Hymn - (2008)
C. S. Lewis
for medium voice and piano
All the things magicians do
Could be done by me and you
Freely, if we
Human children every day
Could play at games the
If they were but shown the way.
Every man a God would
Laughing through eternity
If as God's his eyes could see.
All the wizardries of God-
Slaying matter with a nod,
with his rod,
With the singing of his voice
Making lonely lands
Leaving us no will nor choice,
Drawing headlong me and
As the piping Orpheus drew
Man and beast the mountains through,
By the sweetness of his horn
Calling us from lands forlorn
the widening morn-
All that loveliness of power
Could be man's
Even mine, this very hour;
We should reach the
And grow immortal out of hand,
If we could but understand!
We could revel day and night
In all power and all delight
If we learn
to think aright.
[ 7 pages, circa 3' 45" ]
C. S. Lewis
Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963), better known as C. S. Lewis, was a
medievalist, Christian apologist, literary critic, academic, radio
broadcaster, and essayist. He is best known for his fiction,
especially The Screwtape Letters (1942), The Chronicles of Narnia
(1950-1956) and, my favorite, The Space Trilogy consisting of Out
of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1943), and That
Hideous Strength (1945), as well as the recommended and instructive The Abolition of Man (1943).
Spirits in Bondage, subtitled A Cycle of Lyrics, was C. S. Lewis'
youthful book of poetry, published in 1919 by Heinemann under Lewis'
pseudonym, Clive Hamilton. The poems were written between 1915-18, during
which Lewis was a military trainee at Oxford, and then served in the
trenches of World War I. The poem varies in subject from nature's beauty to
cynical views about the presence of evil in the world. A modern
scholar has noted that "death by government" in the twentieth century
amounted to 169 million people per his study.
[ 1 ] Certainly, the wish for absolute power as Lewis so well describes
in this text has been a common and ultimately savage longing among men. As
has been observed and often restated, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute
power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."
[ 2 ]
This Hymn, the thirty-first poem in his anthology, is about that evil
which seeks equality with the power of God, and Lewis as Hamilton notes in a
subtitle, it was suitable "For Boys' Voices." In some ways this echoes
Fielding's The Lord of the Flies, also ostensibly about boys.
[ 3 ]
While I chose not to set if for boys, per se, the range of the
setting is moderate and could by sung unison by trebles. The setting begins
innocently, as if a song for children with its mention of magicians and
A subtle change in the text drops allusions to the faeries and magicians and
clearly focuses on the real covetousness of man -- God's power. For this,
one notes Lewis has capitalized "God" -- for it is not the power of "gods"
after which so many governments and their dictators have lusted, but rather
after the supreme power of God. The setting begins to become slightly more
complex, yet remains consonant and sing song.
As the poem admits to the "loveliness of power," the accompaniment becomes
aggressive. more dissonant and jarring. This progresses until the
accompaniment is made wholly of augmented fourths -- the diabolus in
music -- and reaches it greatest crescendo.
The ending reprises the gentler opening, as if the setting like the text
itself had admitted a little to clearly of a brazen lust for absolute power,
and needed to back track rhetorically. Even so, the final gesture in the
piano reminds us of the real purpose of this wish by its gesture made up
again wholly of tritones.
The score for 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
[ 1 ]
Death by Government by R. J. Rummel (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction
Publishers, 1994) 496 pages. While today's politics is filled with the
political Left pretending towards an anti-war stance and incorrectly
identifying the National Socialism of Germany before and during World War II
as "right wing," the simple fact as bolstered by the scholarship of
Professor Rummel is that the list of totalitarian governments might be best
defined consistently as organized on some form of socialism, in which the
astounding numbers of victims of government boggle the mind.
A University of Hawaii political science professor, Rummel writes in his
Preface, "This book is part of a project on government genocide and mass
killing in this century. The aim is to test the hypothesis that the citizens
of democracies are the least likely to be murdered by their own governments;
the citizens of totalitarian, especially Marxist systems, the most likely.
The theory is that democratic systems provide a path to peace, and
universalizing them would eliminate war and minimize global, political
Rummel notes, among the total, almost 62 million victims of the Soviet Gulag
state, 35 million victims of Communist China (especially Mao's famine,
1958-1962), 21 million victims of the Nazi State (National Socialism, which
is the party name that became abbreviated to Nazi), 5 million victims of
Imperial Japan, 2 million victims of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, almost 2
million victims of Turkey's genocidal purges, and many more instances, all
redounding to the actions of governments. Or as Rummel's title so clearly
states, Death by Government.
Other titles by Professor Rummel include Lethal Politics: Soviet Genocide
and Mass Murder since 1917 (1990), Democide: Nazi Genocide and Mass
Murder (1991), and China's Bloody Century: Genocide and Mass Murder
since 1900 (1991). There is, therefore enormous reason to be suspicious
of and remain vigilant against growing government power, for a reasonably
history of the twentieth century shows that government itself is the
greatest cause of death.
[ 2 ]
This is a now famous quotation by John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first
Baron Acton (1834–1902). The British historian and moralist, known simply as
Lord Acton, expressed this opinion in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton
in 1887. Thus it is often noted that a person’s sense of morality lessens as
his or her power increases, thereby leading governments, as above, toward
their many genocides. Today's political dialogues tend to overlook these
truths, over even to demean and obscure them all in the service of the
acquisition of governmental power.
[ 3 ]
The Judeo-Christian tradition speaks to the notion of "foolish" and
"childish" things, and the lust for power equivalent to God's might well be
said to be "childish." Lamentations 2:14 reads, "Thy prophets have
seen vain and foolish things," while 1 Corinthians 1:27 reads, "But God hath
chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath
chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty"
and later 1 Corinthians 13:11 says, "When I was a child, I spoke as a child,
I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I
put away childish things." The notion of foolish, childish pursuits is a
theme throughout the history of man, as men and women acting with the
foolish willfulness of children sought to exercise power which proved in the
end only to have been an exercise in evil, per the wise reporting by
Professor Rummel, as above.