Sunday, 14 May 2023

Polite Meaningless Words


Image courtesy Google

One of my favorite poems is W.B. Yeats' "Easter, 1916".

It contains the line (repeated) "polite meaningless words".

He describes how the actions of the Irish rebels transformed them from ordinary people living ordinary lives to the personification of a "terrible beauty". That "beauty" was the dream of an independent Ireland, free of the yoke of perfidious Albion.

He expresses it well, and the powerful music of the language carries the emotion of the tribute with simplicity, clarity and power.

As a child growing up in North Queensland and attending a couple of small bush primary schools, I remember daily morning parade when we recited the following -

"I love my country; I honour my Queen; I salute my flag".

These were polite meaningless words for us as school children. 

We mumbled them because it became habit. There was never any emotion or intensity behind them. We had more important things to be concerned about. We would have been able, however, to explain what these words meant, if asked.

Nobody objected. The Loyal Oath was very much part of the social furniture. This was, of course, the late fifties.

Now, in 2023, we have the routine "Welcome to Country".

It resembles the loyal oath in that it is a simple acknowledgement of history. Both the Welcome to Country and the Loyal Oath are acknowledgements of fact. The first acknowledged the fact that as young Australians, we understood that we lived in a constitutional monarchy, and we owed it our loyalty. We were not responsible for that fact of history, but were the inheritors of it.

The Welcome to Country also acknowledges the facts of history. For over 50,000 years prior to colonisation, the original inhabitants of this country had lived in this country until they were dispossessed of it. We are not responsible for that fact of history, but are the inheritors of it.

So we use a few words to acknowledge it. It may, like the Loyal Oath, become "polite meaningless words", but has value because of what it represents.

The curmudgeons who take exception to it have very little real understanding of our country's history or culture.

They will, I'm sure, get over it..... 

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