Saturday, July 01, 2006

Canada Day

Today is Canada Day, a celebration of the nation. There will be no fireworks bursting across the night sky. It is environmentally harmful. There is a danger of damage to property. There is the noise to consider. There is the problem of how to control the crowds who might gather on the beaches to watch the works. Flags, those are for the Americans. This is a day to celebrate the contributions of all peoples to the mosaic that is the cultural inheritance of this nation. Canada is a celebration of something, what I'm unsure of.

So, I'll take this day to celebrate William Faulkner. In WWI he joined the Royal Air Force in Canada. He was likely no more a Canadian patriot than other Americans who joined the RAF during the war. But Faulkner did join. He didn't flee his own, he went to those who would take him so he could do his part in the great struggle against the rising menace of German aggression in the world. As one young man he made a private decision and acted alone. He acted universally. He was in that sense all men acting for the good.

Today we do not have armies to join to fight against the evil in the world. We write. There will be no grand prizes and high speeches for us at the end of our day, but we will write the truth for the good, and there we will find there is no greater blessing than to have been alive for this effort. We don't flee our own but go where we can. Today we fly through the war in the aether.


1918: Accepted by the Canadian Royal Air Force as cadet; reports to Recruits' Depot, Toronto, on July 9 and enters active service the next day

Posted to Cadet Wing in Long Branch on July 26, then to School of Military Aeronautics, Toronto, on Sept. 20

Discharged from RAF in December and returns to Oxford

When Faulkner delivered his Nobel Prize speech, no one could understand what he said — he stood too far from the microphone, and his Southern accent and rapid delivery made it even more difficult to understand what he was saying. But when they discovered what he said the next morning, the impact was tremendous. For years afterward, according to one scholar, Faulkner's speech would be recalled as the best speech ever given at a Nobel dinner. ****

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work — a life's work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed — love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

This Canada Day I celebrate William Faulkner. I celebrate the spirit of Man struggling against fear and darkness. The light bursting through the darkness and the the rocket's red glares, I celebrate bloggers. They are, each and all, from here and there, Canada today.


Charles Henry said...

Dag, what a stirring post!
How things have changed in Canada...fortunately, there's now a committed effort to regain much of what we've lost of our national honor.

Happy Canada Day, and I'd like to thank you once again, in public this time for all to see, for inviting me aboard your blog. It's been an incredible ride so far, and I'm grateful for your american initiative in taking action and giving all of our voices a chance to form a choir rather than merely chant as separated solos.

maccusgermanis said...

Happy Canada Day

Pastorius said...

Wow, that is a beautiful speech. And so true.