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Stray thoughts: Striving for solemnity

  • 03 October 2022
Welcome to 'Stray Thoughts', where the Eureka Street editorial team muses on ethical and social challenges we've noted throughout the week.  In the last few weeks, we have been drowned, smothered or mired in words that have striven for solemnity. Such occasions as the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the various Grand Finals are held to transcend the everyday and so to demand elegiac or epic words. It is easy to laugh at the manifest failures to reach those heights, whether by Poets Laureate who should have known better, or by excitable journalists. There is, however, something endearingly human in the attempt.

The first VFL Grand Final I attended was also the first in which Footscray, a battlers’ club, appeared. They defeated Melbourne comfortably, much to my discomfort. A Footscray supporter sitting behind me added to my misery by his running commentary which aimed at the sublime. ‘This is a historic occasion’, he declaimed, and continued in his oration to glorify the great men of Footscray history and what this victory would mean for the proud citizens of the suburb. The rhetoric failed to live up to its aspirations, but even as a boy I felt sympathy for him in making the attempt. It was heartfelt.

I feel less sympathy for the people who reached for the sublime when covering the death of Queen Elizabeth. The language of ceremony, of heraldry, of ancient law, of bad poetry seemed false. The best and most pertinent stories were of simple meetings described in simple words, of the human being behind the throne.

The linguistic overkill perhaps points to an emptiness at the heart of our culture – the lack of universally recognised symbols of celebration and of grief that make new words unnecessary. All the symbols of dress, ritual, and music were certainly there in the Queen’s funeral. But the felt need to explain and expand on them suggests that they are not generally available. That is a pity. Shared symbols make mourning less demanding.

As for words about football finals, are they not always superfluous if your team loses?


  Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services. Main image: Lance Franklin and Chad Warner of the Swans look dejected after defeat during the 2022 AFL Grand Final match between the Geelong Cats and the Sydney Swans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on September 24, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. (Mark Kolbe/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)