The Hammer -
for medium voice and piano
I have seen
The old gods go
And the new gods come.
Day by day
And year by year
The idols fall
And the idols rise.
worship the hammer.
[ 2 pages, circa 1' 40" ]
Originally this poem appeared in the March 1914 issue of Poetry. It
speaks volumes in a few lines, for was Sandburg a master of content. The
"old gods" are in lower case letters and are the "new gods." That the
process by which these idols fall and rise is also spelled with lower case
letters, "hammer," places the process on a par with these many generations
of failing "gods." In a way this text echoes the same sentiment with which
Arthur Guiterman deals in his
The Idol Maker Prays, validating the notion that God is larger than
our comprehension can fathom; meanwhile the little gods which we can so we
understand must and do fail from the limitation which is our own.
The piano opens and closes the setting, its gestural rise by octatonic chord
progressions paint one cycle of a rise and fall, in anticipation of the
declamation of the text in song. The architecture is a simple set of rises
and falls, indicating past and what will be in the future.
The rather simple declaration of this text ended, the setting continues with
a final aggressive accelerando as yet another cycle begins and rises to its
peak -- from which we are assured it shall fall as well at some future
moment, long after the song is ended.
The score for The Hammer 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.