The Antichrist

At a Palo Alto Sacred Harp singing last month, someone called #548, Ainslie, a contemplation on death, with the first two verses:

1 The time is swiftly rolling on
When I must faint and die;
My body to the dust return,
And there forgotten lie.

2 Let persecution rage around,
And Antichrist appear;
My silent dust beneath the ground;
There’s no disturbance there.

Several singers were startled to see Antichrist in the text. Now, there is a vein of Sacred Harp songs with hallucinatory text from the book of Revelation, but this text is nothing like that, so it was something of a puzzle.

But… there is a resource, the excellent Sacred Harp Concordance (1992, keyed to the 1991 edition of the book). There, we discovered not one, but three, songs with Antichrist in them. Well, three settings of the very same text (with the first two verses above), in which nothing whatsoever, not even the appearance of the Antichrist at the End of Times, will disturb the silence of the singer’s remains.

The first appearance of the text appears to be as #19t in William Walker’s Southern Harmony of 1832, with a tune by Walker (called Hicks’ Farewell) and the text attributed to the Rev. B. [Berriman] Hicks, with this note:

This song was composed by the Rev. B. Hicks (a Baptist minister of South Carolina), and sent to his wife while he was confined in Tennessee by a fever, of which he afterwards recovered.


Note the very many verses, only a few of which make it through to editions of the Sacred Harp. The haunting, melancholy tune isn’t in the 1991 edition, which has three other settings (83b, tune by Edmund Dumas (1854); 348t, tune by Judy Hauff (1988); 570, tune by Hugh McGraw (1985) — reproduced below), while the Walker tune continued in the American “old-time music” (bluegrass / folk / country) tradition, notably in extraordinary solo performances by Doc Watson, one of which (from 1962) you can listen to here.

Of the three Sacred Harp settings, only one (Judy Hauff’s Ainslie) is in a minor key, and it has the moving melancholy feel of the Walker tune, which is why it got chosen by the Palo Alto singers last month:


The other two, in chronological order:


Now for the Antichrist. From Wikipedia:

In Christianity, the Antichrist … or False Messiah … is generally regarded as a figure of evil that will falsely claim to be the Christ (Messiah). The term Antichrist is found in the New Testament five times in 1 John and 2 John, once in plural form and four times in the singular.

Jesus, whom Christians believe to be the Jewish Messiah (the Christ), will appear in his Second Coming to Earth to face the Antichrist, who will be the regarded as the greatest false messiah in Christianity. Just as Christ is the savior and the ideal model for humanity, his opponent will be a single figure of concentrated evil

All this drama rages acoss the world, but the speaker in the Hicks text is beyond it all, contemplating crumbling to dust and obscurity.

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