March 28, 2015

“England’s green and pleasant land”


If you’re not British, you may only be vaguely aware of the song “Jerusalem.” But the tune and lyrics are very familiar to the people of England.

It is England’s unofficial national anthem, like “God Bless America” is in the United States.

Some Brits have urged that “Jerusalem” be made the official national anthem of England.

The song was first performed on March 28, 1916, during World War I, at a patriotic “Fight for Right” concert at Queen’s Hall in London.

Its melody was composed that year by Sir Hubert Parry, one of England’s most famous composers.

The lyrics are more than a century older than the music.

They come from the preface English poet and artist William Blake wrote for his epic poem Milton, which was first published in late 1810 or early 1811.

The first two paragraphs of Blake’s preface are an obtuse rant that criticizes, among other things, the “Hirelings in the Camp, the Court, & the University: who would if they could for ever depress Mental & prolong Corporeal War.”

The second part of the preface, written in verse, are the words used as the lyrics for the song “Jerusalem”:

“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 these dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold;
Bring me my arrows of desire;
Bring me my spear; O clouds, unfold!

Bring me my chariot of fire!

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

The first and last lines of the song are widely known and often quoted, as is the phrase “dark satanic mills” — a poetic expression of Blake’s opinion about the smoke-belching, labor-abusing factories of the Industrial Revolution.

The song also helped popularize the phrase “chariot of fire”, which Blake took from the King James Version of the Bible.

The idea of using Blake’s verses from the preface to Milton as song lyrics was suggested to Parry by English Poet Laureate Robert Seymour Bridges.

Bridges envisioned the song as a moving piece of musical propaganda, part of the patriotic, pro-war “Fight for Right” movement designed to help revive public support for Britain’s involvement in World War I. 

Hubert Parry had a somewhat different vision for how his song would be remembered.

His wife, Elizabeth, was involved in the women’s suffrage movement and he strongly supported giving women the right to vote.

With Hubert’s blessing, the song was adopted as an inspirational anthem by British women’s suffrage groups, who won their fight for women’s voting rights in 1918.

On March 13, 1918, Parry staged a highly visible performance of his song at London's Albert Hall to celebrate the culmination of the “Votes for Women” campaign.

Later, “Jerusalem” became a general, patriotic British anthem.

And, although it is not technically a Christian hymn, it is often sung as one at many churches in England.

For decades, “Jerusalem” has also been sung by audiences at the end of the “Last Night of the Proms,” the final concert in the series of annual “Henry Wood Promenade Concerts” presented by the BBC.

The song is also frequently sung at cricket and rugby games, like the “Star-Spangled Banner” is sung at American baseball games.

In recent years it has become popular with environmentalists for the lyrics invoking the ideal of a “green and pleasant land.”

It’s also said to have been a favorite of an earlier brand of nature lovers in the so-called “Naturist Movement” (i.e., nudists), due to a legend that a visitor to William Blake’s home once found him and his wife sunning themselves nude in their garden.

Hundreds of recordings of “Jerusalem” have been made over the decades. Many have been posted on YouTube.

My personal favorite is the version by Billy Bragg, on his 1990 album, The Internationale.

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March 18, 2015

The origin of George Mallory’s famous mountain climbing quote: “Because it’s there.”


In March of 1923, British mountain climber George Leigh Mallory was touring the United States to raise money for a expedition to Mount Everest planned for the following year.

At that time no one had ever made it to the top of Everest — the highest mountain on the planet.

In 1921 and 1922, Mallory was a member of the first two expeditions that tried to reach the summit of the mountain. Both had failed.

During his 1923 fund-raising tour, Mallory was often asked why he wanted to climb Everest. The question seemed somewhat inane to an adventurer like Mallory and eventually he came up with a standard answer.

The answer became famous when it was quoted in a story in the March 18, 1923 issue of the New York Times. The headline was “CLIMBING MOUNT EVEREST IS WORK FOR SUPERMEN.”

Mallory’s reply was included in the opening paragraph:

“Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?” This question was asked of George Leigh Mallory, who was with both expeditions toward the summit of the world’s highest mountain, in 1921 and 1922, and who is now in New York. He plans to go again in 1924, and he gave as the reason for persisting in these repeated attempts to reach the top, “Because it’s there.”

Mallory wasn’t being entirely flippant. He went on to explain:

“Everest is the highest mountain in the world, and no man has reached its summit. Its existence is a challenge. The answer is instinctive, a part, I suppose, of man’s desire to conquer the universe.”

