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Copy of Elegy In Stone
Transcript of Copy of Elegy In Stone
By Steven Heighton
A reflective essay by Canadian Steven Heighton on his journey to Vimy Ridge and resulting feelings in April, 1992.
The character of Canada as a nation
is embodied in the stone of the Vimy Ridge monument. Canada's modesty, respect and sorrow for the Canadian's of Vimy Ridge and their sacrifice is portrayed in the carving. The unglorified monument shows Canada's skill and pride at our handling of the stark reality of war. Canada's humble way of life shows in the strong stone pillars topped with grieving statues and fallen men, with Canada herself in mourning. Respect for the men and the nation is everywhere, in the monument, the graveyards, even the surrounding trees, and plants; all on Canadian soil. Heighton himself writes as a Canadian, making the true character of the essay Canada as a nation and as a compatriot.
Mood of the monument and plot of land is somber and modest. There is no open boasting of Canada's victory but instead sobering reflection on the immense losses of Canadian boys. Subtle hits of Canada can be seen with maple trees and the plot being officially Canadian land, giving a hint of pride in the fact that Canadians took this victory and respect for their bravery for their nation which is remembered. There's a subtle atmosphere of sadness and timeless horror.
Heighton's tone is of pride for Canada not only for the immsense victory but also for refusing to mask the ugliness of war with glory or as he says 'to canonize brave, scared, betrayed adolescents as bearded heroes of mythic dimension...'(p 232). His apparent relief at the handling of the monument is obvious as well as his gratitude that the monument doesn't give off the feeling of petrified hot air but is truly an elegy in stone. He's proud of Canada for not masquing the stark reality of war and for showing the monument as grieving statues and Canada herself as a figure of sorrow depressed at the loss of so many sons.
The essay's structure is informal as this essay is a reflection of his visit to Vimy Ridge and his resulting feelnigs. He uses rhetorical questions and small anecdotes of cathedrals, pubs and being recognized as Canadian to give realism. Heighton analyizes words of speech like 'Nation building sacrifice' and allows you to relate to the common human emotions that he feels to help give the essay body and depth. He uses connections and references places and objects like the cathedral at Arras. Heighton is extremely descriptive and detail oriented, speaking of the poppies, oaks and maples that grow at the entrance as he connects this area in France to his home in Canada.
'Another figure, much larger, cloaked, stands apart at the edge of the monument overlooking the plain. Behind her a sparely worded inscription, in English and French, tells of the ridge's fall. The figure we will learn later that night, is Canada, "mourning her lost sons." ' (p 233)
First and foremost there is the obvious theme of war as Heighton writes of the battle of Vimy Ridge, the trenches and the men lost. History shows a tendency to put a glorifying face on war and a reoccurring theme is the reality of the monument and the feeling of horror, not pride, it invokes. Tying in with that is the theme of remembrance. The ridge, cemetery, preserved trenches, tours, and monument are all in order to remember and reflect on the battle of Vimy Ridge. Heighton's whole visit is for the purpose of seeing the commemorative monument and reflecting on the history of that fateful day. Then there's most imporant, and principal theme: Canada and it's reputation. Heighton writes that the monument stirs a pride, but a strange, shy pride in Canada's awkwardness at blowing it's own horn and looking for someone to out-blow. He speaks of visiting veterans feeling the same about the austerity of the monument and Canada's tendency to refuse to censor the obscene. Steven Heighton's visit gives him a different perception. He believes too many canadians berate themselves for quiet modesty, our subtle pride and that a visit to the monument and graveyards will convince them that there are worse things than uncertainty and understatement.
Steven Heighton writes imagery to not only paint a picture of his scene but also to relate feeling and emotions to a moment or place in time. From the first paragraph as he writes of the entrance (1), to the passing scenery and it's solemnity (2), to tombs and cathedrals(3), right up to the monument up close (4), then to the staggeringly sobering graveyards (5) and ending back to the monument and it's aura (6); his use of imagery is like a punch in the paper. His use of imagery makes his writings more than an essay and something every Canadian can relate to.
