The Modern Troubadour
Publication:
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 10 Dec 1925, p. 376-388


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Lindsay, Vachel, Speaker
Media Type:
Text
Item Type:
Speeches
Description:
Some personal observations and reminiscences. The speaker performed, chanting a poem about Palestine, and the audience was asked to join in after each verse with the refrain, "Old John Brown." The speaker then read a song of his own composition in August, 1914 on the day war was declared, first placing it in context with his own memories. President Burns then requested Mr. Lindsay to recite the poem "How General Booth entered heaven." With introductory comments, the speaker did so.
Date of Original:
10 Dec 1925
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Language of Item:
English
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text

THE MODERN TROUBADOUR AN ADDRESS BY VACHEL LINDSAY. Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto, December 10, 1925.

PRESIDENT BURNS introduced the speaker who was received with applause.

VACHEL LINDSAY.

Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of the Empire Club,--It gives me a great deal of pleasure to be with you all today. I have seen assemblies like this, more of them in England than in the United States; more of them in the Western Provinces of Canada than in the United States. They imply good-will. I suppose that citizens of the British Empire and of the United States will never be at the end of comparing cuts and bruises and other peculiarities, because when one has a sore left finger the other has a sore right finger, or something of that kind-so different and yet the same. (Laughter)

My friend Robert Nicholls, one of the most promising young poets of the Anglo-Saxon world, I found about three years ago in Los Angeles, after a Japanese career; I found him there in the Fox studio trying to write a scenario; and like all bullheaded Englishmen, he knew more about the United States than I did. (Laughter) Of all places to bury himself that was the worst, if he wanted to get hold of the United States or anything in this world worth

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Vachel Lindsay is well known as a lecturer on art, a prolific contributor to magazines, an author and his "Collected Poems" form a considerable body of popular poetry of real artistic merit. He has humor and is described as "the spiritual descendant of Mark Twain and James Whitcomb Riley-as American as Riley's pumpkins or the whitewash on Tom Sawyer's fence."

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while. I say it plainly, if Fox ever produced a film I have never seen it. (Laughter) In Los Angeles last summer we found that Robert had graduated; he had learned something; he was in the studio of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. (Laughter) While there is a great deal for Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford to learn, there is certainly a great deal they could teach Robert Nicholls; and I am very glad he is there at last, reporting and writing for the London Times, the point of view of the furthest west of the United States, a very worthy and dignified situation for one who wants to learn. That is a sample of how slowly we come to learn and really learn one another. I am sure that every hour of my life in this city I have said things unBritish of which I was utterly unconscious.

I remember, when my mother and I were in London in 1920, we had a very beautiful welcome from all the British poets, including Robert Nicholls, and he had a great deal to do with our going to England and our welcome there. So much for preliminary to this disgraceful story, which I have never before made public, and which I hope you will set right by cable, if necessary.

We must have hands across the sea. (Hear, hear) All citizens of the British Empire chew gum (laughter); but they do it behind closed doors. Americans are more open about it; they chew their gum on the street without shame (laughter); they seem all to be citizens of that sacred Indian city called Moose Jaw. (Laughter) We know that we chew gum and we don't even deplore it. I might add that Mr. Wrigley told me, confidentially, that he sells more chewing gum in the British Empire than on American soil, and therefore he has built that wonderful tower, all white, on Michigan Boulevard, Chicago, with British money (laughter); nevertheless, the folk of the British Empire prefer to imagine that only Americans chew gum. When my mother and I first landed in England--to get back to where I began--we were waited on by very many worthwhile and charming reporters. I had heard that all British reporters told the truth, and that all British newspapers were Conservative, and so we just opened our hearts. We leaned on their shoulders. We cried down their backs. We told them everything. We showed them the old family album. We were perfectly confidential. All went well; these simple-hearted Americans were not betrayed; but a very sweet young reporter, representing the most Conservative newspaper, called upon us and interviewed me for an hour and a half about everything, from my ancestors forward. I told him everything without stint, and when he reached the door, just as he put on his hat he said, "Is there anything you have missed?" I said, "I have not missed a thing"; but my mother piped out, "The coffee is rather bad," and I said "Yes, and I tried to get some chewing gum yesterday, and had a hard time finding it; they brought it out from under the counter, from a place I had not expected them to conceal it, and I had to go two streets for it, and they brought it out as if it was a disgrace for me, but they took my money just the same." The next day when we opened the paper we found great headlines--"Poet wants his Chewing Gum; goes wildly from Store to Store looking for Chewing Gum, wishing and seeking for it in vain in the streets of London." (Laughter) For the moral of the tale I refer you to Wrigley's Tower, built with British money.

