National anthems should be without words


We should note that the UK indulges in the same kind of idiotic patriot games that the US does. The new leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn has been criticized for simply standing but not singing along with the national anthem at an event.

My sympathies are totally with Corbyn. I abhor these symbolic acts of patriotism in general. Interestingly, Corbyn’s behavior would not be a major issue in the US. Here the singing of the national anthem is usually given over to some designated singer and many people, including politicians, simply stand, though many will place their hands on their hearts and gaze adoringly at the flag in order to show the public just how super-patriotic they are. This may be because the US national anthem is not as easy to sing as the British one.

All the national anthems that I know tend to have words that are pretty awful, consisting of either pandering self-praise of their own countries and people and/or promoting warmongering, and the British national anthem is positively ghastly, lacking any artistic value, consisting as it does of sappy wishes for the Queen. Just look at the words:

God save our gracious Queen!
Long live our noble Queen!
God save the Queen!
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen!

How vapid can you get? I can well imagine that saying this rubbish would stick in the craw of Corbyn, a man who would like to abolish the monarchy altogether.

He was asked about this non-issue and he replied in the soft-spoken way that is his trademark.

I wouldn’t mind scrapping national anthems altogether but given that people seem to need and want them, here’s a compromise. Maybe we should scrap the words and have only music instead. The music is usually not that bad and when played by a brass band can be quite uplifting.

I remember some years ago Australia was debating replacing the British anthem with its own and a strong contender was the popular song Waltzing Matilda. It lost out to something called Advance Australia Fair because, as I recall, the words of the former told the story of a wanderer who is killed by the authorities for the unauthorized killing of a sheep, and this was felt to be inappropriate for a national anthem, while the words of the latter consist of the usual sappy self-praise. But the tune of Waltzing Matilda is great and would sound even better when played by a brass band.

Comments

  1. atheistblog says

    They have to change the anthem soon or later, or will they gonna sing charles as queen ?
    When you change the anthem, try to expunge monarchy as well.

  2. atheistblog says

    To be honest, I like Corbyn than Bernie. If he become Prime Minister, I would like to move to England.

  3. Chiroptera says

    Maybe we should scrap the words and have only music instead.

    Wasn’t that the original Internationale? But then, every country made up it’s own words for it.

    Speaking of which, when I was a wee little kid, before it was finally stopped, in kindergarten we used to recite the pledge of allegiance and sing…”My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” I still have a spot in my heart for that one; if we were to ever change the national anthem, that would be the one I’d pick.

    And if you remove the words, the US and the UK would have the same national anthem! I’ve always said, we and the UK could save money at the Olympic medal ceremonies by chipping in and sharing the cost of the recording.

  4. Rob Grigjanis says

    As a proud Englishman, my favourite anthem is La Marseillaise. When the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish bugger off, we can switch to the equally stirring Jerusalem, with ELP’s version the standard.

  5. Kimpatsu1 says

    “They have to change the anthem soon or later, or will they gonna sing charles as queen ?”
    The sing God Save the King, as was done before Liz became the current queen.
    BTW, Mano, the second verse of the British funeral dirge of an anthem is all about confounding knavish tricks and stringing up Jacobites, just like the second verse of the French Marseillaise is about killing Jews. FWIW, my choice for Australian NA is “We are Australian” by the Seekers.

  6. Silentbob says

    I remember some years ago Australia was debating replacing the British anthem with its own and a strong contender was the popular song Waltzing Matilda. It lost out to something called Advance Australia Fair because, as I recall, the words of the former told the story of a wanderer who is killed by the authorities for the unauthorized killing of a sheep, and this was felt to be inappropriate for a national anthem, while the words of the latter consist of the usual sappy self-praise. But the tune of Waltzing Matilda is great and would sound even better when played by a brass band.

    Actually, the wanderer commits suicide rather than be apprehended because, “‘You’ll never take me alive!’ said he”.

    There was an attempt to create a national anthem using the same tune with more traditionally anthemy lyrics, called God Bless Australia, but (thankfully) it never caught on.

