Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Scott on War

I've been reading Sir Walter Scott's The Lady of the Lake to my nine-year-old daughter over the last couple of weeks. I didn't know the first thing about Scott, but I recently read somewhere that Mark Twain hated him. Since I hate Mark Twain, that was all the recommendation I needed.

Wikipedia has a pretty good synopsis of the story. Last night, we reached the point where Roderick Dhu calls the highland Scots to war. The message reaches a young man in the middle of his own wedding procession:

Yet slow he laid his plaid aside,
And, lingering, eyed his lovely bride,
Until he saw the starting tear
Speak woe he might not stop to cheer;
Then, trusting not a second look,
In haste he sped him up the brook,
Nor backward glanced, till on the heath
Where Lubnaig's lake supplies the Teith
-- What in the racer's bosom stirr'd?
The sickening pang of hope deferr'd,
And memory, with a torturing train,
Of all his morning visions vain,
Mingled with love's impatience, came
The manly thirst for martial fame;
The stormy joy of mountaineers,
Ere yet they rush upon the spears;
And zeal for Clan and Chieftain bring,
And hope, from well-fought field returning,
With war's red honors on his crest,
To clasp his Mary to his breast.
Stung by such thoughts, o'er bank and brae,
Like fire from flint he glanced away,
While high resolve, and feeling strong,
Burst into voluntary song.

"The heath this night must be my bed,
The bracken curtain for my head,
My lullaby the warder's tread,
Far, far from love and thee, Mary:

"To-morrow eve, more stilly laid,
My couch may be my bloody plaid,
My vesper song, thy wail, sweet maid!
It will not waken me, Mary!

"I may not, dare not, fancy now
The grief that clouds thy lovely brow,
I dare not think upon thy vow,
And all it promised me, Mary.

"No fond regret must Norman know;
When bursts Clan-Alpine on the foe,
His heart must be like bended bow,
His foot like arrow free, Mary.

"A time will come with feeling fraught,
For, if I fall in battle fought,
Thy hapless lover's dying thought
Shall be a thought on the, Mary.

"And if return'd from conquer'd foes,
How blithely will the evening close,
How sweet the linnet sing repose,
To my young bride and me, Mary!

Φ: "So, what does this passage say?"

Γ: "Mmmm . . . ."

Φ: "What does the young man think about being called away to war?"

Γ: "He's sad."

Φ: "What else does he think?"

Γ: "He wants fame. He wants to get famous by fighting."

Φ: "Wow, good! You're all over it."

Γ: "But why does he want to fight?"

Φ: "Mmmm . . . . It's something boys do, I guess. If you ever marry a soldier, and he's called away to war, this will probably be his attitude. He'll miss you terribly, but he will hunger for the thrill of combat."

Γ: "But, why would he be called away?"

Φ: "Because his clan calls him! His country calls him."

Γ: "So . . . why are we fighting in Afghanistan?"

Φ: [WTF?!?]

Φ: "Mmmm . . . . That's a good question. I suppose if the president were here, he'd say that we have to civilize the Pashtuns. He'd say we have to teach them democracy and human rights."

Γ: "Well . . . that sounds like a really dumb reason!"

Φ: "Okay, well, let's not ask anymore questions and just listen to the poem."


Elusive Wapiti said...

"...that sounds like a really dumb reason"

We should put Γ in charge. She's got more on the ball than 4/5 of the stooges in the Beltway right now.

Thursday said...

I hope you except Huckleberry Finn from your disapprobation, but, yeah, outside of that one great book Twain is bloody annoying.

Burke said...

On your recommendation, I will give Huckleberry Finn another go, but my dislike of Twain is the result of reading A Connecticut Yankee. That book consists of little more than hate speech against the Catholic Church. I mean, I'm as hardcore Protestant as they come, and even I couldn't stomach it. As I was reading it to Γ, I thought, "I can't read this to her! We have friends that are Catholic!" I found myself editing so much out that I decided that it wasn't worth it, so we quit about half way through.

Anonymous said...

Another Mark Twain hater! I have always hated Twain and loved Scott's prose.

Another great book is Pyle's version of the Robin Hood legends.

Anonymous said...

Wait, what? Are you sure the guy wants to be famous? I think the gamma got that one wrong...

"No fond regret must Norman know;
When bursts Clan-Alpine on the foe,
His heart must be like bended bow,
His foot like arrow free"

The Norse are dangerous. The guy wants to fight because it's defensive war against a very dangerous enemy. Therefore he wants to show no fear, to have a ready heart that speeds his movements.

Burke said...

Mingled with love's impatience, came
The manly thirst for martial fame;

I think this was what she was referring to.

Thursday said...

Twain was the New Atheist of his day, though he didn't have a scientific background. He was quite the obnoxious little man.

Anyway, Twain blamed Scott, who was tremendously popular in the South, for promoting a phony version of chivalry that the Southern planters used to justify their lifestyle with. How fair that was to Scott I don't know; I've only read one book, Waverley, about the Jacobite Rebellion. My impression was that Scott thought of the Jacobites as wrong but "wromantic."