The Tune of the Empire

The British national anthem is in crisis. There is a loss of clarity on what the official anthem is. Most of us know the first line – God Save the Queen and the opening chords that we can identify when Lewis Hamilton wins a race, the English football team takes to the field or, notably, at the last London Olympics. But ever heard it at cricket test match? They’re humming a different tune – which on closer introspection I discovered was ‘Jerusalem’, originally a poem by William Blake – a song that is now often substituted for God Save the Queen at state functions. In fact two other songs are increasingly being the preferred anthem for the English over GSTQ – “Land of Hope and Glory” and “I vow to thee, my country”. As it is Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have their own versions and England finds itself with a bit of an identity crisis.

The problem? Here is the standard version of the English national anthem:

God Save the Queen

God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen:
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen.

O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all.

Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign:
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the Queen.

Three stanzas in all. Universally, it is accepted that only the first stanza maybe be sung or played. The following two are simply not acknowledged – and it’s not hard to see why.

Take the second stanza. God has been asked to assist in scattering England’s enemies and make them fall (heads must roll! Literally!). That the ‘enemies’ are but knaves with only tricks (and no God) up their sleazy sleeves and are to be politically confounded. Somehow it doesn’t fit. England has had mighty wars with France, Spain, the Scots, and the Dutch – hardly to be judged (even by England’s own exacting standards) as humble knaves.

No. The reference is to their colonies.

I recently learned that pre-1947 in English convent schools of India, the Indian and Anglo-Indian students were made to sing the English anthem in its entirety. There was however, one small difference from the now-standard version and the second stanza went thus:

O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter her colonies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all.

Now we see it in proper perspective. From Barbados to the Bahamas, from Sudan to South Africa, and of course, India, here was where the ‘knaves’ were – humble servants of the mighty Empire, here is where the natives were illiterate (and to be kept continually in the dark) and up to no good – where half-baked political ambitions were mutinies and ploys to be crushed (rather than simply confounded) – here is where there was no God to save them – only rulers to lead them to salvation. The choicest gifts too (stanza 3) – no doubt a result of all the relentless pillaging of the people and lands.

Can you imagine the English making Indian students sing this in their own schools? And only a few decades ago?

Still heartening to note is that fervor for the anthem by English citizens is on the wane. Even Prince Charles has publicly denounced it and called it “politically incorrect”. The second verse is never heard and citizens are calling for outright scrapping.

America though, might be interested in borrowing this scrapped version – given their new-age imperialism – confounding politics and picking up the choicest gifts from their new found colon-, uh, neo-liberated countries – that the Brits are decidedly ashamed about. Maybe the Brits should gift it to them.

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