A Protest Vote
by Michael S. Collins
I’m an English writer, and by saying that of course I mean I’m Scottish. Except whilst I’m a Scottish writer, I’m not a writer of Scottish. I still write in the English language, and yet I’m no nearer English than I am Latvian. This whole business of semantics is rather complex: I gather it was all deliberately so. As a writer, you know not only does it make no sense at all (this English language) but worse, it’s all been set up to deliberately confuse you! So, in order to completely confuse myself, here I am musing about being an English writer from Scotland concerning the Irish muse whilst humming the Latvian national anthem.
Perhaps the unkind critic would declare that my Scottish sense of the English language itself was pathetic. What can I say? My metre is a tad iffy. Am I Scottish writer of English or an English writer of Scottish? Or am I that rare hybrid of Scots-Irish failed poet, who writes neither in Scots nor English but in a sort of Anglicised Irish? And, if so, am I a writer of Northern Irish or Republic of Irish? This is all a wee bit unnerving.
Which helps explain somewhat how we have come to a crossroads in life, and when I say we, of course I mean me. The extent to which anything will be analysed (in the name of research) by academia comes into context here. It was fair enough when this consisted of proper historical documents or literary papers: I mean, that’s what they were written for! Slightly worse when it’s the work of the Romantics or Shakespeare: those looking for deeper meanings in Byron’s work probably don’t see his point!
Now people seem to want to look into the hidden contexts in The Simpsons! The Star Wars trilogy is now over-examined by Jungian experts for their counter-Freudian proposals. As for Freud himself, his supporters use such cult shows as Doctor Who and Star Trek to look for hidden subversive elements supporting the Oedipus Theory!
But no. Recently an English Lit lecturer told me that to understand the meaning of a poem we have to disentangle the “essential frogginess from the perfect frog, or us, as the ambiguity of the poet will have you know.” Sure, the poet took his words from the Scientific Journal, but it’s the clever ambiguity of the poet. Which, manifesting in my mind as a really stupid phrase, is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s hump. What we need is a call to arms – a stand on literary dissection.
What we will now have is none other than:
A (not very, and highly inaccurate) comprehensive literary discussion on one of the finest poems of the 20th Century.
“Boom boom boom, boom boom boom
Boom boom boom, boom boom boom”
Baldrick, Blackadder Goes Forth
Some people look upon this as a series of ‘booms’ with no particular meaning. Others view it as the despair of an outcast soul, in the times of great strife, as two nations go to war and generally kill the hell out of each other. But then look at the alliteration, the onomatopoeia, and the resonance of the verb “to boom”.
The alliteration is startling: in “boom boom”, Baldrick not only is saying the word twice -his repetition – but he is calling to us from within, he is tearing down the boundaries of our own deep rooted pretensions, and showing in clear un-renounced truth not only the inhumanity of war but also represents the distinct unjust infighting of humane existence. His repetition is vociferous, since it shows without guile that the true extent of whatever is going is on going on.
Look at the onomatopoeia in “boom”. Indeed, not only is the poet belying us, with his huge experience of how the guns sound, he is simply encouraging us to live it. He is making a statement of faith, and through his faith comes the realisation of what we are, and we what we were, and what we can only hope to be. This not only shows us that the catharsis of what he is looking for is untouched, but also that the true enmity of fear resists all who wish it so. The clarity is devastating.
But what about the verbs? When our poet uses his verification of the verb, “to boom”, he does not literally mean there has been a boom, or an explosion. No, it is a metaphor. He is playing on our images, of our expectations: there is no explosion but a vision of an impending explosion of which he, and therefore we, cannot hope to escape. As Plato notes in the Cave of Souls, then so must we notice the use of ambiguity within the search for faith within which our poet uses. It is not a search for ending, but a search for clarity; out of the mists of time and the fog of war, what our expert poet is declaring is not only a wish to see out the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the end which is in turn the beginning. The clarity as it resounds is awe-inspiring.
But what has happened to the ambiguity? When Herr Baldrick mentions the ‘boom’ we instantly think of the war and the guns, merely on the assumption and realisation that Mr Baldrick was in a trench of warfare at the time of which he wrote this, awaiting his inevitably fast approaching demise. But herein lies the ambiguity – when our poet mentions the booms, they become not images of war but of his disgust of fireworks. Every Saturday night he would watch the fireworks go off. There would be numerous reasons: the death of royalty; the encompassing of yet more land to the mighty British Empire of Tripoli to the Jewel in the Crown, Gdansk; the execution of a murderer. Sometimes they had no excuse and just called the day Bonfire Night, which of course means Fireworks. Hence the confusion, ergo lies the ambiguity. Our poet knows this and despises this, and is declaring what can only be realised as an ultimatum. He cries: what is the point of it all, when everything results in the same resonance? Whilst the war might end, the fireworks never do or will, hence the booms per say will never end. And so death becomes irrevocably the sole progressor of humanity. The clarity takes on a bleak doom laden festivity.
In conclusion, what can we see from Herr Baldricks work except for a desperate cry for the return of normality in a mechanised methodical world, but at what cost? It all adds up to an increasingly bleak outfit, as we see the use of word choice and ambiguity adds up.
And yes, as you can see, intellectual types really will dissect anything in the name of literature research. What social commentary or interests lie in Blackadder Goes Forth? I don’t know, just sit down and laugh at the damn thing, that’s what it was made for – not for a dissertation on the meaning of life. But we came to praise the anthem, and not to bury it. Having horribly dissected old Bill, I can think of no better place to stop and scream. AHHHH (fade to black over sound of writer passing out).
Note – This colum was originally published on the old Winterwind Productions site in July, 2013, prior to our switch to WordPress in 2020.