Archive for January 28th, 2023

Island of Honor

GC Myers- Top O' the Heap sm

Top O’ the Heap— At Principle Gallery, Alexandria, VA

Honor is like an island, rugged and without a beach; once we have left it, we can never return.

–Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux, Satires (1716)

Some days after reading the news, I feel like we have left that island. Like we have left behind all honor, respect, and benevolence.

All virtue left behind on that island.

And as the 17th century French poet Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux— a man regarded as being honest and generous in his time– points out, once we left that island of honor, we can never find our way back.

We might find our way to other islands but without honor, they offer little but bare sustenance and a harsh life.

Much like Van Diemen’s Land.

There is a group of folk songs called Van Diemen’s Land which refers to the onetime name of the island now called Tasmania. Off the coast of Australia, it was named for the Governor-General of the Dutch east Indies who had sent Abel Tasman on the exploration that brought the island under the Dutch flag in the 1640’s. In the 1800’s, the island became the site of British penal colonies for the most difficult British convicts that were transported to Australia. About 40% of the transported convicts ended up in Van Diemen’s Land at some point.

I think that honor can be regained with time, honesty and a commitment to good acts. I have been contacted on this blog over the years by some lovely folks who live in Tasmania and they certainly seem to prove the point that we are not permanently bound to our pasts.

The history must always remain there however of only to serve as a reminder to always inhabit on to our island of honor.

There are many versions of the song from all over the Bristish Isles with widely varied lyrics, sang from the point of view of those either on their way or already in place on Van Diemen’s Land. I am playing a more contemporary version from U2 today, that the band wrote about the John Boyle O’Reilly, the leader of an 1864 Irish uprising after the Great Famine. He was banished to Australia for rebelling against the government.

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