Monday, March 05, 2007

Songs of victory

Fr. Baer's comments about singing songs of victory in battle reminded me of two things. The first is Psalm 118. A number of years ago I memorized a good portion of it after noticing that it is often quoted in the new testament. Verse 22 is a familiar messianic reference applied to Jesus: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." (cf. Mt 21:42, Acts 4:11)

1: O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures for ever!
2: Let Israel say, "His steadfast love endures for ever."
3: Let the house of Aaron say, "His steadfast love endures for ever."
4: Let those who fear the LORD say, "His steadfast love endures for ever."
5: Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free.
6: With the LORD on my side I do not fear. What can man do to me?
7: The LORD is on my side to help me; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
8: It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in man.
9: It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.
10: All nations surrounded me; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
11: They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
12: They surrounded me like bees, they blazed like a fire of thorns; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
13: I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the LORD helped me.
14: The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.
15: Hark, glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous: "The right hand of the LORD does valiantly,
16: the right hand of the LORD is exalted, the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!"

17: I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.

The second is a portion from J.R.R. Tolkien's Return of the King at the end of the chapter entitled The Ride of the Rohirrim. The riders of Rohan, led by King Théoden, have looked in despair at the great siege army besetting Minas Tirith:

The City was now nearer. A smell of burning was in the air and a very shadow of death. The horses were uneasy. But the king sat upon Snowmane, motionless, gazing upon the agony of Minas Tirith, as if stricken suddenly by anguish, or by dread. He seemed to shrink down, cowed by age. Merry himself felt as if a great weight of horror and doubt had settle on him. His heart beat slowly. Time seem poised in uncertainty. They were too late! Too late was worse than never! Perhaps Théoden would quail, bow his old head, turn, slink away to hide in the hills. ...

At that sound [of a great boom from the City] the bent shape of the king sprang suddenly erect. Tall and proud he seemed again; and rising in his stirrups he cried in a loud voice, more clear than any there had ever heard a mortal man achieve before:

Arise, arise Riders of Théoden!
Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!
spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,
a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!

With that he seized a great horn from Guthláf his bannerbearer, and he blew such a blast upon it that it burst asunder. And straightaway all the horns in the host were lifted up in music, and the blowing of the horns of Rohan in that hour was like a storm upon the plain and a thunder in the mountains.

Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!

Suddenly the king cried to Snowmane and the horse sprang away. Behind him his banner blew in the wind, white horse upon a field of green, but he outpaced it. After him thundered the knights of his house, but he was ever before them. Éomer rode there, the white horsetail on his helm floating in his speed, and the front of the first éored roared like a breaker foaming to the shore, but Théoden could not be overtaken. Fey he seemed, or the battle-fury of his fathers ran like new fire in his veins, and he was borne up on Snowmane like a god of old, even as Oromë the Great in the battle of the Valar when the world was young. His golden shield was uncovered, and lo! it shone like an image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green about the white feet of his steed. For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.

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