November 7th, in the liminal zone

Twilight Dawn in America

Between the dark and the daylight,
Between the end of Daylight Time and Election Day,
When the light is beginning to fade,
Comes a pause in the year’s occupation
That is known as Revolution and Solidarity Day,
Or, take your pick, Freedom Fighters Killing Day.

November 7th in America. We can be pleased that today’s birthdays include Marie Curie and Joan Sutherland. But then there’s the former national holiday of Bangladesh, a sad story of rebellion and ensuing dictatorship in a dreadfully beleagured country. And of course the terrible story of one of today’s saints, Ernest of Zwiefalten, disemboweled in the wars between Christianity and Islam, for God and territory (in roughly equal measure), over 800 years ago. A bloody awful day, in several senses.

But let’s start with my burlesque of the first verse of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Children’s Hour” (1860). In the original:

Between the dark and the daylight,
When the light is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day’s occupations,
That is known as the Children’s Hour.

[Linguistic note: the poem has the verb lower (rhymes with power and glower) ‘(of the sky, weather, or landscape) look dark and threatening’ (NOAD2).]

Bangladesh used to have a national holiday known as Revolution and Solidarity Day — a name that would do well, at least aspirationally, for the U.S. Fourth of July, and could be gingerly used for the French Bastille Day, though we all know that things did not go so well there, what with the Terror and, eventually, Napoleon. From Wikipedia (quoted here verbatim):

In Bangladesh, November 7 was celebrated as the National Revolution and Solidarity Day. This commemorates the 1975 uprising formed by the people and soldiers. The uprising, led by Colonel Abu Taher and his political group Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal, ended the three-day coup organised by self-proclaimed Major General Khaled Mosharraf. It helped Major General Ziaur Rahman, founder of Bangladesh Nationalist Party, to grab power in the long run. [These events led to the ascent to power of Major General Zia.]

… Within the next year Major General Zia hanged Colonel Taher, along with several freedom fighters of the Liberation War of Bangladesh of 1971, through hasty military tribunal.

… [The current ruling] Awami League government recognize it neither as a revolutionary nor a solidarity day, as they denounce it as Freedom Fighters Killing Day.

Saint Ernest’s Day. From Wikipedia:

Saint Ernest (died 1148) was the abbot of the Benedictine Zwiefalten Abbey at Zwiefalten, Germany from 1141 to 1146. He participated in the Second Crusade fought by Christians between 1146 and 1149 to defend the Holy Land following the Turkish … capture of the strategically important city of Edessa [in northern Greece] in 1144.

… St. Ernest himself did not reach Jerusalem. There are no eyewitness or near-contemporary accounts of what happened to him, but a later twelfth-century hagiography, the Vita S. Ernusti abbatis, written at Zwiefalten, describes how he was taken captive by Saracens in an ambush, and then, along with 40 other Christian prisoners selected for their youth and comeliness, brought to Mecca and presented to the “king of Persia.” In the vita‘s account, the king orders Ernest and the other Christians to venerate his pagan gods, but Ernest steadfastly refuses. Brutally tortured, he is brought once again before the idols and told to worship them. Instead, he stones the idols with rocks, smashing them to pieces. Ernest is then killed by having his viscera drawn out of his navel and wound around a rod. The story … reproduces … the popular medieval image of Muslims as idolaters

To put some perspective on this: Ernest was a true Soldier of the Cross and was no doubt just as bloodthirsty as any Moor, slashing Saracens to death with holy fury. But then they deserved it: they were heretics and idolaters, after all.

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