But to be serious, now that that story is told; one of the elements of good-will and understanding in the whole Anglo-Saxon world is the magnificent statue of Lincoln set up at the close of the war near Westminster Abbey among the very great statues of Cromwell and others who have made British history. Further all the great men of England went to the Lyric Theatre to see what, up to that time, had been a struggling play--John Drinkwater's "Lincoln." They went there until that theatre was the most popular and famous in London. Then the Americans began to flock there. Drinkwater's "Lincoln" was peculiar; John Drinkwater had a general idea that Lincoln was a kind of Thomas Carlyle in a tall hat, and he was so advertised. I saw the British poster; there he was, leaning on his staff, a sort of variation of Whistler's portrait of Carlyle. That is all very well; it is better than the idea of Lincoln that goes on the American dollar bill; they have an engraved portrait of him there that is almost as bad in an entirely different direction. Nevertheless, that "Lincoln" came to America, and it was even a greater success upon United States soil. One of the refrains was this:

"The stars of the heavens are looking kindly down on the grave of old John Brown;

John Brown's body lies mouldering in the grave, But his soul goes marching on."

That old story of John Brown was behind this story of "Lincoln," which was a success in both hemispheres.

I am going to sing for you, and with you, too, my song about John Brown. Imagine him as the great Liberator of the African race; the man who, from that standpaint at least, was a great man, who seemed to set them free. Imagine John Brown haunting the imagination of some simple negro preacher until he is one of the saints of the Bible. So this negro preacher addresses his congregation on an imaginary trip to Palestine; and after describing all the other wonders in that semi-serious vein which these negro preachers always employ--that high spirit, and that slow roll of eloquence-he at last describes John Brown in Palestine, sitting on the rim of the throne he has painted. There is his gracious wife at his side, and there his seven heroic sons as his personal body-guard, he sits in judgment upon the world, with his shot-gun across his knee, looking out upon all mankind and judging them as to whether their leaders are true liberators or no. For a hundred years the war-cry was "Liberty and Freedom and Free Speech, and a Free Press." Now--today--I should say the war-cry is, "Peace, and again Peace, and once again Peace"; and the same idea of Freedom in those days, around 1865, have been fought for and bled for and died for; and now we are thinking, day and night, as to how international peace may be secured as the first goal of mankind. But please step backward into the days when Liberty and Free Speech and Free Press were the first ideas, when men like John Brown were willing to die for the liberty of the most degraded and the most depressed of mankind.

(The speaker then chanted the following poem, employing the peculiar cadences in imitation of the negro preacher's style, the audience joining in the question, "What did you see in Palestine?" After each statement of the preacher, "Aw've bin in Palestine." Then, after each verse, the audience joined in the refrain, "Old John Brown.")

I've been to Palestine, What did you see in Palestine? I saw the ark of Noah It was made of pitch and pine. I saw old Father Noah Asleep beneath his vine. I saw Shem, Ham and Japhet Standing in a line. I saw the Tower of Babel In the gorgeous sunrise shine By a weeping willow tree Beside the Dead Sea. I've been to Palestine? What did you see in Palestine? I saw the abominations And Gaderene swine. I saw the sinful Canaanites Upon the shrewbread dine, And spoil the temple vessels And drink the temple wine. I saw Lot's wife, a pillar of salt Standing in the brine By a weeping willow tree Beside the Dead Sea. I've been to Palestine? What did you see in Palestine? Cedars on Mount Lebanon, Gold in Ophir's mine, And a wicked generation Seeking for a sign, And Baal's howling worshippers Their god with leaves entwine. And. ... I saw the war-horse ramping And shake his forelock fine By a weeping willow tree Beside the Dead Sea. I've been to Palestine? What did you see in Palestine? Old John Brown. Old John Brown. I saw his gracious wife Dressed in a homespun gown. I saw his seven sons Before his feet bow down. And he marched with his seven sone, His wagons and goods and guns, To his campfire by the sea, By the waves of Galilee. I've been to Palestine? What did you see in Palestine? I saw the harp and psalt'ry Played for old John Brown. I heard the ram's horn blow, Blow for old John Brown. I saw the Bulls of Bashan-- They cheered for old John Brown. I saw the big Behemoth He cheered for old John Brown. I saw the big Leviathan He cheered for old John Brown. I saw the Angel Gabriel Great power to him assign. I saw him fight the Canaanites And set God's Israel free. I saw him when the war was done In his rustic chair recline By his campfire by the sea By the waves of Galilee. I've been to Palestine? What did you see in Palestine? Old John Brown. Old John Brown. And there he sits To judge the world. His hunting-dogs At his feet are curled. His eyes half-closed, But John Brown sees The ends of the earth, The Day of Doom. And his shot-gun lies Across his knees Old John Brown, Old John Brown.

