From John Ray's shorter notes

July 10, 2018

Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it

One could point out many examples of the saying that those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it. The one that presses on us all most these days has to be the finding that a majority of Amerrican young people think well of socialism. That is not too surprising given that a modern American education usually includes little history. Even so, that there clearly is for many no memory of the Soviet or Maoist tyrannies is disturbing.

It is not socialism that is most at issue, however. It is the culture wars. The ferocious attacks on critics of homosexuality are a good example. How can anybody be so dogmatic about the unattackable righteousness of homosexuality, knowing that only a few decades ago it was so execrated as to be illegal? Being informed by history, however, in particular by Karl Marx's hostility to the family, it seems to me that homosexuality is now being used by Leftist haters as a tool to attack the traditional family. I see a pretense that a perversion is being promoted as being in some way equal to normal family life.

So ignorance of even recent history can be deplored. So what about the history of times much further back? I like to go back to Beowulf, an epic poem that is the only substantial remainder of pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon literature. The values one encounters there are the values of our relatively recent ancestors -- people who came out of the womb very much like us -- and yet they are at huge variance with current Western values. Formidableness in battle was the chief value then.

An impression of Beowulf

So Beowulf is a hugely useful corrective to all assumptions that our culture is in any sense absolutely right. It alerts us to the way our values are a product of our time and place and that they may be replaced by something quite different in the future. It introduces us to humility about our beliefs.

In saying that, however, I realize that very few people are going to take time to read a poem from a thousand or more years ago. So I am very pleased to have found a much shorter poem set to good music which has basically the same values as Beowulf. It was written quite recently by Scottish/Canadian tenor John McDermott, well known in Canada.

I rather wonder what made McDermott able to think within a primitive pre-Christian mindset but he has done it The values seem insanely warlike to a modern mind but they are in fact the values of our own pre-Christian ancestors so they should alert us to how unwise it is to be dogmatic about the rightness of anything.

Below is a video and the lyrics of McDermott's version of "Scotland the Brave". The values in the song probably do well represent the values of the Scots of old. They probably had to have such values to survive as an independent people.  To be a little bit Jungian about it, perhaps there was in McDermott a folk memory of how his remote Scottish ancestors would have felt.

He does this rendition in dance tempo -- in deference to the lovely and lively young Scottish (Canadian?) men and women who are demonstrating their dancing virtuosity. He does on other occasions however use slower tempi to enable contemplation of what is being sung

The dancing is nowhere as sophisticated as the Waltz, the Foxtrot and various Latin styles but it is Volkisch and, given the Scottish influence in my own upbringing, it makes my heart glad

The words

Let Italy boast of her gay gilded waters
Her vines and her bowers and her soft sunny skies
Her sons drinking love from the eyes of her daughters
Where freedom expires amid softness and sighs

Scotland's blue mountains wild where hoary cliffs are piled
Towering in grandeur are dearer tae me
Land of the misty cloud land of the tempest loud
Land of the brave and proud land of the free

Enthroned on the peak of her own highland mountains
The spirit of Scotia reigns fearless and free
Her green tartan waving o'er blue rock and fountain
And proudly she sings looking over the sea

Here among my mountains wild I have serenely smiled
When armies and empires against me were hurled
Firm as my native rock I have withstood the shock
Of England, of Denmark, of Rome and the world

But see how proudly her war steeds are prancing
Deep groves of steel trodden down in their path
The eyes of my sons like their bright swords are glancing
Triumphantly riding through ruin and death

Bold hearts and nodding plumes wave o'er their bloody tombs
Deep eyed in gore is the green tartan's wave
Shivering are the ranks of steel, dire is the horseman's wheel

Victorious in battlefield Scotland the brave
Victorious in battlefield Scotland the brave


I wondered what McDermott was referrring to in his verse about Italy.  The best I could come up with was Monteverdi madrigals.  Below is "Chiome d' Oro" ("Tresses of gold" -- i.e. praise of a blonde woman)  A wonderful rendition performed on original instruments below.  Wait for the words:

Italian text

Chiome d’oro, bel tesoro,
tu mi leghi in mille modi
se t’annodi, se ti snodi.

Candidette perle elette,
se le rose che scoprite
discoprite, mi ferite.

Vive stelle, che s? belle
e s? vaghe risplendete,
se ridete m’ancidete.

Preziose, amorose,
coralline labbra amate,
se parlate mi beate.

O bel nodo per cui godo!
O soave uscir di vita!
O gradita mia ferita!

English translation

Golden tresses, oh so precious,
you bind me in a thousand ways
whether coiled or flowing freely.

Small, white matching pearls,
when the roses that conceal you
reveal you, you wound me.

Bright stars that shine
with such beauty and charm,
when you laugh you torture me.

Precious, seductive
coral lips I love,
when you speak I am blessed.

Oh dear bonds in which I take delight!
Oh fair mortality!
Oh welcome wound!

And then there is "Zefiro torna", which some regard as the best of Monteverdi's madrigals:

First in Italian then translated into English.


Zefiro torna e di soavi accenti
l’aer fa grato e’il pié discioglie a l’onde
e, mormoranda tra le verdi fronde,
fa danzar al bel suon su’l prato i fiori.

Inghirlandato il crin Fillide e Clori
note temprando lor care e gioconde;
e da monti e da valli ime e profond
raddoppian l’armonia gli antri canori.
Sorge più vaga in ciel l’aurora, e’l sole,
sparge più luci d’or; più puro argento
fregia di Teti il bel ceruleo manto.

Sol io, per selve abbandonate e sole,
l’ardor di due begli occhi e’l mio tormento,
come vuol mia ventura, hor piango hor canto.


Return O Zephyr, and with gentle motion
Make pleasant the air and scatter the grasses in waves
And murmuring among the green branches
Make the flowers in the field dance to your sweet sound;
Crown with a garland the heads of Phylla and Chloris
With notes tempered by love and joy,
From mountains and valleys high and deep
And sonorous caves that echo in harmony.
The dawn rises eagerly into the heavens and the sun
Scatters rays of gold, and of the purest silver,
Like embroidery on the cerulean mantle of Thetis.
But I, in abandoned forests, am alone.
The ardour of two beautiful eyes is my torment;
As my Fate wills it, now I weep, now I sing.

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