'...It was a good place to walk, the fields along the road billowing with mustard, wheat, and poppies, the oaks and maples fragrant with new growth. We could be in Canada, I thought-then remembered that, for official purposes, we were.' (p 229)
''...the road passes through a forest of natural growth and entered an old plantation of white pines, thick and towering, a spacious colonnade receding into the gloom. Fences appeared along the road, then signs warnnig us not to walk among the trees where sheep foraged above grassed-in trenches, shell holes, unexploded mines. In the blue-green, stained-glass light of the forest, the near-silence was eerie, solemn, as in the cathedral at Arras.' (p230)
'The low-ceilinged, labyrinthine "subways"...this sad, clammy underworld had not been brightened up into some gaudy monument...it still looked, and felt, like a tomb. It reminded me of the tunnels of the beseiged Huguenots under the cathedral in Arras.' (p230)
'Our feeling that this monolith was more a cenotaph, a vast elegy in stone instead of petrified hot air.' (p232)
'Flowers bloom over every grave. Many are poppies. The paint on the crosses is fresh, a dazzling white in the April sun. Here...many of the boys are buried...beneath long files of anonymous crosses, or stones ranked like chairs in a vast, deserted cathedral.' (p 234)
'The huge limestone gunsight looms above us on the ridge as we enter yet another aisle, and read, yet again:
A SOLDIER OF THE GREAT WAR
A Canadian Regement
Known Unto God'
The Cathedral is mentioned often as a symbol of the seriousness of Vimy Ridge. Just as you automatically act serious and respectful in a cathedral, the memorial envokes the same behaviour and feeling as would a cathedral. There's also the delicate line that cathedrals hold between life and death. Cathedrals are places of birth and life with baptisms yet also death with funerals and final confessions. The monument is also an obvious symbol of remembrance and a less common symbol of the horror and ugliness of war seen in the grieving statues and the stone pillars that form a 'u' like the gunsight on a World War one gun. The last major symbol is the Canadian plot of land that the memorial rests on. It represents Canada's reputation. The fact that Canadians are so highly thought of and respected around the world. France gave the land to Canada as a sign of respect and appreciation for their sacrifice. There's poppies, wheat, oak and maples trees in order to make it seem like home for the visiting veteranss and boys buried there. This memorial is for Canadians to remember their sacrifice.
Point Of View
Elegy In Stone has a unique point of view in its duality. Steven Heighton writes in reflection of his visit to Vimy Ridge, France in 1992 as a Canadian tourist. His personal perspective comes through in the essay with his emotions and thoughts taking precedence. There is however a second point of view that comes out when a Canadian read thes essay. Heighton gives a dual Canadian point of view as he generalizes and relates Canadian pride, modesty, reputation and respect. Any patriotic Canadian can feel themselves pulled into the same emotions not only of pride for our country but also extreme sadness for the people lost and relief that their deaths will be forever mourned at Vimy Ridge and not italicised and bolded and twisted into a way to boast. The feelings pulled out of Heighton by the Vimy Ridge memorial are connected to any Canadian in a way only a Canadian can describe.
Reading this essay immediately brings to mind two texts. The poem Flanders Field slip through memory first when Heighton mentions the poppies at the entrance and later when he visits the cemeteries and talks of the fresh, white crosses mixed in with flowers, many of them poppies. As any Canadian, American or Britain would, poppies and veterans bring to mind Remembrance day, especially as it draws near. Every year seeing pictures of the war, having a moment of silence and watching the veterans with poppies pinned to our hearts; all this is brought to mind while reading this essay. The second text is a novel 'The Stone Carvers' by Jane Urquhart. Steven Heighton finds himself drawn to the thoughts of the memorial's carver when he first sees the pillars and sees that this monument is an elegy, a tragicly, poetic song; and not boastful or full of hot air. 'The Stone Carvers' speaks of Walter Allward and his struggles and successes in his attempt to carve a monument worthy of the names of the lost Canadians and worthy to mark their graves and place of sacrifice. Vimy Ridge's location brings personal connection because the December and January of this year I will be heading to France, Brittany and Normandy. Seeing as Vimy Ridge is in France and Juno beach is in Normandy it brings to mind the world wars and going as a Canadian tourist, like Heighton, to those places. The graveyard that Heighton visits at the end of hsi memorial tour is perhaps the saddest part not only because of the men who died but because the cemeteries read of The Great War, the War To End All Wars; yet even now wars and military movements are going on all around the world. To think that these men died to end all wars and have eternal peace, and then to flip on the news and see war and violence in Iraq and all around the world is a dampening and sobering experience as it closes the distance and reverses the desensitisation that comes with growing up near war. This essy is so powerful because it connects to past, present and future and is written by a Canadian about Canadians and is being read by a Canadian, which is a deep and strong connection.