I have been asked to read for you a song of my own writing in August, 1914, on the day war was declared. I think it was the day the Russian army was set in motion-the last great European army plunged into the cauldron. It was like this; my father and mother were in China; the streets of Springfield were deserted; it was one of the very Hottest days Springfield ever knew, and most of the citizens had hied away from the heat to summer resorts. I remember the empty streets; I remember going to the post office to mail a letter, and coming across a street I noticed on a window of the Illinois Journal a telegram stating that the last army in E:urope had been set in motion, and the continent of Europe, which had been the playground, the toy hop, the fairy-land of America, the place of dreams, hadd suddenly become a slaughter-house and a shambles--a thing incredible to the ordinary citizen of the United States. I walked two or three doors north and saw what was also incredible--that the New York Stock Exchange was closed and every bank in America was closed, and the people were utterly astounded by the news. It was a thing beyond all human credibility; the leading citizens of our town could not understand any of it. I had a book coming but, and it ended with a poem on the moon--just a moon poem, the kind of moon poems that poets write. I would not have that book come out with that thing in it; so I telegraphed to my publisher, and he replied that if I sent him within twenty-four hours a new section it would go in. So if you see that book you will find it headed August 14th-"Abraham Lincoln walks at Midnight in Springfield, Ohio."

It is portentious and a thing of state That here at midnight, in our little town, A mourning figure walks, and will not rest, Near the old courthouse, pacing up and down.

Or by his homestead, or in shadowed yards He lingers where his children used to play, Or through the market, on the well-worn stones He stalks until the dawn-stars burn away.

A bronzed, lank man! His suit of ancient black, A famous high top-hat and plain worn shawl Make him the quaint great figure that men love, The prairie-lawyer, master of us all.

He cannot sleep upon his hillside now. He is among us:-as in times before! And we who toss and lie awake for long Breathe deep, and start, to see him pass the door.

His head is bowed. He thinks on men and kings, Yea, when the sick world cries, how can he sleep? Too many peasants fight, they know not why, Too many homesteads in black terror weep.

The sins of all the war-lords burn his heart. He sees the dreadnaughts scouring the main. He carries on his shawl-wrapped shoulders now The bitterness, the folly and the pain. He cannot rest until a spirit-dawn Shall come; the shining hope of Europe free: The league of sober folk, the Worker's Earth, Bringing long peace to cornland, alp and sea.

It breaks his heart that kings must murder still, That all his hours of travail here for men Seem yet in vain. And who will bring white peace That he may sleep upon his hill again?

(The speaker resumed his seat amid loud applause.) PRESIDENT BURNS: I am not going to be satisfied, on your behalf, unless, just following this poem, Mr. Lindsay will recite for us that wonderful poem How General Booth entered heaven. (Applause)

MR. LINDSAY: My dear friends, if I am to recite that poem I must be indulged unless I refresh my memory, though I have recited it a million times.

There is a wonderful book which I would recommend to you--Sabatini's "Life of St. Francis," which reproduces Matthew Arnold's wonderful translation of St. Francis' Hymn to the Sun. It is the most passionate tribute to a real Christian that I have ever read; it equals one of the tributes of William Dean Howells to Tolstoy and a few of the most passionate tributes to Lord Buddha, Prince of Abkar, who broke the heart of Asia with his beautiful doctrine. The doctrine of Renunciation is not easy; it is a very difficult doctrine, and I would not profess it or hold any man to it; yet there have been certain great sinners who have set themselves to understand this matter. But what has this to do with William Booth? Well, I should say that after St. Francis and Tolstoy he is the first man who gave the impression, the world around, of renunciation. In him the world once more saw that picture. It was of deliberate intent that he went into the lowest slums of London, and he made famous the phrase, "The Submerged Tenth." He took all so low that there were none lower. He enquired of the police and physicians as to who were the lowest, the most degraded, the most poverty-stricken, and he found them among the notorious names on the police list. They were the people he wanted, the people given up by expert religionists, and he haid, "They are the people to be saved; we are going to lift society up from the very bottom; we are going to begin in the sub-cellar"; well, he and his followers went into the lowest slums of London. He put costumes on those people, put them under military discipline, put into their withering back-bone the ramrod of military order, put them in command over one another and sent them marching around the world shouting for King Jesus, under all the banners of the world. But there was one banner they all had--that of Blood and Fire and Salvation. Well, there has been a certain irony in the history of this institution, as in the history of all of them; it has now become middle-class, respectable, Y.M.C.A. The only possible way for another General Booth to do a similar work is to begin again in the holy name of St. Francis or John the Baptist. These things have to be begun again evermore. But when you and I were children we heard only shocking stories of the terrible songs sung by the Salvation Army. We heard of the meeting on the main square, of these people being mobbed because of those terrible songs. They were degraded songs, made over a little bit into religion, but still ungrammatical and grotesque, and as we or our fathers thought, supremely irreverent.

