Creed and not a Creed -
Paul Laurence Dunbar
medium or high voice and piano
no priest of crooks nor creeds,
For human wants and human needs
Are more to me than prophets' deeds;
And human tears and human cares
Affect me more than human prayers.
Go, cease your wail, lugubrious saint!
You fret high Heaven with your plaint.
Is this the "Christian's joy" you paint?
Is this the Christian's boasted bliss?
Avails your faith no more than this?
Take up your arms, come out with me,
Let Heav'n alone; humanity
Needs more and Heaven less from thee.
With pity for mankind look 'round;
Help them to rise--and Heaven is found.
pages, circa 2' 45"
text is taken from Dunbar's collection of poems, Majors and Minors,
1895, Hadley & Hadley, Printers and Binders, Toledo, Ohio.
personal editorial on the 31st of December 2011:
Thinking of the pompous assertions of the last decades in which religious
creeds advocating political solutions through government and the
often-atheistic creed of politics as well -- a form of secular belief system
to my sense of things, and therefore a religion in of itself --have been
advanced as answers to social ills, they all have proving little or real and
permanent solutions. This challenging text by
speaks wonders from a century and more ago.
Venezuela's Chavez' assertion that "Jesus was a socialist" coupled to his
twelve fumbling years in power in which businesses have been nationalized
all the while poverty increases, inflation rages and crime is so rampant
that Venezuela's capital of Caracas is among the most murder-ridden in the
world today, the "Christian's boasted bliss" is a particularly apt line as
Dunbar forms it. True pity, not the official yet unpitying "pity" of most
every state and its government, is what lifts its hand freely, individually
and charitably to answer the woes of men, one at a time.
same might be observed in Mugabe's Marxist Zimbabwe in which the apparent
once-upon-a-time answer to racist apartheid has bred massive unemployment of
those black Africans which specifically the Marxist party purported to help,
alongside almost-impossible-to-describe inflation. Dunbar asks us with a
voice echoing from over a century ago, "Avails your faith no more than
this?" While the various forms of socialist politics worldwide scream "yes"
in their orthodox passion for theory unsupported reality, the demonstrable
fact is that waste and corruption seem endemic to the nature of "crooks and
creeds" alike. The American poet,
Sandburg, was among those to also notice this.
the same way in the United States, one finds the "one percent" claim by some
politicians backfiring, as news becomes widespread that among the "rich" are
most members of Congress and in both political parties, not to mention
successive administrations' dramatis personae, lobbyists and more,
proving that Dunbar's line, "help them to rise" seems to be far better a
measure of the increase in politicians' rising wealth than in the
poor classes. Moreover one notes that stories in the news proclaim that
under such social "creeds," poverty in America increases while debt spirals
to unimaginable heights without serious discussion by any of the major
Similarly in Germany, the chancellor suggested "haircuts" -- loss of
principal -- for investors in government bonds whose promise seems unlikely
to be kept, and then Europe wonders why further subscription of private
money into public debt is shrinking quickly. Moreover it is an obvious and
basic fact of arithmetic that when one -- individual or state -- is in
massive debt, the pursuit of social justice is hindered or soon will be by
the simple insolvency of such a fiscal position. Most social welfare states
are learning this in real time, as one watches Greece's travails or examines
the newest austerity budget enacted by Spain. The same is true for states
within the Chinese nation, in which insolvencies are becoming bankruptcies.
all is called a "financial crisis," but in fact it is worldwide the
consequences of government creeds and those religious stances which support
them, whether tinged with Chavez' Christian socialism or North Korea's cult
of personality coupled to persistent starvation, now all in its third
dictatorial generation. What form of freedom finds the same "leaders" in
power for as much as sixty years? Especially when prosperity is a word
unknown in these experiments in government and religious stances which
propose such forms of government?
seems rather clear that one political stance has created wealth for the many
and built middle classes around the world, and that has been demonstrably
and basically freedom.
this the 1920's poet German socialist poet,
correctly foresaw an ideal time in which society was liberated -- from
the state. This is a crucial distinction.
imagine Dunbar would have found agreement in this notion, for to leave
"Heaven alone" is also to leave "creed" and corruption alone, as the
socially-responsible individual can help others to "rise" through simple
human interactions, as business tradition often of late has called the
win-win situation. This happens when freedom reigns, not when "crooks nor
creeds" and indeed even the "priests" of these men do not reign as
sovereigns. Freedom can be sovereignty enough when individual rights and
responsibilities are respected. May this new year's turning -- the day on
which I completed this setting -- further this awareness. Who shall argue
against freedom? Among them, tyrants and slave owners....
setting is based on only a few chord forms, the major-minor seven chord and
the more dissonant yet related chords as seen in measures 8 and 10. Yet
these function as progressions, the 6/8's light syncopation swinging over
their changes. The form is a simple verse form, the second marked simply as
being more "insistent."
small coda allows the restatement of the poet's opening lines coupled to his
charge that we "help them to rise." The setting ends quietly, and the voice
is marked with a diminuendo, as the poet's tells us that by this act, there
and not in some coercive utopia. whether Marxist or theocratic or secular --
that "Heaven is found."
The score 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 piano-vocal score.
Creed and not a Creed