Dr Winford James
trinicenter.com

Time to revise the national anthem

By Dr. Winford James
September 25, 2005
Posted: September 27, 2005


Sorry, but our national anthem is a mess of errors, and nobody has pointed out and analysed those errors more than Denis Solomon, newspaper columnist and former UWI lecturer in French and Linguistics. Solomon identifies three grammatical errors in the anthem and even regards the whole of it as 'literary nonsense'. As we celebrate Republic Day, it might be useful to reflect on its deficiencies and agitate for a revision, if not a complete change. (To facilitate your reflection, I have reproduced the anthem below:
Forged from the love of liberty
In the fires of hope and prayer
With boundless faith in our destiny
We solemnly declare
Side by side we stand
Islands of the blue Caribbean Sea
THIS OUR NATIVE LAND
WE PLEDGE OUR LIVES TO THEE
HERE EVERY CREED AND RACE FIND AN EQUAL PLACE
AND MAY GOD BLESS OUR NATION
HERE EVERY CREED AND RACE FIND AN EQUAL PLACE
AND MAY GOD BLESS OUR NATION

The errors identified by Solomon are to be found in the last six lines, which I have capitalized. One error is the use of the demonstrative word 'this' in addressing the native land. We know that the latter is being addressed because of the presence of the addressee pronoun 'thee' in the next line. 'Thee' can only refer to native land in the context (though, incredibly, two mature students of mine recently told me that they thought it referred to God!).

To get a better sense of the wrongness of 'this' in relation to 'thee', consider the oddness of the following statement which has the same structure:

This, my lovely wife

I pledge my love to you

Another error is the use of 'and' to join what is obviously intended to be a statement of fact (HERE EVERY CREED AND RACE FIND AN EQUAL PLACE) and what is a 'may'-introduced wish (MAY GOD BLESS OUR NATION). English disallows the co-ordination of statements and wishes introduced by 'may'.

The third error is that 'find' is an error of subject-verb agreement if the statement it comes in is a statement and not a 'may'-introduced wish. You might think that 'find' agrees with the co-ordinated subject 'every creed and race', but what you don't know is that the key word in the subject is 'every', which singles out creeds and races and therefore treats them as (third person) singular. Which means that the verb must be 'finds'.

It makes sense to interpret the line with 'find' ('finds') as a statement if only because it seems to be part of a declaration. Among the things that we solemnly declare is that every creed and race finds an equal place. Another is that the two islands stand side by side geographically (which is a trivial declaration) and politically (which would be really something to shout about if it were true!). But can we declare that God may bless our nation? It seems that we can't. Which would mean that the clause 'may God bless our nation' is wrong and out of place a fourth error.

In a meagre 12 lines, two of which are repeated, there are, depending on the type of analysis, three or four structural errors. Imagine that! And we have been blissfully singing those errors since 1962 forty-three years now! Isn't it time we stopped the disgrace?

To compound matters, the thing hardly seems to have any inspiring ideas. Yes, the statement that every creed and race finds an equal place can be taken as an ideal that we should strive towards. And the phrase 'forged from the love of liberty' speaks to the importance of freedom, which we could latch on to. But what else is there? Not 'boundless faith in our destiny' because we are not told, not even given the slightest hint, what that destiny might be. Yes, there are lines that reflect a certain religiosity ('in the fires of... prayer' and 'may God bless our nation') but they cannot be said to be inspiring in any personal or nation-building sense. There is no call to action. There are no noble or high principles to embrace. There is nothing to stir our passions. It's mostly trivia we are called upon to sing, and badly constructed trivia at that.

We should revise the whole thing or, better yet, throw it away lock, stock and barrel. But it is so much a part of our soul and psyche (and has such great music!) that I suspect that, emotionally, we wouldn't be easily able to bring ourselves to do it.