Monday, November 18, 2013

Julia Ward Howe - Poetry

Next up is Julia Ward Howe's 'Battle Hymn of the Republic'.  This poem/song was adopted by the Union in the US Civil war and is regarded as part of the canon of patriotic songs here.

1. Mine eyes have seen the glory
of the coming of the Lord;
he is trampling out the vintage
where the grapes of wrath are stored;
he hath loosed the fateful lightning
of his terrible swift sword;
his truth is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

2. I have seen him in the watchfires
of a hundred circling camps,
they have builded him an altar
in the evening dews and damps;
I can read his righteous sentence
by the dim and flaring lamps;
his day is marching on.

3. He has sounded forth the trumpet
that shall never call retreat;
he is sifting out the hearts of men
before his judgment seat;
O be swift, my soul, to answer him;
be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

4. In the beauty of the lilies
Christ was born across the sea,
with a glory in his bosom
that transfigures you and me;
as he died to make men holy,
let us die to make men free,
while God is marching on.

5. He is coming like the glory
of the morning on the wave,
he is wisdom to the mighty,
he is honor to the brave;
so the world shall be his footstool,
and the soul of wrong his slave.
Our God is marching on.

The first verse is very familiar.  I think we sang it in school at some point.  (Do they still do that?  Will have to ask.)  The first three stanzas are quite the mixture of God and war.  The Union army was saying that they had God on their side and his terrible righteousness was about to be set loose.  It's almost jarring to read this today.  Can you imagine any such song being used for our current wars?  Of course not!  We're completely shamed by the word 'crusade'.
After the first stanza, it's all new to me.  The change from the third to the fourth stanza is almost like stepping off of a top step that isn't there.  We go from the very martial God, who is issuing military commands to 'the beauty of the lilies' without much warning.  I very much like the 'as he died to make men holy/let us die to make men free', as it recognizes that slavery was very much at the heart of the war.
I'll be honest, this poem doesn't do much for me.  It may be because I'm far from the horrors of war and maybe I'm too soft, but it's too brash for my taste.  Give me the clever turn of phrase and the beautiful wording please.

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