A Hymn - (2009)
G. K. Chesterton
for medium voice and piano
O God of earth and altar,
Bow down and hear our cry.
Our earthly rulers falter,
Our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us,
The swords of scorn
Take not thy thunder from us,
away our pride.
From all that terror teaches,
From lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches
That comfort cruel men,
For sale and profanation
Of honour and the sword,
From sleep and from damnation,
Deliver us, good lord.
Tie in a living tether
The prince and priest and thrall,
Bind all our lives together,
Smite us and save us all;
In ire and exultation
Aflame with faith, and free,
Lift up a living nation,
A single sword to thee.
[ 4 pages, circa 3' 30" ]
G. K. Chesterton
The assertion that "earthly rulers falter" is utterly apt for this time, as
it was in the era in which Chesterton penned this poem, a true three versed
hymn form. "Swords of scorn divide" without question, as various nations'
political parties jockey for control over the huge problems facing so many
nations today. With the admonition and wisdom of George Washington and a
host of poets and commentators over literally centuries now, the central
truth of governance is that governments "falter." Made of erring men and
gravely erring decisions in each age, government might be well cited as the
bane of ages. And yet there is a necessary evil to governance, as long it is
serves its people, rather than having its people serve it.
Chesterton rightly observes that the "prince" is bound to a people, in
seeming contradistinction to the attributes of power. As a ruler fails, his
people fail; equally as a people fail, so must a ruler. Therefore Chesterton
reminds in this hymn that the hand of God will smite as well as save in the
smiting of error, and to what end? Chesterton makes no bones about it:
freedom. This is what makes the "living nation" which is "aflame with
The hymn form is certain in his poem, and as such this is a setting in three
verses, small modifications to each and a rhetorical heightening in the
last. Parallel ninths and seconds are employed in the introduction and
interludes, for this is a prayer which in fact predicts -- if it does not
also call down -- retribution from God upon a nation or nations and their
politicians and their "pride."
The score for A Hymn is available as a free PDF download, though any
major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without
prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this