  7. Silentbob says

    @ 1 atheistblog

    They have to change the anthem soon or later, or will they gonna sing charles as queen ?

    I don’t know if you’re joking, but the anthem long predates the current monarch. When the monarch is male it’s God Save the King.

  8. Nick Gotts says

    Corbyn’s people (and of course he now has “people”) have now said he’ll be a good boy in future and sing along. It’s telling that the media focus has been on this, and the awesomely important question of whether Corbyn will kneel to the Queen when he joins the Privy Council, as he will be invited to do as Leader of the Opposition – and not because the Queen might actually listen to any counsel he could give. Anything rather than discuss the issues that led to his election!

    Personally I think Corbyn should just regard performing small hypocrisies like singing a monarchist anthem as part of the job. Of course he’ll be accused of hypocrisy, because he’s changed his practice, but the issue will soon die.

    The final verse of the UK national anthem runs as follows:

    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 Queen!

    Exactly who Marshal Wade was, I can’t say without googling him, but given the gulf between Corbyn’s political convictions, and those of the current leadership of the Scottish branch of the party (if “convictions” is the word for intellectual bankruptcy combined with desperate opportunism), Corbyn might find a use for his services!

  9. Nick Gotts says

    Although I’ve suggested Corbyn should just go along with the “demands of protocol”, these do of course have real functions for the establishment, not the least important being a role in domesticating any such political wild beasts as contrive to jump the fences intended to keep them out of power. Corbyn has been deliberating whether to accept the invitation to join the Privy Council. This would admit him to a lot of cross-party discussions that likely reveal a lot about who has real power in the country, and serve to keep political ideas and conflicts within “acceptable” bounds – but he would be sworn to secrecy about them.

    So… if Corbyn does join, he’s likely to “just happen” to learn something in a PC utterly-confidential-terms discussion early on that puts him in a bind: break his promise, and reveal [telling fact that it is both politically useful and morally right to reveal], or keep his promise while sitting on [telling fact… which would probably have some connection to child sexual abuse]. If he breaks his promise, that makes him a promise-breaker; if he doesn’t, that makes him a concealer of [telling fact].

    Or so I’m told!

  10. StevoR says

    Depends on the anthem. I gather many already consist only of music whilst the words of others obviously vary in inspiring-ness and beauty and appropriateness.

    Personally, I think this song :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjkrjYitgeA

    ‘I am, you are, we are Australian’ sums us best and tells so many of our national stories – emphasis on the plural making up the one – so well. I presume it is also the song #6 Kimpatsu1 referred to as well.

    I abhor these symbolic acts of patriotism in general.

    I think there is certainly a place and use for symbolic, ritual celebratory national songs and music. I do agree that they can be misused and used in problematic ways at times but a little bit of national pride especially directed positively for instance sporting arenas and encouraging people to identify with and improve their home nations is a good thing is it?

  11. StevoR says

    .. the British national anthem is positively ghastly, lacking any artistic value, consisting as it does of sappy wishes for the Queen. Just look at the words:

    A lot of national anthemns especially (but not exclusively) the older European ones’ stressed the rule of the monarch and wished him (or occassionally her) continued and expanded power, victory and glory and longevity of reign.

    For instance, the Japanese Kimigayo has the lyrics :

    May your reign
    Continue for a thousand, eight thousand generations,
    Until the pebbles
    Grow into boulders
    Lush with moss

    Although its actually a bit complicated here :

    While the title “Kimigayo” is usually translated as His Imperial Majesty’s Reign, no official translation of the title or lyrics has been established in law.[2]

    The kimigayo is also one of if not the shortest national anthems too.

    Source for all above re : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimigayo

    Then there’s the plainly named and misleadingly Bulgarian ‘ Anthem of His Majesty the Tsar’ or ‘God Save the Tsar’ which rejoices in the following not so oddly familiar lyrics :

    Almighty, righteous God,
    We pray, save our Tsar,
    Give him might to overwhelm
    Dire vicissitudes.
    For defeat of the foes
    And for a glorious future,
    Oh God, Tsar of Tsars,
    Give the Tsar bright days.
    And enlighten the minds, oh God,
    Of the Bulgarian people,
    Let them be filled with love
    And flourish in unity.
    Let them through accord
    Develop their strength and will,
    Through progress grant them, oh God,
    To deserve an honourable name!

