Tuesday, August 12, 2008

How can I keep from singing?

One of many versions undergoing continual editing:

1.) My life goes on in endless song
Above earth’s lamentations,
I hear the real, though far off hymn
That hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear its music ringing,
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

2.) While though the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
And though the darkness ’round me close,
Songs in the night it giveth.

No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that rock I’m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?

3.) When tyrants tremble in their fear
And hear their death knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near
How can I keep from singing?

In prison cell and dungeon vile
Our thoughts to them are winging,
When friends by shame are undefiled
How can I keep from singing?

The provenance of this song is slightly murky. I would sleuth it in the following manner. The original lines were written by Anne Warner, circa 1864. The Baptist preacher and writer, and sometimes collaborator with Ira Sankey, Robert Lowry, published it in 1869, and has, sometimes, been credited as its author. Doris Plenn learned it in a North Carolina familial setting, surmising it to be a Quaker* song. In 1956, she added the new topical lyrics. It was then introduced to folk music by Pete Seeger in 1957. It has been recorded by several notable folk singers (Judy Collins, Arlo Guthrie, Noel (of PP&M) Stookey, Eva Cassidy) and by Enya and by Bruce Springsteen. Finding it on radio would be quite difficult. It has been recently performed by Martin Sheen on Prairie Home Companion.

A version appears in the missal and hymnal at my parish church. The book is printed anew each year, with it being there for many years. I do not recall it, ever being sung, there. A pity, it is a beautiful tune and song.

I have highlighted the anti-Joe
McCarthy, anti-fascist words of Doris Plenn, whom, added on to a religious song of constancy and joy in faith, which was written during a time of war. That war between the Union and the confederates is the fulcrum of american history. No division in this country has ever been greater, nor bloodier. But, Ms. Warner sang with a serene and certain joy. Truly, the words peel off the voice wonderfully.

The tune is both sweet and forceful. With the addition it is triumphant, the wicked leviathan is at death
s rattle and the surviving persecuted are to be redeemed. The celebration of justice is marked.

The original celebrates the paradise, of the New Jerusalem, that will prevail over the present, wretched, destruction of war. That destruction does not whelm, and certainly not overwhelm the faith. The faith is kept, the witness is made, the reward exists, none-the-less. The powers of the world do not win. Love and Truth, the attributes of Our Lord Jesus Christ are irresistible.
*Apparently, it is now in several hymnals. People will confuse Quaker with Shaker. It has become an indeterminate christian hymn, and since it rarely says Jesus, the unitarians can sing it too. Some librarian could chart its publication appearances. I would guess, it may have not seen much ink between 1870 to 1955. The folkies have resurrected a hymn, a song too good not to be sung.

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