Archive for the ‘The Word’ Category

Churchill’s ‘Finest Hour’ speech

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

Winston S. Churchill painting

Seventy years ago, Winston Churchill gave a speech to rally his countrymen against the possible invasion from Nazi-occupied France.  In yesterday’s New York Times’ article, John Burns spoke about Churchill’s speech that has become known as his ‘finest hour’ speech.

The article talks about Churchill writing his own speeches, and with this particularly famous speech, how he edited his own work up to the second he uttered the words.  I’m not surprised.  It was a passionate speech.  It came from his gut.  And, it would affect people in all  social and economic  stratum.

What I didn’t know was that he purposefully wrote it in a blank verse format – in a five line paragraph compared with the Old Testament Book of Psalms – a structure that evidently influenced Shakespeare and Churchill’s  style.  The idea is that it looks, it speaks and feels like poetry – a rhythm that brought life to the words.  This is genius.  This is beautiful.

Eight years earlier, before becoming England’s Prime Minister, Churchill wrote “Amid These storms.”  Within this book, he wrote an essay on “Painting as a Pastime.” Many years ago, a friend told me about this little gem, and since then I’ve been searching for it in used book stores around the world.  One year, I even bought every copy in the U.S. for a group of Da Vinci Capers’ participants coming on our trip to Tuscany!

Churchill was 61 years old when he wrote this essay.  He talks about how, at the age of 40, it took  ‘audacity’* to pick up a paint brush and try something new.  Imagine!  Churchill feeling ‘audacity’ picking up a paint brush his aunt handed him.

While at a dinner party last evening, a friend and highly successful businessman in his 70′s,  lamented how slowly he felt  improvement with his childhood love -  painting.  I thought about this since I have all but thrown my violin in the lake, and have more than once, almost set the house on fire with my “Lucy in the Kitchen” routines.

But, Churchill encourages us to love our ‘mature mind’ and not be a self dooming  critic, but appreciate the beauty and to endure an interest.  Also Leonardo da Vinci quoted, “Obstacles cannot crush me, every obstacle yields to stern resolve.”  Another great quote of his, “The greatest deception men suffer is from our own opinions.”

While Boomers think and talk and talk about how to spend their last third of their lives,  I thought I would quote the first page of Churchill’s essay, “Painting as a Pastime:”

“Many remedies are suggested for the avoidance of worry and mental over-strain by persons who, over prolonged periods, have to bear exceptional responsibilities and discharge duties upon a very large scale.  Some advise exercise, and others, repose.  Some counsel travel, and others, retreat.  Some praise solitude, and others, gaiety.  No doubt all these may play their part according to the individual temperament.  But the element which is constant and common in all of them is Change.

Change is the master key.  A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using it and tiring it, just in the same way as he can wear out the elbows of his coat.  There is, however, this difference between the living cells of the brain and inanimate articles:  one cannot mend the frayed elbows of a coat by rubbing the sleeves or shoulders; but the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts.  It is not enough merely to switch off the lights which play upon the main and ordinary field of interest; a new field of interest must be illuminated.  (continued)

The cultivation of a hobby and new forms of interest is therefore a policy of first importance to a public man.  But this is  not a business that can be undertaken in a day or swiftly improvised by a mere command of the will.  The growth of alternative mental interest is a long process.  The seeds must be carefully chosen; they must fall on good ground; they must be sedulously tended, if the vivifying fruits are to be at hand when needed.”   He waxes more philosophy by saying, ” It is no use doing what you like; you have got to like what you do.”

Whether it’s  painting, reading, photography, or writing a speech for your countrymen – you have to like what you are doing to truly feel that passion.

*”The first quality that is needed is Audacity.  There really is no time for the deliberate approach.  Two years of drawing lessons, three years of copying woodcuts, five years of plaster casts – these are for the young…  We must not be too ambitious.  We cannot aspire to masterpieces.  We may content ourselves with a joy ride in a paint-box.  And for this Audacity is the only ticket.” Winston S. Churchill