~ by Barbara Myers Distinguished Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, favoured for years by readers, critics and poets worldwide to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, finally took the award this year. He’s 80 years old now and his disciples include Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, and Joseph Brodsky, all of whom have won in past years […]
Misquoting Cromwell while reading Robin Robertson…
My father told me this one.
In April 1653 Oliver Cromwell–officially England’s “Lord Protector”, unofficially a military dictator, additionally a war criminal given to thanking God for his mercy but disinclined to show much of his own–dissolved the last vestige of Parliament, known as the Rump, with the following speech: “You have sat here too long for all the good you have done. In the name of God, now go.” And the Rump dissolved. Cromwell had thirty musketeers with him, of course, and a reputation for savagery; he might have said anything and dissolved the Rump. Told a joke, if he knew one. Issued his order in Basque. But (my father said to me, repeating that one-breath speech) what is it about those twenty words that makes them so damn effective? (When I was a boy, he liked to be teaching me things all the time. Especially when driving me places.)
I scratched my nose. I can’t remember, now, if I came up with any sort of response.
Certainly the Lord Protector’s speech had been short. Had the Rump dissolved in sheer gratitude? That was an age of interminable speeches, wasn’t it?
Twenty words, my father said, and twenty syllables. Count them.
They’re all one syllable, I said.
Right! he exclaimed–[_one two three!_]–smacking his free hand on the dashboard, dust rising with each smack. Through the windows a span of amber prairie under lucid blue sky: the Trans-Canada Highway, westbound lane, the Rockies still tucked under the horizon.
Each syllable, he said, [_bang_], [_bang_], like the slam of a judge’s gavel after he gives sentence. Or–or like a musket shot from each of those soldiers he brought in with him. Cromwell.
I thought there were thirty soldiers, I said.
Thirty, twenty–the point is there’s no arguing with it. It’s strong speech. People think they can make what they say impressive by using a lot of big words. Words with Latin roots, Greek roots. Jargon. Argot. Polyunsaturated syllables. It’s those hard little fist-shaped Saxon words that really grab you by the lobes.