(Poem #1699) The Pilgrim
Who would true valour see, Let him come hither; One here will constant be, Come wind, come weather There's no discouragement Shall make him once relent His first avowed intent To be a pilgrim. Whoso beset him round With dismal stories Do but themselves confound; His strength the more is. No lion can him fright, He'll with a giant fight, He will have a right To be a pilgrim. Hobgoblin nor foul fiend Can daunt his spirit, He knows he at the end Shall life inherit. Then fancies fly away, He'll fear not what men say, He'll labour night and day To be a pilgrim.
Continuing with the theme of poems known by heart, I submit this song from Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Not worthy-to-be memorised so much as impossible, once heard, not to recall line-for-line, I think. Time was, we are often told, that even the least literate household in the English-speaking world contained the King James Bible, Pilgrim's Progress and a set of Shakespeare. I am mildly sceptical; my first acquaintance with Bunyan came from primary schoolteachers reading Louisa May Alcott's Little Women aloud in class, and the New England Transcendentalists were hardly among the least literate of folk. But then my grandparents - Victorians, certainly, by birthdate -- were the first generation of their respective families to be native Anglophones and their bookshelves were more likely to contain in addition to the King James Bible (of course), travelling salesman encyclopedias and the collected William Cowper. I first encountered Pilgrim's Song when I played the organ in Anglican churches in Canada; set to the cheerful Sussex tune Monks Gate, which was among the many folk tunes rescued and collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Percy Dearmer and others in the closing years of the 19th century and popularised by being set to hymn texts in the English Hymnal. Actually, come to think of it, I first heard it at Ottawa Cathedral in the company of a prelate friend; the preacher was Chief Buthelezei and the pilgrimage alluded to was that of the South African people to freedom. Once heard to that tune, Pilgrim's Song is, as I say, unforgettable; I later played the organ in Australian churches and taught in an Australian private school. A substantial proportion of Australians are educated in church-affiliated private schools, and the result is that choosing Pilgrim's Song for a funeral in Australia guarantees a lusty congregational response. Odd that it is so little known among evangelical Protestants, whether liberal (it is unknown in the United Church of Canada) or conservative (equally unknown by American Baptists), when Bunyan was a Strict Baptist who spent years in prison for refusing to conform to the Church of England after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 when the intolerance of the Puritans during the Commonwealth was amply compensated for when the Church of England returned to episcopacy. Pity; it makes for a wonderfully hearty and vigorous funeral when the congregation knows it and therefore sings it heartily. And when the obligatory scripture readings are supplemented by "Fear no more the heat o' the sun" from Shakespeare's "Cymbeline" and maybe Auden's "Stop all the clocks" (though, alas, the movie "Four Weddings and a Funeral" has somewhat reduced its novelty) well,.. There is a rather anemic "modernised" version in some American hymnals; it is deservedly obscure. Who could possibly be moved by this dross in comparison with lions, giants, hobgoblins and foul fiends? He who would valiant be 'gainst all disaster, Let him in constancy follow the Master. There's no discouragement shall make him once relent His first avowed intent to be a pilgrim. Who so beset him round with dismal stories Do but themselves confound-his strength the more is. No foes shall stay his might; though he with giants fight, He will make good his right to be a pilgrim. Since, Lord, Thou dost defend us with Thy Spirit, We know we at the end, shall life inherit. Then fancies flee away! I'll fear not what men say, I'll labour night and day to be a pilgrim. Mac Robb Brisbane, Australia