Farewell Karelia, I Hardly Knew Thee

“Johnny I Hardly Knew Thee” is an old Irish anti-war song from the early 19th century. It decries the poor state of a returning Irish soldier who had served with the British army in India. 

Some say it is the source of the famed American Civil War song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”  The lyrics in this song are one of victory, celebrating the  longed for return of a Union soldier.

Next week I hop a plane back to the USA after 4 years overseas.  Most of these years have been spent in Finland, in the province of South Karelia. (An earlier post discussed the importance of this area to the Finnish soul.)

Having studied Karelia over 15 years ago as part of a course, I thought perhaps my engagement in this area would perhaps be longer. The anthropologist in me made me hope for the possibility of learning more about the culture and the heart of Finland, the land of my wife’s birth. I also hoped to develop my Finnish language skills.

Circumstances have prevented that.  Other life matters intervened.   Karelia, while still a beautiful and interesting, was still little more than a place where I lived.

The Karelian coat of arms, depicting the battle between East and West

The Karelian coat of arms, depicting the battle between East and West

So I leave with some regret. But while in Karelia I discovered a lot about myself and grew as a person. So I have that as a memory.

I am ecstatic at returning to my home country, and the area of my childhood. I am positive I belong there, not here.

A year ago I would have thought that I might return to the USA more like the bedraggled Irish soldier. But now I feel more hopeful of being the  Johnny of the American Civil War, coming home and letting “love and friendship on that day, (Hurrah! Hurrah!) their choices pleasures then display”. 

I hope to come home having been a warrior.

“When Johnny Comes Marching Home” audio


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