The Sunday poem: Anthony Cronin's personal anthology
Published 07/09/2015 | 02:30
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and St George!' Thus Henry V in Olivier's beautiful voice. The battle, we are led to believe, will be won.
The flimsy cinema curtain falls over 'The End' and we all go home thinking what a jingoistic English so-and-so Shakespeare really was in spite of all else. But it is not the end. And if when we go home and we take down Henry V, we find a different ending.
Bates, a common soldier, says of another King about to fight a battle for naked self-interest, 'He may show what outward courage he will; but I believe, as cold a night as tis, he could wish himself in Thames up to the neck; and, so I would he were, and I by him, at all adventures, so we were quit here.'
While Williams, another soldier, describes the feelings of his fellows facing death in battle - 'Some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left....'
In the end Shakespeare never lets you down.
From Henry V
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility ;
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger :
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit; and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'
Sunday Indo Living