Easter Anthem: the text

In between crucifixion and resurrection, a moment to consider the Sacred Harp song “Easter Anthem” (236 in the 1991 Denson revision of the Sacred Harp), tune by William Billings (1787). I posted the music on 4/20/14, along with a link to a video of the song at the Kalamazoo MI all-day singing on 7/20/09.

Now about the words, by Edward Young (1681-1765). The scriptural basis for the text:

But now is Christ risen from the dead,
and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
– I Corinthians 15:20 (KJV)

Now the SH text, and its source, in an intense, visionary poem by Young.

The SH text, with repeats enclosed between the marks ||: and :||

The Lord is ris’n indeed!
The Lord is ris’n indeed!
Now is Christ ris’n from the dead,
and becomes the first-fruits of them that slept.

||: Now is Christ ris’n from the dead,
and becomes the first-fruits of them that slept. :||

||: Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah! :||

||: And did he rise? :||(6 times)

||: Did he rise?
Hear it, ye nations!
Hear it, O ye dead!
He rose, he rose, he rose,he rose,
He burst the bars of death.
He burst the bars of death.
And triumphed o’er the grave. :||

Then, then, then I rose,
then I rose, then I rose, then I rose.
Then first humanity triumphant
passed the crystal ports of light.

||: and seized eternal youth. :||

||: Man all immortal hail, hail,
heaven, all lavish of strange gifts to man,
Thine’s all the glory, man’s the boundless bliss;
Thine’s all the glory, man’s the boundless bliss. :||

I used to think that the “crystal ports of light” was just some weird stuff from the Book of Revelation. But no, it’s right out of Young’s imagination, from his poem Night-Thoughts.

From Wikipedia:


The Complaint: or, Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, & Immortality, better known simply as Night-Thoughts, is a long poem by Edward Young published in nine parts (or “nights”) between 1742 and 1745.

The poem is written in blank verse. It describes the poet’s musings on death over a series of nine “nights” in which he ponders the loss of his wife and friends, and laments human frailties. The best-known line in the poem (at the end of “Night I”) is the adage “procrastination is the thief of time”, which is part of a passage in which the poet discusses how quickly life and opportunities can slip away.

Night-Thoughts had a very high reputation for many years after its publication, but is now best known for a major series of illustrations by William Blake in 1797. A lesser-known set of illustrations was created by Thomas Stothard in 1799.

The nine nights are each a poem of their own. They are: “Life, Death, and Immortality” (dedicated to Arthur Onslow); “Time, Death, Friendship” (dedicated to Spencer Compton); “Narcissa” (dedicated to Margaret Bentinck); “The Christian Triumph” (dedicated to Philip Yorke); “The Relapse” (dedicated to George Lee); “The Infidel Reclaim’d” (in two parts, “Glories and Riches” and “The Nature, Proof, and Importance of Immortality”; dedicated to Henry Pelham); “Virtue’s Apology; or, The Man of the World Answered” (with no dedication); and “The Consolation” (dedicated to Thomas Pelham-Holles).

In his Life of Samuel Johnson. James Boswell called Night-Thoughts “the grandest and richest poetry that human genius has ever produced.”

The relevant section:

(#2) The Blake illustration

Night Fourth: The Christian Triumph: containing our only cure for the fear of death; and proper sentiments of heart on that inestimable blessing

The crucial section, from the Gutenberg Project, in which lines 270-289 paraphrase Psalms 24; lines 270-300 provided an ‘Easter Ode’ popular in early 19th-Century American musical settings, from which the SH version is descended (crucial bits boldfaced):

What heart of stone but glows at thoughts like these?
Such contemplations mount us; and should mount
The mind still higher; nor ever glance on man,
Unraptured, uninflamed. — Where roll my thoughts
To rest from wonders? Other wonders rise;
And strike where’er they roll: my soul is caught:
Heaven’s sovereign blessings, clustering from the cross,
Rush on her, in a throng, and close her round,
The prisoner of amaze! — In his bless’d life,
I see the path, and, in his death, the price,
And in his great ascent, the proof supreme
Of immortality. — And did he rise? [line 270]
Hear, O ye nations! hear it, O ye dead!
He rose! he rose! he burst the bars of death.

Lift up your heads, ye everlasting gates!
And give the King of glory to come in.
Who is the King of glory? He who left
His throne of glory, for the pang of death:
Lift up your heads, ye everlasting gates!
And give the King of glory to come in.
Who is the King of glory? He who slew
The ravenous foe, that gorged all human race!
The King of glory, he whose glory fill’d
Heaven with amazement at his love to man;
And with divine complacency beheld
Powers most illumined, wilder’d in the theme.
The theme, the joy, how then shall man sustain?
O the burst gates! crush’d sting! demolish’d throne!
Last gasp of vanquish’d Death! Shout earth and heaven!
This sum of good to man. Whose nature then
Took wing, and mounted with him from the tomb!
Then, then, I rose; then first humanity
Triumphant pass’d the crystal ports of light

(Stupendous guest!), and seized eternal youth,
Seized in our name. E’er since, ’tis blasphemous
To call man mortal. Man’s mortality
Was then transferr’d to death; and heaven’s duration
Unalienably seal’d to this frail frame,
This child of dust — Man, all-immortal! hail;
Hail, Heaven! all lavish of strange gifts to man!
Thine all the glory; man’s the boundless bliss.
[line 300]

The poem rolls on, loosely organized, one idea leading to another by association, with bursts of vivid imagery and quotations from the bible (Psalm 24:7 “Lift up your heads…”, Psalm 24:8 “Who is this King of glory?”).

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