Friday, November 30, 2012

On Swords

"All good things come to a point. Swords, for instance." -G.K. Chesterton

     I read somewhere that at Handel's first performance of Messiah, the crowd was projected to be so large that women were asked not to wear hoop skirts and men were asked not to wear their swords so that standing room could be maximized. Oh that we sill lived in a time when you had to be explicitly asked not to wear a sword as a part of your default formal attire.  I find it a great pity that society has moved beyond the era of swords. We could have at least gone from swords to lightsabers, but alas, we had to go through the "gun" phase, and lightsabers don't exist yet. I've considered applying for a concealed weapons permit simply so I can carry a sword cane around. But then I'd have to have an excuse to carry a sword cane around, something far less easy to come by. Swords, though, don't have quite the stigma against them that guns do, primarily because swords are far more pretty. Swordplay way-back-when was an art, much like the weapons themselves. There isn't the same degree of sophistication and dignity about a Berretta when compared to a 16th century swept-hilt rapier. Perhaps the weapons do carry the same lethal function, but a Berretta certainly isn't going to be a part of your default formal clothing.

     That said, neither a gun nor a sword must be seen as deadly instruments. Chesterton, (whom I must point out carried a sword cane), wrote a marvelous little book about an allegorical practical joker titled Manalive. One of the book's main themes is the use of a pistol to "deal life" at those who value it least. By shooting holes in people's hats, the main character breaks the conventions, but keeps the commandments, not wishing to harm anyone, but only to frighten complacency out of them. What was once a killing machine has, in the hands of a concerned friend (and good shot), become a tool to shock a love of life into people who insist that "the pleasures of life, trivial and soon tasteless, are bribes to bring us into a torture chamber."
     Swords are much the same. They demand more awe than fear, their mere presence in a room adding some sense of craftsmanship, dignity, and history. Swords are one of those few instances where art and warfare intersect. When the warfare function is taken out of the equation, you're left with an awe-inspiring piece of artwork that you can swing around the room like what's-his-name from Princess Bride. All around, a whole lot more fun than swinging around Mona Lisa or American Gothic.

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