National Anthems

They are discussing national anthems over at Crooked Timber, and some people are saying rude things about the ever-splendid Marseillaise, which is possibly the only song to feature centrally in two of the world’s very finest cinema scenes (in Casablanca, of course, and — less well-known but more remarkably — in the silent classic Napol�on vu par Abel Gance). Around a decade ago there was a movement to get the words rewritten to make them a little less bloody, but I’m glad to say that it failed.

One of my favourite moments from my time in America came on Bastille Day in 1999 when the carillon in the campanile at UC Berkeley played the Marseillaise at noon, its chiming, tinkling bells offering a fine and idiosyncratic tribute from one great republic to another. (I wonder if they still do that, now that transatlantic relations have soured a bit: I still think that if the Americans really want to pick a fight with the French by renaming their chips they should have the decency to return the Statue of Liberty first).

Two of my favourite snippets on the subject of national anthems:

  • the silliest line probably comes in the Dutch anthem, which proclaims that “I have always honoured the King of Spain”. (It’s less silly in context, but still, I think, quite silly.)
  • I have a special and embarrassed interest in this couplet, which is from the pre-independence anthem of Sarawak: “And tens of thousands yet unborn / Will bless the name of Brooke.” Oh dear.
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