    Source : Eponymous wikipedia page.

    Guess at least that one’s calling for enlightened minds and love as well?

    Then there’s Iran’s Imperial anthem which sings :

    Imperial anthem
    1. Long live our King of Kings,
    And may his glory make immortal our land
    For Pahlavi improved Iran,
    A hundredfold from where it once used to stand.
    Though once beset by the foemen’s rage,
    Now it has peace in his keeping sure.
    We of Iran, rejoice in every age,
    Oh, may God protect him both now and evermore.

    Followed by a flag anthem (huh? Yeah, ohhkay) which had the Persians chorusing :

    2.Oh, Sun that shines on Iran’s banner,
    Shed upon each nation rays strong and fair.
    Those days keep in our recollection
    When thy flashing sword brought peace everywhere.
    We give our lives in thy shade benign,
    And take the lives of each enemy.
    We are the heirs of Kianis’ line;
    Oh, beloved land, ever wholly thine are we.

    Source : ibid as appropriately modified.

    Of course that above song being Pahlavi Shah era is no longer sung with Iran having two rival anthems now- one Islamic official one and another popular opposition rival one – Ey Iran – ditto source~wise.

    Anyhow, I guess the point is that its one common especially older form of national anthem.

  12. StevoR says

    @9. Nick Gotts : “Exactly who Marshal Wade was, I can’t say without googling him, ..”

    Wikipedia works well for stuff like that Nick – see :

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Wade

    .. Corbyn might find a use for his services!”

    Wade died in 1748 and I think Wade’s belief system and values (and equipment) may be just a tad outdated and in disagreement with Corbyn’s somehow so, no, I don’t think so.

    Thinking this & national anthems gotta say “Scotland the Brave” is right there for powerful and good ones though! (& wikicheck – apparently there’s no official Scottish anthem just a few unofficial ones.)

  13. Holms says

    I’m all for a wordless anthem, the current Australian too dull for words. Luckily, the running joke is that the first verse is poorly remembered, and the second is not remembered at all.

  14. StevoR says

    Thinking unofficial anthems vs official ones and also expanding upon #7. Silentbob’s comment; As well as the poor thieving Swagman Aussie culture celebrates in music – as well as folklore – a number of other anti-establishment rebel figures who came to tragic ends at the hands of the law. For example such as Ned Kelly here :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37VH-rmS1hg

    ‘Poor Ned’ by Redgum an Aussie band that also had the environmental anthem ‘Rip, Rip, Woodchip’ and a lot of other great songs. (BTW. The “flag of stars” referred to at 2 minutes 40 secs is the Eureka stockade flag which has since developed some problematic right-wing associations but still.)

    One of the other classic bush ballads and semi-anthems I recall singing – in primary & high schools as a kid was similarly the celebration of ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’ another bushranger who died fighting the police. Then there are other songs like ‘Bound for Botany Bay’ featuring the laments of convicts headed for Australian jails and settlements when we were England’s dumping ground after the US became inconveniently unavailable for that purpose. So, our most popular national songs have fighting bushrangers, mournful convicts and itinerant suicidal oppressed swagman as key heroes rather than our official (foreign) ruling monarch and aristocracy. Oh and we also celebrate the harshness and hostility of our national environment in songs like the modern(~ish, 80’s) classic ‘Great Southern Land’ too :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9iUKd16fqLI

    The place that “Waltzing Matilda’ holds in our culture – and even back in the days of the First Word War is powerfully noted in another iconic national anti-war anthem :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WG48Ftsr3OI

    ‘ The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ by Eric Bogle. Then there’s the pub classic and another iconic anti-war Aussie song ‘Khe Sanh’ this time from the Vietnam war era and also we have ‘I was only Nineteen’ .. well, you get the picture I hope. (If not, well enjoy the music anyhow.) These songs reflect so much about us and affect us so much too.

