Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Song for Memorial Day

"White As Snow" is a song by U2 that is hauntingly beautiful. It has a quiet, raw power that has to be experienced. The first time I heard it I was drawn into the emotional spirit of the song and couldn't stop listening. I knew it had to be about a particular event or experience. Thankfully I came across an article that described the context of the song. Bono said it's written "from the point of view of an active soldier in Afghanistan" who is "dying from a roadside bomb." The soldier is reflecting on his life in the moments just before his last breath. The lyrics start out with the soldier thinking about his home and family: "Where I come from there were no hills at all / The land was flat, the highway straight and wide / My brother and I would drive for hours / Like we had years instead of days." There seems to be a longing for those simple things we all take for granted. Then the lyrics turn to the soldier's thoughts on the immediacy of his death: "Now this dry ground it bears no fruit at all / Only poppies laugh under the crescent moon." The symbolism is powerful. Poppies are symbolic of death and are featured in the World War I poem, "In Flanders Fields." In that poem poppies became the symbol of remembrance of soldiers who had been killed. The first stanza reads: "In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row, / That mark our place; and in the sky / The larks, still bravely singing, fly / Scarce heard amid the guns below." Bono is clearly emphasizing the soldier's sense of sadness by saying that poppies are the only thing growing on the ground. All of these rich lyrics are bathed in music that picks up on elements of the tune, "O Come O Come Emmanuel." This 19th century hymn is about God's promise to heal the world through the messiah. Part of that healing is taking away humanity's pain and death. The lyrics read: "O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer / Our spirits by Thine advent here / Disperse the gloomy clouds of night / And death's dark shadows put to flight / Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel / Shall come to thee, O Israel." The move from death to praise in this hymn is mysteriously significant. Perhaps this hymn is Bono's hope for the soldier. Or perhaps it's the hymn that the soldier hears while entering Heaven. In either case, the musical elements of "O Come O Come Emmanuel" overlaid in "White As Snow," makes this meaning-filled song even more arresting. It's a powerful memorial song for Memorial Day.

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