,

Mila, kuda si planina!

Teci Dravo, Savo teci,

Nit' ti Dunav silu gubi,

Sinje more svijetu reci,

Da svoj narod Hrvat ljubi.

Dok mu njive sunce grije,

Dok mu hrašće bura vije,

Dok mu mrtve grobak krije,

Dok mu živo srce bije!

“No, I do NOT speak Croatian or know how to pronounce all that,” I said.

“Thank God for that.” She turned the paper over.

English translation

Our Beautiful Homeland*

Our beautiful homeland,

O so fearless and gracious.

Our fathers' ancient glory,

May you be blessed forever.

Dear, you are our only glory,

Dear, you are our only one,

Dear, we love your plains,

Dear, we love your mountains.

Sava, Drava, keep on flowing,

Danube, do not lose your vigour,

Deep blue sea, tell the world,

That a Croat loves his homeland.

Whilst his fields are kissed by sunshine,

Whilst his oaks are whipped by wild winds,

Whilst his dear ones go to heaven,

Whilst his live heart beats.

“Okay, that one makes me feel better,” Notta admitted.

“But is that what a national anthem is supposed to do? Make the singer feel better about her country? Or is it supposed to raise national pride? Comfort or exhort? Praise or rally the troops? Calm or terrorize with a promise of victory? Embrace all the citizens or go for the ‘us or them’ philosophy?”

“Read or poem or make a speech?” Notta added with a knowing grin.

I hate to admit it, but I did stick out my tongue at her. “Could be all of the above.”

Notta leaned back in her chair. She was silent a few seconds, then said, “But let me tell you what it is NOT – or SHOULD NOT BE – a political game of my patriotism is better than yours because I said so.”

“No?” I smiled.”Seems to be the popular thing now, with American football season starting.”

“Humph!” Notta snorted. “Anybody who plays that kind of game with a national anthem is no patriot. A bigot, maybe. An egotist? Definitely, since it’s his or her interpretation that matters. But a patriot? No way.”



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