Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Battle Hymn of the Republic

My wife and I spent our honeymoon on the Isle of Mull. As we tramped about that beautiful place, we sang. And one of the songs we sang was The Battle Hymn of the Republic. I had first heard it (I mean really heard it) in Melbourne; a friend of mine going through his landlady's albums happened upon one by Odetta. He insisted I listen. She sang it with a martial force that I remember to this day, though I only heard it a couple of times. It got into my soul, so to speak.

Not that I could remember all the words several years later on Mull. We were walking through a pretty little valley and had not seen a face for hours. Then, through the trees, we glimpsed a chapel, set inside a picket fence, and so we stepped onto its porch, put a hand to the door, and it opened. I don't recall the interior of the chapel, but I do recall my wife calling to me in a whisper, "Come and look". She was holding a hymnal open at The Battle Hymn of the Republic. We memorised the words together. And gave voice to it for some time after.

Some years later it was a staple bedtime song for a baby that wouldn't go to sleep. Maybe the wrong song. I know of nothing more exhilirating than this verse:

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet;
Our God is marching on.
Be jubilant, my feet! Julia Ward Howe uses King James rhetoric throughout, but it seems to me as fresh now as when I first heard it. The complete text is here. Mark Steyn has a piece on it here (scroll down, but it's worth reading the introduction as well). For the latter, thanks is due to Ninme.

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