I’ve caught a nasty, long cold that has swept through our school’s art studio. It’s almost flu-like, although thankfully no fevers and chills for me. So I’m just going to share a beautiful version of The Battle Hymn of the Republic by Odetta. As an historic song I’m extremely fond of it. I think recently identity politickers have made a concerted effort to denounce and misrepresent the white leaders of the abolitionist movement as deeply conservative and backwards, and to portray racism as simply ingrained in the American, if not human, psyche. However, lyrics like “In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea / With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me. / As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free”, when stripped of their religious archaism, serve as a powerful and poetic record against historical revisionists – those critics who, today, try to recast garishly racially-charged gore porn like Django Unchained as a more pointed and accurate truth about US history than a measured film like Lincoln, and who cannot pass up an opportunity to bad mouth Jefferson et al without seriously considering their historical positions in all their complexities.
But I’m rambling on. It’s a lovely and powerful song, heightened to its perfection by Odetta’s lovely and powerful voice (she is one of my favourite vocalists). I can listen to it on a loop quite comfortably. It’s the origin of the Steinbeck title “The Grapes of the Wrath”, and I particular love the imagery in those first lines – “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming or the Lord / He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. / He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword: / His truth is marching on.”