Our allotted span

At the Palo Alto Sacred Harp singing yesterday (singing from the 1991 Denson Revision), a moment of mortality (50t), with a 1707 text from Isaac Watts:

(You get humility for free.)

The same text (with only the first two verses) is set as the fuguing tune Exit (181):


Both are minor (E minor, in fact), both have the Job 14:2 (all Biblical texts from KJV) accompanying quote:

He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down

And both have the line

Our age to sev’nty years is set

an allusion to our “allotted span” in Psalm 90:10:

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

a text that has inspired a number of echoes (though not direct quotes), in titles like The Years of Our Lives and The Days of Our Lives, in the gospel song title “I’ll Fly Away”, even in Abraham Lincoln’s “four score and seven years ago” from the Gettysburg Address.

The Biblical life span occurs in at least one other Sacred Harp song, Saints Bound for Heaven (35), a marching song in brisk major:


The accompanying quote is from Deuteronomy 5:6:

I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.

The return from exile and bondage in Egypt is the subject of a great many Sacred Harp songs.

Mortality and Exit, on the other hand, are from the truly gigantic fund of hymns on the welcome release of death.

An anecdote from my shapenote-singing life. Some 30 years ago or so, the Palo Alto group (I think; it might have been Santa Cruz) welcomed a man who’d been singing Sacred Harp since childhood. He was in his 80s, and with a chuckle selected Mortality to lead, taking pleasure in the fact that he had beaten not only the allotted span of 70 but also the extended-warranty span of 80 — and was not yet ready to be cut down like a flower.

Well, now I’m well past 70 myself, and I still prefer living to just sighing and groaning (though I do sigh and groan).

One Response to “Our allotted span”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    Yeah, at 78 I resemble that remark!

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