But there was one song they sang:

"Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?" We all might sing that without any great stultification. Now, this General who carried this St. Francis idea, this John the Baptist idea, around the world, went blind in 1912, and died that summer. Since that time there has come the war and all the extraordinary propaganda--the steam-roller of propaganda which has almost crushed our bones. Why should you not remember General Booth without my telling you his story? He died in 1912, and then came out his own brief biography. I simply tried to turn it into a rhyme. I remembered what he said of himself, and I tried to picture these men marching up to judgment to the tune of "Are you washed in the Blood of the Lamb?" The Master met him at the court-house door of heaven, something in the same manner in which he had often mystically met him on many a court-house square in this world, and the blind man found his eyes once more, and he found King Jesus by no means as military as General William Booth. This is an old song. Please remember your childhood; and the Salvation Army captain as he used to sing out, while beating the drum:-- Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb? Are you trusting wholly in the Saviour's power? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb? -and then they made it go around again.

(To be sung to the tune of "The Blood of the Lamb" with

indicated instruments.)

Brass Drums Beaten Loudly. I. Booth led boldly with his big bass drum (Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?) The Saints smiled gravely and they said: "He's come." (Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?) Walking lepers followed, rank on rank, Lurching bravos from the ditches dank, Drabs from the alleyways and drug fiends paleMinds still passion-ridden, soul-powers frail: Vermin-eaten saints with mouldy breath, Unwashed legions with the ways of Death(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?) Every slum had sent its half-a-score The round world over. (Booth had groaned for more.) Every banner that the wide world flies Bloomed with glory and transcendent dyes. Big-voiced lasses made their banjos bang, Tranced, fanatical they shrieked and sang: "Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?" Hallelujah! It was queer to see Bull-necked convicts with that land make free. Loons with trumpets blow a blare, blare, blare On, on, upward thro' the golden air! (Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?) II. Booth died blind and still by faith he trod, Eyes still dazzled by the ways of God. Booth led boldly, and he looked the chief, Eagle countenance in sharp relief, Beard a-flying, air of high command Unabated in that holy land. Jesus came from out the court-house door. Stretched his hands above the passing poor. Booth saw not, but led his queer ones there Round and round the mighty court-house square. Then, in an instant all that blear review Marched on spotless, clad in raiment new. The lame were straightened, withered limbs uncurled And blind eyes opened on a new sweet world. Drabs and vixens in a flash made whole! Gone was the weaselhead, the snout, the jowl! Sages and Sybils now, and athletes clean, Rulers of empires, and of forests green! The hosts were sandaled, and their wings were fire! (Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?) But their noise played havoc with the angel-choir. (Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?) Oh, shout Salvation! It was good to see Kings and Princes by the Lamb set free. The banojs rattled and the tambourines Jing-jing-jingled in the hands of Queens. And when Booth halted by the curb for prayer He saw his Master thro' the flag-filled air. Christ came gently with a robe and crown For Booth, the soldier, while the throng knelt down. He saw King Jesus. They were face to face, And he knelt a-weeping in that holy place. Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

(Loud and continued applause)

PRESIDENT BURNS: I want to pay Mr. Lindsay this compliment; when we saw John Drinkwater's "Lincoln," my experience, and the experience of a great many, was that we just went quietly out; we did not want to talk to anybody, nor we did not want anybody to say anything. That is just the way we feel today. Thank you, Mr. Lindsay.

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The Modern Troubadour


Some personal observations and reminiscences. The speaker performed, chanting a poem about Palestine, and the audience was asked to join in after each verse with the refrain, "Old John Brown." The speaker then read a song of his own composition in August, 1914 on the day war was declared, first placing it in context with his own memories. President Burns then requested Mr. Lindsay to recite the poem "How General Booth entered heaven." With introductory comments, the speaker did so.