41. Land of Hope and Glory: Pomp and Circumstances Marches: A.C. Benson

As graduation seasons falls upon us, let us take a minute to think about the song that goes on an on and on like the Energizer Bunny: “Pomp and Circumstances.” It has a deep and interesting history, which can be tied into the divergence of American and British history, the rise and fall of the British Commonwealth and concepts of “white man’s burden”, nationalism and the rise of World War I, post WWI lyrics and poetry, or even a discussion of why some songs should not have lyrics. All of that can be found here and here.

The title of the piece comes from Shakespeare’s Othello, Act III, scene iii:

Farewell the neighing steed, and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife,
The Royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, Pomp, and Circumstance of glorious war!

What we in America call “Pomp and Circumstance” is actually a smaller piece “Pomp and Circumstances March No. 1” of the “Pomp and Circumstances Marches” called “Land of Hope and Glory.” Written by Edward Elgar as a coronation ode at the suggestion of King Edward VII, Elgar asked A.C. Benson to write the lyrics. They are wildly anglophile and dripping in national pride, having been written shortly after the Boer War and at the height of the British Empire. There is a great history lesson here, from the marches to the title and through the lyrics.  There is a strong support in Britain for it to become England’s national anthem (they have none, with “God Save the Queen” serving the function but remaining more of a tradition); a discussion on anthems might prove educational (read the lyrics to the French national anthem: yikes!).

While this is a poetry site, and we focus on words and language, it took me a good listen to these words sung to that familiar march to really hear it. This language does not exist without the music, an interesting discussion, too. Check out this 1911 classic recording by Clara Butt. Please note that the “solo” is just that, while the chorus is to the tune that we Americans think is the entire song. Enjoy.

Land of Hope and Glory
A.C. Benson

Dear Land of Hope, thy hope is crowned,
God make thee mightier yet !
On Sov’ran[7] brows, beloved, renowned,
Once more thy crown is set.
Thine equal laws, by Freedom gained,
Have ruled thee well and long ;
By Freedom gained, by Truth maintained,
Thine Empire shall be strong.

Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,
How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?
Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet,
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.

Thy fame is ancient as the days,
As Ocean large and wide :
A pride that dares, and heeds not praise,
A stern and silent pride ;
Not that false joy that dreams content
With what our sires have won ;
The blood a hero sire hath spent
Still nerves a hero son.



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