Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer”

Here’s an animated version of The War Prayer, published posthumously in November of 1916.

Man, when you hear that prayer spoken, it has an ageless, timeless resonance that is just beautiful.

Coincidentally, I am reading a book called “Mark Twain’s Wound.” It’s an assembly of essays in response to a book written about 10 years after Twain’s death called “The Ordeal of Mark Twain” by Van Wyke Brooks.

At first, the very idea of being critical of Twain’s life and his output irritated me. The structure of the Wound book is to present Van Wyke Brooks’ idea, and then counter it in essay form from writings of the era. Brooks thesis was that Twain was damaged goods; that because his father was weak and died early in Twain’s life, Twain hid behind his mother’s skirts and then transferred that relationship onto his wife. Brooks grants nearly no quarter for Twain and complains that he didn’t use his talents for greater and greater achievements. Brooks was eastern establishment, and had no use for the West and what it meant to men of the era.

Brooks is not without insight, but does rely too heavily on Freud. I just don’t think all the psycho-mumbo-jumbo bears up under the weight of day-to-day Western experience. I read about what his life was like in Virginia City, and it was not a place for psychologically nuanced analysis!

So the best of the book is the criticism of Brooks from his contemporaries, who seem to understand the man much better:

— we’re fallible
— we all have our strengths and weaknesses
— we all live with our own contradictions
— life can make you cynical and sarcastic
— you never really escape your youth
— etc.

And more than anything else, Twain wrote to Americans about America. He didn’t write to be a part of a literary establishment (although he did revel in the adulation).

It’s an interesting topic. The more I learn about Twain, the more I respect him.

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