Those Happy Few

WESTMORLAND: O that we now had here
But one of those men in France
That do no work to-day!

KING: What's he that wishes so?
My cousin, Westmorland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark'd to die, we are enough
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from France.
God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmorland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say "To-morrow is Saint Crispian."
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester—
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Thus proclaims King Henry V in one of my favorite wartime speeches—the famous “band of brothers” speech in William Shakespeare’s historical play Henry V, in Act IV Scene iii (18-67), on the eve of battle at Agincourt, on Saint Crispin’s Day—a speech to which warriors in reality have often referred, which Shakespeare penned back in the 16th Century, which ever holds true, though it is a fictional oration in glorious iambic pentameter.

I read this speech aloud to a friend of mine once who was unfamiliar with the play, and he said, “That sounds awful arrogant!” I thought about that. Perhaps . . . it may sound arrogant. But I don’t think it is, for—to me—this oration exemplifies the warrior and his attitude. And this attitude is not necessarily arrogance, but more often it is confidence of a rare and necessary kind.

The warrior looks his enemy in the face and sneers. He spits in his enemy’s eye and says, “Try to kill me! If you dare. But you will buy my life at a heavy price. I will take as much of you with me as I can. I will not surrender!” The warrior realizes that all men die. What matters, while here on Earth, is how you live.

Although I have never experienced physical war, I believe this is true. I can identify well with it. I feel it is correct, no matter what kind of fighter the warrior is, whether a wielder of arms, a defender of truth, or an everyday citizen, battling to make a place in this world, struggling to provide for his family. Whether he be a soldier, a politician, a thinker, a farmer, or a businessman, if he is for the right, the warrior knows he must stand and fight. Retreat is not an option.

The coward will never stand shoulder to shoulder with the warrior. The criminal, the lazy man, the sleazy politician, the immoral one . . . these cannot attain the honor the warrior holds. The warrior’s code says, “No surrender!” and the coward sometimes mocks this, must mock it. Yet, deep down, the coward knows he falls short.

And so, I am stirred by those words of “and those men afraid to go will think themselves lesser men when they hear how we fought and died together.”

“We few, we happy few. We band of brothers.”

May I be one of those few!

3 thoughts on “Those Happy Few

  1. I stand by what I wrote back in 2015:

    “What the speech evokes is universal. It is a vision of a king humbling himself (Phil. 2:6-8), making himself one of his men, and thereby exalting them (2 Cor. 8:9), so that they are not slaves, but sons (John 15:15). G.K. Chesterton observes that ‘there is a great man who makes every man feel small. But the real great man is the man who makes every man feel great.’ Like Christ, Henry’s stirring appeal to these men is to surrender themselves to something greater.”

  2. Pingback: 2 Weeks of Brief Literary Thoughts – The Flummoxed

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