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True Paytrick Love
by George Bowering

ALL MY LIFE I have had trouble with the national anthem. When I was in grade one I had trouble understanding the words to the Lords Prayer and the words to the national anthem. For instance, "true paytrick love." All around me people were intoning "true paytrick love." I figured "paytrick" must be the way they said Patrick back East. Christmas carols often bothered me too, of course. "Round yon virgin" had me wondering, until I figured out that a virgin was a sort of stall in a barn. You just went round yon virgin, and there they were, mother and child! Of course the other "true" in "O Canada" was always a bother, and I think that it still is for people who stop even momentarily to reflect. That is to say, did anyone ever dispute Canada`s claim to be the true north? For that matter, what kind of north would a false north be? I can see an argument at the other end of America. Chile and Argentina might start another war about which one is the true south. When I was a kid there was a dispute about the national anthem. I wanted "O Canada" to be the national anthem, but all the stiff-necked Brits and their toadies in my town insisted that "God Save the Queen" was the national anthem. It was an argument that was waged across the country, I was given to understand. At ball games and movies and school assemblies the audience was supposed to sing "0 Canada" at the start of things and "God Save the Queen" at the end. I used to sing "God save the foreign monarch," and hope that it was just noticed by the people closest to me. When I was a kid I couldn`t understand why we stood up and sang the national anthem before a baseball game. I still don`t understand it. In Canada we generally have to listen to two anthems, the one about bombs and rockets, and "0 Canada." I usually slouch and read or eat during the first one, and just kind of stand there for the second. Very few people sing, despite the encouragement from the public address announcer. I have been to baseball, football, and hockey games all over Canada, and the only place I have heard the crowd actually singing the national anthem good and loud was Montreal. Maybe the people singing the English words were trying to drown out the people singing the French words. Historically, the French words came first. They were written by a person named Adolphe-Basile Routhier, and set to the music of Calixa Lavallee, to be first sung at an ice rink in Quebec City in 1880. As one might expect, the English version was written by a Toronto schoolteacher with the true Ontario name of Robert Stanley Weir. His words have been changed a little in recent years, probably by a relative of a civil servant. When I was a kid, the main feature of the words of "0 Canada" was their loud repetition. Lots of standing on guard and lots of 0 Canada-ing. Now that repetition has been replaced by stupidity. But I am getting a little ahead of myself I said that all my life I have had trouble with the national anthem. When I was a kid I would not sing "God Save the Queen" because I did not want to he a colonial. Now I do not sing "0 Canada" because I am not certain that its words apply to me. Maybe I should go through the poem as we have it now, and state my reservations. It begins with an exclusion. "0 Canada! Our home and native land!" Presumably any Canadian born outside the country stops singing here. I am reminded that a few years ago the literary chauvinists invented a term, "birthright Canadians," to exclude all the U.S.-born writers who were cluttering up the Canadian writing scene. All right, the immigrants are not eligible to sing our national anthem. The second line continues the work: "True patriot love in all thy sons command." Now all female residents of the true north are supposed to quit singing. I guess Canada`s daughters cannot be expected to offer patriot love. Come to think of it, remember when Shelley got kicked out of university for suggesting that Christianity was based on an unlikely premise? Christianity said that if you choose to have the requisite belief you will be saved. Shelley pointed out that one cannot decide to have a belief Similarly I would suggest that a country cannot command its male offspring to love it. "With glowing hearts we see thee rise," eh? If we were to be nit-picking, we might say that one sees better with eyes than with hearts, whether they are glowing or not. (How many times have you wanted to sing something that rhymes with "glowing hearts"?) Even if we are not nit-picking, we might ask about that rising. Where is Canada rising? Is it because of this visible rising that we know our exclusionary country to be the True North? Welt, maybe those women and girls and immigrants are lucky that they don`t have to worry about the North, whether it is true in the carpenter`s sense or the philosopher`s. And maybe they don`t have to concern themselves with the logic and grammar of the poem`s next line, one of the recent revisions: "From far and wide, 0 Canada, we stand on guard for thee." Let us for a moment set aside the problem of how native-born citizens can be from far and wide. Perhaps they have to come from Yukon and Cape Breton to Ottawa in order to sing this song. Let us look at the sentence. I find it harder to understand than I ever did "paytrick love." How can the singers stand from far and wide? From far and wide we stand. That is simply impossible. People can arrive from far and wide, perhaps, or shout from far and wide. But people cannot stand from anything. In the sixth line the Canadian-born male singers enjoin the deity: "God keep our land glorious and free!" At least the Christian and Jewish ones do. All nonbelievers are here invited out. But what about religious people of another belief? Chances are that most of them were born outside the contry, true enough. But what about boys who were born here? Can they substitute Allah or Buddha or L. Ron Hubbard here? Finally, the small straggling group of native-born God-fearing males sings twice: "0 Canada, we stand on guard for thee!" Against whom is this minority group standing guard? Perhaps against the True West and True East. Perhaps against all these females and immigrants and voodoo adherents who have filled up the country. If you happen to be one of those people who was dropped from the singing group part way through the song, listen to the way the singers are forced to pronounce the name of the country they are addressing. It always comes out Cana-duh. I don`t know whether that is a meaning" observation or not. I always thought the purpose of a national anthem was to promote solidarity and patriotism. "0 Canada" seems intent on disqualifying most of the people who live here. The schoolteachers and civil servants who wrote the English words to our ballpark song should have checked out the enthusiasm for that inclusive anthem you can still hear around Toronto: "Okay, Blue jays, let`s play ball!" An abridged version of this article was broadcast on CBC Vancouver`s "Early Edition."

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