General William Booth Enters Into Heaven

(1926)

General William Booth was the founder of the Salvation Army. His death in 1912 inspired poet Vachel Lindsay to write a long and colorful depiction of what would happen when the Commander was promoted to Glory. Both Charles Ives and Sidney Homer set Lindsay’s poem, with its constant call “Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?”

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The audio recording, provided in the audio player to the right, features Thomas Hampson, baritone, and Craig Rutenberg, piano. This song was recorded for Instant Encore as part of American Public Media's Performance Today series, presented by Classical Minnesota Public Radio. To listen, please click on the track name itself. You can download a recording of this entire recital for free through the Instant Encore website with the download code: THSOA2009.

Unlike Ives, Homer uses the entire text by Lindsay. He matches his cadences more closely to the poet's reading style, as a tape of Lindsay's declaiming of the poem reveals, and permits his ballad to unfold with a naturalness of narration that makes storytelling and heartstring-tugging the song's primary aims.


General William Booth Enters Into Heaven
by Vachel Lindsay


Booth led boldly with his big bass drum
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)
The Saints smiled gravely and they said, "He's come."
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)


Walking lepers followed rank on rank,
Lurching bravos from the ditches dank
Drabs from the alleyways, drug fiends pale
Minds still passion ridden, soul flowers frail:
Vermin eaten saints with moldy breath,
Unwashed legions with the ways of Death
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)


Ev'ry slum had sent its half a score
The round world over (Booth had groaned for more).
Ev'ry banner that the wide world flies
Bloomed with glory and transcendent dyes,
Big voiced lasses made their banjoes bang,
Tranced, fanatical they shrieked and sang;
"Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?"


Hallelujah! It was queer to see
Bull necked convicts with that land make free.
Loons with trumpets blown a blare, blare, blare,
On, on, upward thro' the golden air!
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)


Booth died blind and still by Faith he trod,
Eyes still dazzled by the ways of God!
Booth led boldly and he look'd the chief
Eagle countenance in sharp relief,
Beard a-flying, air of high command
Unabated in that holy land.


Jesus came from out the court house door,
Stretched his hands above the passing poor.
Booth saw not, but led his queer ones there
Round and round the mighty courthouse square.
Yet! in an instant all that blear review
Marched on spotless, clad in raiment new.


The lame were straightened, withered limbs uncurled,
And blind eyes opened on a new, sweet world.
Drabs and vixens in a flash made whole!
Gone was the weasel-head, the snout, the jowl
Sages and sibyls now, and athletes clean,
Rulers of empires and of forests green!
The hosts were sandall'd and their wings were fire!
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)


But their noise play'd havoc with the angel choir,
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)
Oh shout Salvation! It was good to see
Kings and Princes by the Lamb set free.
The banjos rattled and the tambourines
Jing-jing-jingl'd in the hands of Queens.


And when Booth halted by the curb for prayer
He saw his Master thro' the flag fill'd air.
Christ came gently with a robe and crown
For Booth the soldier, while the throng knelt down.
He saw King Jesus; they were face to face,
And he knelt a-weeping in that holy place.
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?


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