Radical Visions of Hector?

In Book Two of Virgil’s Aeneid, the famous Trojan warrior Hector appears to Aeneas in a dream to tell him to flee.  It seems to me that there has been an appropriation of sorts of this motif in 2oth century imagery of Trade Unions and Communism.  Some examples follow, which I may add to in time.

A. “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night”

Joe Hill, the Swedish-born labor activist framed for murder in Utah in 1915, is the subject of a dream-poem written in 1930 by Alfred Hayes and later set to music by Earl Robinson. Hill was himself a songwriter, having composed “There is Power in a Union” and “The Preacher and the Slave” (better known as “There’ll be Pie in the Sky By and By”).

Poster for 1971 film about Joe Hill

Poster for 1971 film about Joe Hill

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you or me
Says I, “But Joe, you’re ten years dead,”
“I never died,” says he.
“I never died,” says he.

“In Salt Lake, Joe,” says I to him,
Him standing by my bed,
“They framed you on a murder charge,”
Says Joe, “But I ain’t dead,”
Says Joe, “But I ain’t dead.”

“The copper bosses killed you, Joe,
They shot you, Joe,” says I.
“Takes more than guns to kill a man,”
Says Joe, “I didn’t die,”
Says Joe, “I didn’t die.”

And standing there as big as life
And smiling with his eyes
Says Joe, “What they forgot to kill
Went on to organize,
Went on to organize.”

“Joe Hill ain’t dead,” he says to me,
“Joe Hill ain’t never died.
Where working men are out on strike
Joe Hill is at their side,
Joe Hill is at their side.”

From San Diego up to Maine,
In every mine and mill –
Where working men defend their rights
It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.
It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you or me
Says I, “But Joe, you’re ten years dead”,
“I never died,” says he.
“I never died,” says he.

Perhaps the most famous recording of this song is by Joan Baez at Woodstock in 1969:

B. “I Dreamed I Saw Phil Ochs Last Night”

In 1990, Billy Bragg recorded a song to the same tune as “Joe Hill” but with updated lyrics about the ’60s folksinger and protester, Phil Ochs.  With this song, Bragg puts himself into a great tradition along with Hill and Ochs.  It is interesting to note, perhaps, that Bragg has himself consumed some of Hill’s cremated ashes.

I dreamed I saw Phil Ochs last night
Alive as you and me
Says I to Phil, “You’re ten years dead
“I never died”, says he
“I never died”, says he

The music business killed you Phil
They ignored the things you said
And cast you out when fashions changed
Says Phil, “But I ain’t dead”
Says Phil, “But I ain’t dead”

The FBI harassed you Phil
They smeared you with their lies
Says he, “But they could never kill
What they could not compromise
I never compromised”

“Though fashion’s changed and critics sneered
The songs that I have sung
Are just as true tonight as then
The struggle carries on
The struggle carries on”

When the song of freedom rings out loud
From valleys and from hills
Where people stand up for their rights
Phil Ochs is with us still
Phil Ochs inspires us still

C. Dora Lazurkina’s Vision of Lenin

I’m not sure if this qualifies as a dream or not, but Lenin appeared to an elderly Bolshevik woman “alive as you or me.” From the History in An Hour website on De-Stalinization, but easily verified by many sources online and in print:

2e3fbbb664f0fec76b32d55ff53-1hu414sDuring the Twenty-Second Party Congress in October 1961, delegates heard from an elderly Bolshevik, Dora Lazurkina, ‘My heart is always full of Lenin. Comrades, I could survive the most difficult moments only because I carried Lenin in my heart, and always consulted him on what to do. Yesterday I consulted him… and he said: “It is unpleasant to be next to Stalin, who did so much harm to the party.”’

It was an effective piece of staged theatre. Khrushchev responded by decreeing, ‘The further retention in the mausoleum of the sarcophagus with the bier of J. V. Stalin shall be recognized as inappropriate since the serious violations by Stalin of Lenin’s precepts, abuse of power, mass repressions against honourable Soviet people and other activities… make it impossible to leave the bier with his body in the mausoleum of V. I. Lenin.’

And so in the dark hours of 31 October 1961, the dead dictator was removed from the Lenin-Stalin Mausoleum. There was no solemnity, no ceremony, no speeches, just a few workmen doing a matter-of-fact task – by moonlight. The not-so Great Man was reburied behind the Kremlin Walls.

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About Uncomely and Broken

I am a classicist in Sewanee, Tennessee.
This entry was posted in Classics, Military, Music, Mythology, Poetry. Bookmark the permalink.

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