    As other national anthems and songs also generally do for most people especially of the relevant nations as well.

  15. StevoR says

    @ 14. Holms : Years ago a mate of mine once noted how well our current anthem goes with the old Bugs Bunny catchphrase “I thawt I thaw a Puddy tat!” 😉

    PS. Just one more song because, again it sums up our stories (& others esp. Irish rebels here) so well and is I think an underrated superb classic :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kS2vffK_niI

    “Van Dieman’s land” by U2 a powerful example of a convicts lament.

    “We fought for justice and not for gain but the magistrate sent me away.”

    PS. Even Johnny Cash sung about Ned Kelly btw.

  16. mnb0 says

    With one exception: the Dutch one.

    Wilhelmus of Nassau am I of German descent.
    I’ll remain loyal to the fatherland until I die.
    A Prince of Orange am I free and fearless.
    I have always honoured the King of Spain.

    That’s three nationalities (Orange is in France) and none of them Dutch!

    “Jeremy Corbyn has been criticized for simply standing but not singing”
    The Orange team (we’re talking football and not the American version) usually does exactly the same. The fans usually do and the result is usually mockery – wrong pitch and out of time.

    Don’t start me about its predecessor though – it’s hard to find a more racist one.

  17. DonDueed says

    Countries whose anthems have no lyrics lose one aspect: the ability for people to sing the anthem (with or without accompaniment). It has to be performed on instruments or played back from a recording.

    As mnb0 points out, that can be a good thing.

    I always loved the old Soviet Union’s national anthem. It’s really quite uplifting, musically. Apparently it had two different sets of lyrics, the later version seeming to focus more on praising Communism rather than the nation itself. Both versions seem to hope and expect the USSR to last forever, unsurprisingly (and erroneously).

  18. anat says

    Hard to beat ‘Everyday Anthem’ by the Israeli band Gazoz. Lyrics and music by Danny Sanderson. Rather literal translation is mine:

    In the sky the sun shines
    And birds fly above
    And a day will come and all will know
    That we are all Bulgarians

    Children play in the garden
    Soon they will be grown
    And a day will come they too will be
    Like us all, Bulgarians

    There are many people among us
    White, brown, black
    On the outside they all look different
    But inside they are Bulgarians

    Buuuulgariaaans (they’re Bulgarians)
    —————-

    No idea why the Bulgarian nation was chosen to represent all of humanity, but it’s acute song.

  19. says

    Here’s a better idea: Every country has to adopt “This Land Is Your Land” as its anthem, and can only use geographical references, no ideological lyrics.

    Then again, probably not. Inevitably be some country will start claiming disputed territory in the song and leads to arguments (e.g. the Spratly Islands, Aztlan, Tibet, Ladakh, etc.).

  20. Rob Grigjanis says

    Every country has to adopt “This Land Is Your Land” as its anthem

    Aaargh no! We’d have to listen to that piece of banal drivel twice before every international match. That calls for something with a bit more oomph.

  21. StevoR says

    Bit late in the thread now but one last thing I found in my wiki-checking anthem’s~wise – There’s actually a German anti-anthem written by Bertold Brecht :

    It gained some currency after the 1990 unification of Germany, with a number of prominent Germans opting for his “antihymn” to be made official :

    Grace spare not and spare no labour
    Passion nor intelligence
    That a decent German nation
    Flourish as do other lands.

    That the people give up flinching
    At the crimes which we evoke
    And hold out their hand in friendship
    As they do to other folk.

    Neither over or yet under
    Other peoples will we be
    From the Oder to the Rhineland
    From the Alps to the North Sea

    And because we’ll make it better
    Let us guard and love our home
    Love it as our dearest country
    As the others love their own.

    Source : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deutschlandlied#Variants_and_additions

    Which explicitly recognises the universality of patriotism and love others have for their nations too.

  22. says

    @left0ver1under that was going to be my suggestion, for the US at least (my birth country). But only as long as the following stanza was emphasized:

    As I went walking I saw a sign there
    And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
    But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
    That side was made for you and me.

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