STLT#166, Years Are Coming

Yesterday (and elsewhere) I talked about how the first line of a song wasn’t always or necessarily the title of a song, and the use of such can be frustrating or misleading.

I’m thinking it may be a good thing that the original title of this piece, by Universalist minister Adin Ballou, “Reign of Christian Peace,” is not being used in our hymnal. I wish it was noted somewhere besides Between the Lines, however, because it is an interesting note in our theological history, a reminder that Universalism was not always as expansive and inclusive as we think of it today – it was a long while before Universalists pushed the doctrine of universal salvation to its inevitable conclusion.

But I digress from the hymn. Despite some unfamiliar-to-me language (a falchion is a machete-like sword), it’s your basic call for peace in a time of war. (It’s interesting that this was first published in 1842, during the Seminole Wars, and then republished in 1861, at the start of the US Civil War. Not surprising, just interesting. What may be more interesting (as I scan a history timeline) is that the Mormon War, which took place as Mormons were moving west through Missouri, also took place in the late 1830s, a much more theologically-based war, which the Universalists would have been on the non-Mormon side of. I don’t know if there’s any writing from Universalists of the day about the Mormons and other movements that cropped up… might be an interesting side trip some day.

But again, I digress. (Sorry – it’s one of those days.)

The lyrics ultimately are fine – but I am a tad disoriented by the tune it’s set to. Yes, this is set to Hyfrodol, which is such a joyful tune, made even more joyful by Peter Mayer in his recasting for Blue Boat Home. And it seems really odd to be singing about swords and trumpets and war banners in this delightful Welsh melody. But maybe that’s the point. I don’t know if this lyric has ever been set to anything else – it could be that Ballou himself wanted a spirit of joy and loveliness to emphasize the call of his words, setting the ridiculousness of war in contrast to the joy that the reign of Peace portends.

Years are coming, speed them onward
when the sword shall gather rust,
and the helmet, lance, and falchion
sleep at last in silent dust.
Earth has heard too long of battle,
heard the trumpet’s voice too long.
But another age advances,
seers foretold in ancient song.

Years are coming when forever
war’s dread banner shall be furled,
and the angel Peace be welcomed,
regent of a happy world.
Hail with song that glorious era,
when the sword shall gather rust,
and the helmet, lance, and falchion
sleep at last in silent dust.

But it’s still weird to sing those words to this tune.

I know, the image of the peace sign on the American flag may draw controversy… but it seems the right image for this hymn today.

 

2 Comments

  1. I wonder if our hymns of peace might feel a bit more relevant if they referenced modern-day arms of war rather than the somewhat archaic language of swords, lances, and falchions. Maybe some of our contemporary hymn-writers can do something with drones, missiles, dirty bombs, and nerve gas. Just sayin.

    • There was one in the old red hymnal about the dreadnought furrowing every wave. Do we still have Wonders Still the World Shall Witness, with the line “not for battleship and fortress”? Could be a quick update; lousy draft follows here:

      Not with carrier and missile
      Not with conquests won by pain
      But with reason and persuasion
      Shall we work the world to again.

      Once again, a great commentary on the hymn, farfringe!

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