During Mallory’s 1922 expedition, this desire to “conquer” Everest cost the lives of seven Tibetan Sherpa porters, who were killed in an avalanche.

During the 1924 expedition, it cost Mallory his own life.

On June 8th, 1924, Mallory and his climbing partner, Andrew Irvine made a final push to reach the top of Everest.

Observers below saw them reach a height within a thousand feet of the summit. Then they disappeared from sight — and did not return.

In 1953, the dream of conquering Everest was finally achieved by New Zealand mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa companion Tenzing Norgay.

Forty-six years later, in 1999, an expedition funded by the TV show Nova and the BBC discovered the frozen body of George Mallory about 2,000 feet below the summit, where he appeared to have died after a fall.

Andrew Irvine’s body has yet to be found.

Over the years, some people have speculated that Mallory and Irvine may have reached the top of Everest before dying and thus may deserve credit for being the first climbers to achieve that goal, rather than Hillary and Norgay.

When asked about this in an interview in the mid-1980s, Sir Edmund Hillary responded dryly:

“If you climb a mountain for the first time and die on the descent, is it really a complete first ascent of the mountain? I’m rather inclined to think, personally, that maybe it’s quite important, the getting down. And the complete climb of a mountain is reaching the summit and getting safely to the bottom again.”

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March 04, 2015

March 4th: a good day for famous presidential quotes – until 1933…

The date for the United States presidential inauguration was not specified in the original U.S. Constitution.

In 1788, the Continental Congress set Inauguration Day as March 4. Then, in 1933, the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution changed it to January 20, reducing the outdated four-month lag between the time a president was elected and took office.

That’s why famous quotes from inaugural addresses of presidents elected before 1933 are on a March 4th date and those of presidents elected after 1933 are on a January 20th.

The Inauguration Day speeches of all of the presidents (online here) are historically interesting and many include memorable lines. But only a handful of those lines have become famous quotes.

The earliest comes from the first inaugural address of Thomas Jefferson, which took place on March 4, 1801.

That speech includes Jefferson’s oft-cited warning against “entangling alliances.” It’s part of a longer sentence that Jefferson said embodied his view on “the essential principles of our Government”:

“Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”

You have to flash forward 60 years to find another truly famous quote from a president’s inaugural address.

In Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address on March 4, 1861, he coined the well-known, poetic phrase “the mystic chords of memory.”

It came near the end of his speech, in what was a clear plea to citizens in Southern states. At that point, some states had already seceded from the Union, but no blatant act of war between the North and South had occurred. Lincoln said:

“In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war...We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Six weeks later, Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. The Civil War had begun.

Four years later, when Lincoln gave his second inaugural address on March 4, 1865, the end of that bloody war was in sight. Knowing this, Lincoln expressed his hope for reconciliation with one of his most famous quotes:

With malice towards none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and for his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”

Four weeks later, on April 9, 1865 , Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia. The Civil War was over.

Four years after that, when Grant himself became president, Northern and Southern states were fighting in the legal arena over various federal laws, such as those related to the rights of the freed African-American slaves.

In Grant’s first inaugural address on March 4, 1869, he said he would not hesitate to use his power as President to veto laws that he opposed. But he noted that he would faithfully execute all laws “whether they meet my approval or not.”

To those comments, Grant added one of the most slyly witty quotes ever uttered by a U.S. president:

“I know of no method to secure the repeal of bad or obnoxious laws so effective as their stringent execution.”

The next famous presidential quotations from a March 4th inauguration speech came half a century later, in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address on March 4, 1933.

One line in that speech helped popularize the term “good neighbor policy.” Speaking about his views on foreign affairs, Roosevelt said:

“In the field of world policy I would dedicate this Nation to the policy of the good neighbor — the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others — the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors.”

But the most famous line from Roosevelt’s first inaugural address was related to domestic policy.

In 1933, America was in the midst of the Great Depression. Roosevelt wanted to generate a renewed sense of hope in the American people and inspire support for his plans to restore the economy with ambitious new government programs. But he knew that many people were afraid for their future and some were afraid that a more activist federal government would just make things worse.

So, in the first paragraph of Roosevelt’s speech, he famously addressed those fears:

“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”
 
Of course, Roosevelt did gain the support of the majority of Americans and was reelected to two more terms.

But his first inaugural address was the last presidential speech that included famous quotes spoken on the date March 4th.

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