Our empty National Anthem
By Denis Solomon
February 21, 2005
Every so often (not "ever so often", as everybody in this country seems to say and write-the two expressions are exactly opposite in meaning) somebody re-discovers the ungrammaticality of the National Anthem, and writes a letter to the editor about it. The latest discoverer is a certain Mr. Melville Armour of Princes Town, who solemnly declares that the verb "find" should be singular.
What nobody realises up to today is that there are not one but three grammatical errors in the anthem.
Not many people realise that "find" is not necessarily an error. It may be seen as an optative: a form expressing a wish, like "save" in "God save the Queen" or "live" in "Long live So-and-so." So the line in question could be taken to mean "may every creed and race find an equal place".
The second error is the use of "and" immediately afterward: "Here every creed and race find an equal place / And may God bless our nation". If "find is optative, "and" is OK, because it conjoins two optatives. Otherwise it definitely is not. English cannot conjoin a declarative and an optative with "and". To say "Here every creed and race finds an equal place, and may God bless our nation" is the semantic equivalent of saying "Britain is an industrial country, and God save the Queen".
The third error is:
"This our native land, we pledge our lives to thee "
"This" is not vocative: you cannot use it to address someone or something.
The whole anthem, in fact, is literary nonsense.
"Forged from the love of liberty, in the fires of hope and prayer"
Stirring words, provided you don't try to understand them.
Just who was forged?
"With boundless faith in our destiny, we solemnly declare "
Perhaps "we" (the people) were the ones forged. But having been forged, what do we "declare"?
"Side by side we stand, islands of the blue Caribbean Sea "
A geographical platitude is hardly a declaration. But now it seems the two islands are the "we" who are "forged". But if so, how can they then talk of "our native land"?
"This our native land, we pledge our lives to thee..."
We are back at something that has life and can pledge it, so the "we" looks once more as if it meant the people. This is also more of a solemn declaration than the previous line (in spite of coming a bit late in the day). It is reasonable to assume that the remainder of the anthem is also part of the declaration, so "find" is indeed a mistake. Which in turn makes "and" a mistake too.
Another reason that "find" is not meant as an optative is that the expression of a wish implies non-existence of the condition wished for. So "Here (may) every creed and race find an equal place" imnplies that they don't find an equal place now. Or that if in the future we should receive an influx of pygmies or Eskimos, they too will be painlessly integrated.
So I think we may safely take both "find" and "and" to be errors, along with the irredeemable "this".
Three errors is really Guinness Book of Records stuff. Only my deep-seated patriotism has so far prevented me from proposing T&T to that publication as the country with the largest number of grammatical errors in its national anthem.
It was not to be expected that a country with our history would have a Rouget de Lisle or a Francis Scott Key on tap to compose an anthem that was poetic instead of pseudo-poetic, made sense in itself, and was inspired by a heroic event in our history.
Nobody, as far as I know, took the Water Riots, the 1837 Daaga Revolt, the 1805 Chaguaramas slave uprising or the 1937 riots in the oil belt as a subject for a poem that might have been set to music for a more authentic anthem. It was left to poor Pat Castagne to adapt a Welsh melody (nothing wrong with that) and fit it out with the meaningless lyrics he had composed as an anthem for the West Indies Federation (luckily this country is two islands, so the "islands of the Blue Caribbean Sea" line didn't have to be altered).
Castagne could have put in a hint or two of our history and character instead of the pseudo-pious crap about fires of hope and prayer and invocation of divine blessing. Even a passing reference to indenture or the Middle Passage would have given the anthem a bit of authenticity. But the people I really blame are the members of the national committee that approved the anthem along with the other national symbols. It was supposedly representative of the country's artistic and cultural establishment: couldn't it have mustered the tiniest bit of literary taste?
Evidently not: if I have convinced you that the words of the anthem are embarrassing, take a look at the official description of the meaning of the Trinidad and Tobago flag. Now there is something to make your blood run cold.
Copyright © 2005 Denis Solomon