A Prayer for Today


A Prayer for Today - (1991)          

Ambrose Bierce
originally for medium voice and piano


I saw a man who knelt in prayer, and heard him say:
"I'll lay my inmost spirit bare today."
Lord, for tomorrow and its need I do not pray;
let me upon my neighbor feed today.

"Let me my duty duly shirk and run away
from any form of phase of work today.
From Thy commandments exempt still, let me obey
the promptings of my private will today.

Let me no word profane, no lie, unthinking say
if any one is standing by today.
My secret sins and vices grave let none betray;
the scoffer's jeers I do not crave today.

And if today my fortune all should ebb away,
help me on other men's to fall today.
So, for tomorrow and its mite I do not pray;
just give me everything in sight today."

I cried: "Amen!" He rose and ran like oil away.
I said: "I've seen an honest man today."


Ambrose Bierce


Biographical information on Bierce may be read alongside information on my setting for Bierce's A Rational Anthem.


In the modern discourse about tax policies and funding the welfare state, the current politics in Europe is not about further funding but "reform," in the sense of beginning to minimize expenses to the various nations, from Sweden to Italy to Germany. From ex-chancellor Schröder's notion of "mini-jobs" to the Hartz IV reforms of 2006, the aim, in a high tax environment, is to drive those on some form of assistance off the rolls of the dole, an oddly conservative action for those who prefer to be called liberals. This same architecture of political action was seen under the 1990s era Clinton administration, under the same guise of "welfare reform," which essentially drove many who could work off the welfare rolls. A supposedly conservative political action done by supposed liberals.


The notion that such social politics is new is naive. In the late 1800s and long before the advent of the graduated income tax in the United States, Ambrose Bierce noted the same human penchant for seeking subsistence from others while not providing it for one's self. This was true of the American colonies when a kind of simple socialism based on religious notions was attempted; the lesson of that time centuries ago was that those could provide ultimately resented providing for those who found it advantageous to provide less, in the social bargain. Those early colonial attempts failed, history records.


The same story was recently re-enacted as a politician from the the Social Democrats was accosted by a demonstrator claiming that social sustenance was not high enough in light of this protestor's "unemployment." Alas for the young man who sported a protest button which said "Fuck Work," the politician took it upon himself to attempt to find that protestor employment. The protestor, not remarkably, refused several offers in the ensuing days, preferring as Bierce says to "run away from any form of phase of work today." From the colonial period of American history until today, the issues surrounding the apportionment of state subsidies to individuals remains problematic.


Bierce's poem of the late 1800s addresses the private and often unspoken temptation of those for whom the kindly charity of the legal commonweal is an entitled treasure house to be plundered. Therefore the setting is dedicated to those people who "take" without real need, and to the politicians who, as this truthful confession illustrates, pander to them.


The setting is musically a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fine musical settings of religious messages as one found a century ago. It is therefore marked as to be played "in a 'cathedral' manner." After two strophes of Bierce's poem, a simple modulation raises the key one tone.



A last gambit is to echo those musical settings wherein the choir sang a cappella after a full-organ texture. The accompaniment therefore leaves off its stepwise motion for a few measures, in preparation for an anthem's expected "amen."



The score for A Prayer for Today 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 Prayer for Today