Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

Sacred Harp

Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

Sacred Harp

Article excerpt

Like a people of the hatchet, they marked

each fa-so-la with a forearm striking down

through the holy air of the whitewashed room,

as if to split kindling or sever the neck

of the last dinner hen. Their shape notes

in the White book were eggs, flags, diamond

of a rattler's pattern, but Aunt Hannah

told us how the hymns in their hands-

rasped with callous-should have been

anvil, fish hook, sharp ploughshare

and shuttle. Perhaps gravestone or tears.

Menaced by weather and fever, milk sick

and wild swine trampling the com,

they'd sit prim in their meeting house

and sweat or shiver in thrall to psalms,

"Mt. Zion" and "Sherburne," "Mear"

or "The Parting Hand." "Sunday,"

she said, "we'd armor weary hearts

with prayer, plain tune and anthem,

men and women just an octave apart."

They made ready for the Father's grace

to blend their echoes for the joyful

noise, "And it was sacred heart, " she'd

insist, "not harp, for only one instrument

was ever hewn perfect to banish

the fiend's demons and seize such blessings

as the hard glory of His sweet storm. …

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