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St Crispin’s Day


October 25th is an important date at Agincourt. It’s the anniversary of the 1415 Battle of Agincourt, pivotal event in the 100 Years’ War between the English and the French. Agincourt, Iowa’s sesqui-centennial was celebrated on that day in 2007 (unusual for the Rourke Art Museum, since it occurred on a Thursday). The 2011 exhibit will probably open on another day, but I hope something special might punctuate the 25th.


Those who attended the 2007 opening were privileged to hear the world premier of “Agincourt Fanfare,” written for us by New York composer Daron Hagen. Scored for four trumpets, four french horns, three trombones, baritone and tympani, director Neil Mueller and members of the F-M Symphony cranked the volume up just a bit and achieved remarkable effect in the Rourke’s main gallery. I mention this because Daron Hagen has written something new for us: Will Shakespeare’s words put into the mouth of Henry V on the eve of battle, the text for We happy few” is set for baritone voice and piano, a longer and gentler work for the 2011 event. I want you to look forward to it as much as I do.

In the meantime, consider Shakespeare’s original text (which Hagen has updated only slightly for the modern ear):

WESTMORELAND: O that we now had here/ But one ten thousand of those men in England/ That do no work today!

HENRY: What’s he that wishes so?/ My cousin Westmoreland? No my fair cousin;/ If we are mark’d to die, we are enow/ To do our country loss; and if to live,/ The fewer men, the greater share of honour./ God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more./ By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,/ Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;/ It yearns me not if men my garments wear;/ Such outward things dwell not in my desires./ But if it be a sin to covet honour,/ I am the most offending soul alive./ No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England./ God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour/ As one man more methinks would share from me/ For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!/ Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,/ That he which hath no stomach to this fight,/ Let him depart; his passport shall be made,/ And crowns for convoy put into his purse;/ We would not die in that man’s company/ That fears his fellowship to die with us./ This day is call’d the feast of Crispian./ He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,/ Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,/ And rouse him at the name of Crispian./ He that shall live this day, and see old age,/ Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,/ And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’/ Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,/ And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’/ Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,/ But he’ll remember, with advantages,/ What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,/ Familiar in his mouth as household words–/ Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,/ Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester–/ Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red./ This story shall the good man teach his son;/ And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,/ From this day to the ending of the world,/ But we in it shall be remembered–/ We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;/ For he to-day that sheds his blood with me/ Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,/ This day shall gentle his condition;/ And gentlemen in England now-a-bed/ Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,/ And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks/ That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

In the civil religion of this Iowa town, October 25th is Founders Day. But like most holidays of this sort, its intent has been lost in the commerce of food and fireworks. I’m hopeful Daron Hagen’s setting will remind us of a nobler time. And of our higher selves.

1 Comment

  1. R.H.L.M. Ramsay says:

    Saints feast days are often an invitation to see what we hold as iconic. Crispin is the patron saint of shoemakers, cobblers, etc., and quite logically now the patron of the BDSM community as well. Who said Christianity hasn’t thrived through absorption?

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