Ring Out Wild Bells

December 31, 2009 | 16 comments
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Church BellsFollowing up on Kaimi’s post concerning “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” I thought we ought to take the opportunity to read over the full text of Lord Tennyson’s “Ring Out Wild Bells,” another frequently sung hymn whose lines concerning injustice, social inequity, political divisiveness, and faith we never sing!

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

16 Responses to Ring Out Wild Bells

  1. Ardis Parshall on December 31, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    Thanks — I like it.

  2. Kaimi on December 31, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    Thanks for this, James. I love these verses, this section is one of the beautiful portions of Tennyson’s In Memoriam. I especially like the lines:

    Ring out the thousand wars of old,
    Ring in the thousand years of peace.

  3. Ardis Parshall on December 31, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    The music we sing this to is so melancholy, but the words, including the words to unfamiliar verses that you present here, are really quite hopeful, aren’t they?

    Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
    For those that here we see no more

    A lot of the lines seem to be written directly to me, this one especially.

    Thanks, James.

  4. Ahna on December 31, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    I love this hymn and do wish we’d sing more verses, or at the very least include them in the hymnbook.

    Ardis, the melancholy music changes to the major key on the last word, purposely ending with hope. That Easter Morn does the same thing.

  5. Chad too on December 31, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    …and it’s the tenors that get the hopeful note. As It Should Be.

  6. Marcus on December 31, 2009 at 11:35 pm

    Needn’t be absolutely melancholy … as others have pointed out, the final ending, etc…. but the usual sluggish tempo makes it so. I like it to MOVE along. Ring out the funerary tempo that plagues this piece from ward to ward, across the land! Ring in the new, quick pace… and do it quick, or they’ll likely drop this splendid piece from the next hymnal!

  7. nita on January 1, 2010 at 1:00 am

    Thanks for this post as it made me look at the words. Usually it seems my wards sing it every year, perhaps it isn’t so, but is seems that way. This year our Christmas service was held 12/27 as we had a snow day on the 19th, so we didn’t sing this hymn.

    No offense but up until now, I haven’t enjoyed this song, I think due to the reasons Marcus stated.

    However I now appreciate the words/sentiments. To me it would be a great idea if the song could be matched with a different tune.

  8. Hans on January 1, 2010 at 7:01 am

    Crawford Gates, composer of “Promised Valley”, wrote the music specifically to Tennyson’s poem in 1944. It appeared in the 1948 LDS Hymnal #279 in the Choir section in the key of E minor and each verse ended with an E Major chord (called a “Picardy third”, when the interval of a third from the root is raised a half-step, from minor to major). The instruction given “With fervor” and the metronome marking was dotted quarter note = 72 (72 beats per minute, two beats per measure) which is a healthy tempo.

    Gate’s hymn appeared again in the 1985 Hymnbook, this time as #215, this time transposed down to D minor, and the D major chord is not sung until the end of the third verse. Again the instruction is given “Fervently” but for some reason the Salt Lake editors slowed the thing down(!) with the new metronome marking of dotted quarter note = 48-60(!) What inspired these morons to slow down the piece is beyond me!

    IMHO, the tune is fine but it needs to be taken at Gate’s original tempo.

  9. Dennis on January 1, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    Heaven forbid we sing any melancholy tunes in church!

  10. James Olsen on January 1, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    Am I the only one who likes the melancholy tune? I even like it slow, though the 72 beat would be great too. The poem is, after all, an elegy, written for Tennyson’s soon-to-be brother-in-law (Arthur Hallam) who died tragically at 22 of a sudden brain hemorrhage. Hallam was also an aspiring poet in the same vein as Tennyson. I think the mixture of melancholy and hope in the music is brilliant, very fitting an elegy that acknowledges the wretched while calling for the divine.

  11. Dennis on January 1, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    James, I love the tune (even slow). The song would not be the same without it. It is fitting for an end of the year song, the end of the year representing oldness, slowness, coldness, etc. The tune inspires a sense of contemplation about the year that has passed.

  12. Marcus on January 1, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    Nothing wrong with a hint of melancholy in our hymnody. Not at all. The problem with Ring Out, in my experience, comes when the whole thing turns into a veritable marche funebre! … a dirge! There seems to be some collective sense, in recent years, that speed in our hymns is irreverent. If the Saints don’t sing as fervently as in times past, it’s no doubt due to the unsingability of a hymnody to which the culture is applying the brakes. Across the board things have been slower than in my childhood. I’m talking hymns … not my own slower self! (Thanks, Hans, for the background on the original tempo. That confirms what I have suspected!)

  13. document on January 2, 2010 at 11:08 am

    As a ward organist for the last 6 years, we played it once, and that was only when we didn’t have a ward music coordinator or chorister so I was picking the hymns. That was the first time I’ve ever heard it sung in a sacrament meeting.

  14. Dennis on January 2, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    Marcus,

    I wonder how much the slower hymns has to do as much with mediocre organ performance skills as anything. Unfortunately, it’s almost always the organist (not the chorister or the congregation) who sets the tempo.

  15. Chad Too on January 2, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    I just ran it through the Church’s interactive music player and cranked the tempo up to 72, and I have to agree I like it better. I played with the transposition a bit too and find I like it in F#minor best.

  16. Marcus on January 3, 2010 at 11:35 am

    Dennis … good point!