But oh, their end, their dreadful end

One of several shapenote songs sung by the Palo Alto / Peninsula Sacred Harp group this Sunday afternoon in defiance of the election of Helmet GrabPussy as POTUS. In this Psalm 73 hymn text by Isaac Watts (1719), the prideful rich get their comeuppance, deliciously:


Here you can watch a singing of #183 at the 2011 All California Sacred Harp Convention in San Pedro. It’s a fierce minor song. The text, with the pay-off lines boldfaced:

Lord, what a thoughtless wretch was I,
To mourn, and murmur, and repine,
To see the wicked placed on high,
In pride and robes of’ honour shine!

But O their end, their dreadful end!
Thy sanctuary taught me so;
On slipp’ry rocks I see them stand,
And fiery billows roll below.

From the “prosperity of sinners cursed” section of Watts’s text. Another appropriate verse and chorus from the same section, not in the 1991 Denson Sacred Harp:

Now let them boast how tall they rise,
I’ll never envy them again;
There they may stand with haughty eyes,
Till they plunge deep in endless pain.

Their fancied joys, how fast they flee!
Just like a dream when man awakes;
Their songs of softest harmony
Are but a preface to their plagues.

The 1991 Denson book has another setting of the Watts text, Huntington #193, in a jaunty major key:


(Fitting the song into the space available resulted in a nasty page-turn, plus some complex typesetting on the second page.)

You can listen here to #193 sung at the 2009 Western Massachusetts Sacred Harp Convention (no vicdeo).

Bonuses. Along with #193 came Schenectady #192 — a hymn of joyous praise — and (before it) Virginia #191 — in which the billows of the sea roll:



Four songs with four very different feels to them. All from the early days of shapenote singing, before the tradition established itself in the heart of the rural South.

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