All Our Hearts’ Command

In grade seven, my home room teacher took me aside one morning to comment on how much he appreciated the effort I put into the opening ceremonies each day. At this time we still sang the National Anthem and said the Lord’s Prayer (even though it was a public school) each day at the start of class. I enjoyed the ritual of singing and reciting, but never thought very much about the lyrics of the National Anthem. The other part of opening ceremonies was doing the Health Hustle, which involved a series of stationary exercises performed beside our desks to the tune of “Do the Hustle” by the old disco band Van McCoy. I think I might have been exempted from doing this due to asthma issues.

The conservative government’s motion to change the lyrics of Old Canada has brought to light the fact that, for all these years, I have been misinterpreting a passage of the song. I had always thought that in the line “In all our sons command”, “sons” was in the possessive, with an apostrophe. The fact that “command” it is actually in the imperative–as a verb rather than a noun–changes the meaning entirely. In the possessive, the line always struck me as evoking the collective, deomcratic responsibility all citizens take for the country as a whole. I was always troubled by the wording’s excluding of women from the category of people who “command” or direct the country, so I was happy to read the headline that the government was finally considering correcting this sexist language.

I guess I also thought there was a comma after “true patriot love” giving the line a disjunctive, impressionistic construction more akin to modern poetry than to lyrics written before the turn of the 20th century. In my rationalization of the lyrics, “true patriot love” stands as a clause unto itself as a metonym for Canada, followed by a statement about the democratic ideals of the country being in “all our sons’ command”. I guess my home room teacher never took the time to investigate the lyrics with our class, or this little lexical peculiarity might have been cleared up. I never stopped to think why it would be the youngest generation, the sons, who are supposed to do the commanding either, but I guess I thought it fit with the progressive nature of the line: here the older generation is recognizing that the younger generation will take up the role of directing the country, and they are giving their blessing to this fact.

I suppose the actual meaning of the line, to command true patriot love in all Canadians (not just the sons), makes sense in the context of a national anthem, but I still feel that something has been lost in my realization today, after some twenty-odd years of thinking otherwise, that the generally accepted interpretation of the anthem differs from the version I had constructed in my head. I still like the idea of true patriot love being something we command as a collective people, something we all have a stake in and responsibility for, rather than it being something that is instilled or commanded in us by an outside force. To this extent, I would humbly suggest that we change the line not to “in all our hearts command”, or some version of this, but to “in all our hearts’ command”, or simply, “in all of our command”.

Or how about Canada becoming the first country in the world to have an anthem without lyrics?

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2 Responses to “All Our Hearts’ Command”

  1. daughterofben Says:

    “first country in the world to have an anthem without lyrics”? Afraid it’s already been done (Spain’s “La Marcha Real”). We shall have to settle for the first anthem performed entirely through interpretive dance (imagine schoolchildren forced to undergo that every morning).

    • kulturbot Says:

      Combining the national anthem with an artistic version of the health hustle sounds like a nice
      consolidation of the opening exercises, and would save valuable minutes that might be spent
      on studying the history of Spanish nationalism, for instance.

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