STLT#122, Sound Over All Waters

My love/hate relationship with lyricist John Greenleaf Whittier continues.

As regular readers may remember, I have loved some of his lyrics; I loved the movement in No Longer Forward or Behind and the call to action hidden under Immortal Love… and I have hated others; I found the ‘people suck’ attitude of The Harp at Nature’s Advent frustrating and off-putting.

So – Whittier’s winning, 2-1, going into today’s hymn.

Aaaaaand we’re tied.

Okay, so I don’t HATE this one, but I am bored by it. First, it doesn’t go anywhere; it’s four verses of yay, let’s pretend love and peace have already won. And then let’s make some noise about it – a la Psalm 150 with all its cymbals and trumpets. For me, the entire hymn can be summed up in the first verse, so Johnny, why are you making us sing three more verses? I’m bored.

And that boredom sent me to Between the Lines, where I discovered the lyrics are from a poem Whittier wrote called “A Christmas Carmen.” (A carmen is a song or incantation.) The original poem is here – three longer verses, ABOUT CHRISTMAS. This is a very Christian poem about how Jesus brings peace to the land, because the Savior Is Born; it fits right in with the eschatological underpinnings of the Advent season, the whole Son of God/Son of Man thing (see the lyrics of Joy to the World ).

THIS IS A CHRISTMAS POEM PROMOTING A VERY PARTICULAR THEOLOGY.

And whoever set snippets of this poem to music decided to pull out the parts they like and hope we ignore the rest.

Okay, so maybe my beef isn’t with Whittier, it’s with whoever cobbled together this… this…. thing that sits opposite Spirit of Life in our hymnal (tomorrow’s hymn). It goes into the pile of hymns we sing whose original meaning has been sucked out/reversed/colonized. Ugh, ugh, ugh. This is a Christian poem about Christmas, not a ‘yay, peace, and we had something to do with it’ song.

So Johnny, I’m still not a fan, but I feel like I can’t blame you for this – let’s call it a draw; we now stand at 2-1-1.

Sound over all waters, reach out from all lands
the chorus of voices, the clasping of hands!
Rise, hope of the ages, arise like the sun,
all speech flow to music, all hearts beat as one!

Sing bridal of nations, with chorals of love!
Sing out the war vulture and sing in the dove!
With glad jubilation sing hope for the world;
the great storm is ending, the clouds are all furled.

Sound trumpets of triumph for marches of peace,
east, west, north, and south, let the long quarrels cease!
Sing songs of great joy that the angels began,
give glory to children, to woman and man!

Hark! Joining the chorus the heavens resound!
The old day is ending, a new day is crowned!
Rise, hope for the ages, arise like the sun,
all speech flow to music, all hearts beat as one!

For the curious, here’s the poem in its original form, found at Poem Hunter (and by the way, in the second verse, the meaning of ‘bridal’ is unclear – it might relate to the Christian idea that we are brides of Christ, but it might also be a riff from the old English word meaning a feast (Merriam-Webster tells us that it implied a feast where a lot of alcohol was consumed, and the word ‘ale’ comes from the same root meaning.):

Sound over all waters, reach out from all lands,
The chorus of voices, the clasping of hands;
Sing hymns that were sung by the stars of the morn,
Sing songs of the angels when Jesus was born!
With glad jubilations
Bring hope to the nations!
The dark night is ending and dawn has begun:
Rise, hope of the ages, arise like the sun,
All speech flow to music, all hearts beat as one!

II.
Sing the bridal of nations! with chorals of love
Sing out the war-vulture and sing in the dove,
Till the hearts of the peoples keep time in accord,
And the voice of the world is the voice of the Lord!
Clasp hands of the nations
In strong gratulations:
The dark night is ending and dawn has begun;
Rise, hope of the ages, arise like the sun,
All speech flow to music, all hearts beat as one!

III.
Blow, bugles of battle, the marches of peace;
East, west, north, and south let the long quarrel cease
Sing the song of great joy that the angels began,
Sing of glory to God and of good-will to man!
Hark! joining in chorus
The heavens bend o’er us!
The dark night is ending and dawn has begun;
Rise, hope of the ages, arise like the sun,
All speech flow to music, all hearts beat as one!

Postscript: I had absolutely no idea what image to use today, so I offer you a big cat in a box. Because it delights me a hell of a lot more than this hymn does. So there.

2 Comments

  1. Sorry, but my reaction to this post is mixed. I was thrilled to be directed to hymn #122 in the UU hymnal, but sad to read your panning commentary, which I find so common among many UUs, who all too often take profundity at face value, screwing the value of Hope in something bigger than our individualistic ideas of ourselves. My theme is that it is music in chorus that saves us, as opposed to lectures and discussions about our hopeless attempts to try to fix something, anything to give us meaning. We could learn a lot from tribal peoples right in our own backyard who are returning to their ancestor’s sacred ways of communal singing and dancing to honor creator and respect each other, healing their souls, empowering their spirits to new heights. This is HOPE! This is what we all need! Cynicism is old rebellion. It had it’s time and place. We must now build hope on a new plane, find our voice and let it resound, maybe not to an old Welsh melody, but to a newly resonating rhythm and body tone that blends with the sound of Nature. Sound Over All Waters! Reference the Japanese Water Researcher who demonstrated the effects of thought and sound over water. We have the Power to heal our planet, if only we would have the courage to invoke it, and it lies within our very own body voices without a script or a director—Toning! Check it out!

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