Let’s not forget an American Classic-Buffy Sainte-Marie ‘My Country ‘Tis of thy People You’re Dying’

Buffy Sainte-Marie – her song of the 1960’s
“My Country ‘Tis of thy People You’re Dying”,
surely one of the permanent masterpieces of American
poetry.
Here is a performance on YouTube

and here are the words
MY COUNTRY ‘TIS OF THY PEOPLE YOU’RE DYING
Buffy Sainte-Marie 1966

Now that your big eyes have finally opened,
Now that you’re wondering how must they feel,
Meaning them that you’ve chased across America’s movie screens.
Now that you’re wondering how can it be real
That the ones you’ve called colorful, noble and proud
In your school propaganda
They starve in their splendor?
You’ve asked for my comment I simply will render:

My country ’tis of thy people you’re dying.

Now that the longhouses “breed superstition”
You force us to send our toddlers away
To your schools where they’re taught to despise their traditions,
Forbid them their languages, then further say
That American history really began
When Columbus set sail out of Europe, – then stress
That the nation of leeches that conquered this land
Are the biggest and bravest and boldest and best.

And yet where in your history books is the tale
Of the genocide basic to this country’s birth,
Of the preachers who lied, how the Bill of Rights failed,
How a nation of patriots returned to their earth?

And where will it tell of the Liberty Bell
As it rang with a thud
over Kinzua mud,
And of brave Uncle Sam in Alaska this year?

My country ’tis of thy people you’re dying.

Hear how the bargain was made for the West:
With her shivering children in zero degrees,
Blankets for your land, so the treaties attest,
Oh well, blankets for land is a bargain indeed,
And the blankets were those Uncle Sam had collected
From smallpox-diseased dying soldiers that day.
And the tribes were wiped out and the history books censored,
A hundred years of your statesmen have felt it’s better this way.
And yet a few of the conquered have somehow survived,

Their blood runs the redder though genes have paled.
From the Gran Canyon’s caverns to craven sad hills
The wounded, the losers, the robbed sing their tale.
From Los Angeles County to upstate New York

The white nation fattens while others grow lean;
Oh the tricked and evicted they know what I mean.

My country ’tis of thy people you’re dying.

The past it just crumbled, the future just threatens;
Our life blood shut up in your chemical tanks.
And now here you come, bill of sale in your hands
And surprise in your eyes that we’re lacking in thanks
For the blessings of civilization you’ve brought us,
The lessons you’ve taught us, the ruin you’ve wrought us —
Oh see what our trust in America’s brought us.

My country ’tis of thy people you’re dying.

Now that the pride of the sires receives charity,
Now that we’re harmless and safe behind laws,
Now that my life’s to be known as your “heritage,”
Now that even the graves have been robbed,
Now that our own chosen way is a novelty —
Hands on our hearts we salute you your victory,
Choke on your blue white and scarlet hypocrisy
Pitying the blindness, that you’ve never seen
that the eagles of war whose wings lent you glory
They were never no more than carrion crows,
Pushed the wrens from their nest, stole their eggs, changed their story;
The mockingbird sings it, it’s all that he knows.

“Ah what can I do?” say a powerless few
With a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye —

Can’t you see that their poverty’s profiting you.

My country ’tis of thy people you’re dying.

        

One response to “Let’s not forget an American Classic-Buffy Sainte-Marie ‘My Country ‘Tis of thy People You’re Dying’

  1. Thank you Karl for posting these lyrics.
    I’ve only heard this song a few times. Ste-Marie lament of the earliest of a series of befoulers, C. Columbus, helps me recall another, J. Cabot, that can be called up, as does Joyce in Finnegans Wake:

    “How elster is
    he a called at all? Qu’appelle? Huges Caput Earlyfouler. Or
    where was he born or how was he found? Urgothland, Tvistown
    on the Kattekat? New Hunshire, Concord on the Merrimake?”

    That Joyce is referring to First Nations peoples can be weakly supported by the references to Concord, N.H., New Hampshire and the Merrimack River and Kattekat (Connecticut River and the “kut” ending of many Indian names of the N.E. coast of N.A. … Kattegut Narrows w. of the Jutland Pen.) where early settlement along rivers ( and exploitation of the fishery-cod) squeezed out the Abenaki. One can also wonder if Urgothland is not Rye Ergot Land , that is the intoxicated by LSD Pilgram settlements in and around Salem ( was ergot as a hallucinogenic known before discovery of LSD in the 50s?). And Elster! Is this Proust’s Elstir (or just something elst like Ulster), the conflated painters Whistler/Harrison? Did Joyce know that Whisler was born on the “Merrimake” (Lowell, Mass.). It can also be supported by the mention of Saskatchewan in Qu’appelle as well as, farther down the page in the mention of grayling, pemmican ( an Indian dried meat and berry food), Suchcaughtawan:

    “Pemmican’s pasty pie! Not a grasshoop to ring her, not an
    antsgrain of ore. In a gabbard he barqued it, the boat of life,
    from the harbourless Ivernikan Okean, till he spied the loom of
    his landfall and he loosed two croakers from under his tilt, the
    gran Phenician rover. By the smell of her kelp they made the
    pigeonhouse. Like fun they did! But where was Himself, the
    timoneer? That marchantman he suivied their scutties right over
    the wash, his cameleer’s burnous breezing up on him, till with
    his runagate bowmpriss he roade and borst her bar. Pilcomayo!
    Suchcaughtawan! And the whale’s away with the grayling!”

    In Joyce’s time, the western Territories was an area of the Dominion of Canada where there was an very active attempt to “settle” the Indians (case). In his father’s time, it is more the “taming” of the Indians and Métis that make the pages of the Commonwealth newspapers … Garnet Wolseley, Riel, Middleton, the Fenians etc… The above passages, as usual with Finnegans Wake, smears space and time so that we find, for example, Cornwall in pasty pie, the Maghreb in cameleer’s burnous, South America in Pilcomayo and the Kattegut Narrows north of Copenhagen..

    It is also a nice example of coincidence in Finnegans Wake. Buffy Ste-Marie was born in the Qu’apelle Valley, Saskatchewan.

    Dominique

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