A Hymn


A Hymn - (2009)    

G. K. Chesterton

for medium voice and piano


O God of earth and altar,
    Bow down and hear our cry.
Our earthly rulers falter,
    Our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us,
    The swords of scorn divide,
Take not thy thunder from us,
    But take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,
    From lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches
    That comfort cruel men,
For sale and profanation
    Of honour and the sword,
From sleep and from damnation,
    Deliver us, good lord.

Tie in a living tether
    The prince and priest and thrall,
Bind all our lives together,
    Smite us and save us all;
In ire and exultation
    Aflame with faith, and free,
Lift up a living nation,
    A single sword to thee.

[ 4 pages, circa 3' 30" ]

G. K. Chesterton


The assertion that "earthly rulers falter" is utterly apt for this time, as it was in the era in which Chesterton penned this poem, a true three versed hymn form. "Swords of scorn divide" without question, as various nations' political parties jockey for control over the huge problems facing so many nations today. With the admonition and wisdom of George Washington and a host of poets and commentators over literally centuries now, the central truth of governance is that governments "falter." Made of erring men and gravely erring decisions in each age, government might be well cited as the bane of ages. And yet there is a necessary evil to governance, as long it is serves its people, rather than having its people serve it.


Chesterton rightly observes that the "prince" is bound to a people, in seeming contradistinction to the attributes of power. As a ruler fails, his people fail; equally as a people fail, so must a ruler. Therefore Chesterton reminds in this hymn that the hand of God will smite as well as save in the smiting of error, and to what end? Chesterton makes no bones about it: freedom. This is what makes the "living nation" which is "aflame with faith."



The hymn form is certain in his poem, and as such this is a setting in three verses, small modifications to each and a rhetorical heightening in the last. Parallel ninths and seconds are employed in the introduction and interludes, for this is a prayer which in fact predicts -- if it does not also call down -- retribution from God upon a nation or nations and their politicians and their "pride."


The score for A 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 piano-vocal score.


A Hymn