Adapting Longfellow’s “Three Kings” with The Golden Carol

Recording of “The Three Kings” poem of Longfellow sung to
“The Golden Carol” music of Stainer. Piano & voice. 6 minutes long.
Article sections on culture restoration and poetics.

About this song The Tune The Poem Singers Enemies Problems ©2020
PAu 4-009-438

A folk-music piece with a small-classical legacy.
A Rhythmically Uncertain Poem is Brought Vividly to Life in Song.

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1) Three Kings came riding from far away,
Melchior and Gaspar and Baltasar;
Three Wise Men out of the East were they,
And they travelled by night and they slept by day,
For their guide was a beautiful, wonderful star.
2) The star was so beautiful, large and clear,
That all the other stars of the sky
Became a white mist in the atmosphere,
And by this they knew that the coming was near
Of the Prince foretold in the prophecy.
3) Three caskets of they bore on their saddle-bows,
Three caskets of gold with golden keys;
Their robes were of crimson silk with rows
Of bells, pomegranates and furbelows,
Their turbans like blossoming almond-trees.
4) And so the Three Kings rode into the West,
Through the dusk of the night, over hill & dell,
& sometimes they nodded with beard on breast,
And sometimes talked, as they paused to rest,
With the people they met at some wayside well.
5) “Of the child that is born,” said Baltasar,
“Good people, I pray you, tell us the news;
For we in the East have seen his star,
And have ridden fast, and have ridden far,
To find and worship the King of the Jews.”
6) And the people answered, “You ask in vain;
We know of no King but Herod the Great!”
They thought the Wise Men were men insane,
As they spurred their horses across the plain,
Like riders in haste, who cannot wait.
7) And when they came to Jerusalem,
Herod the Great, who had heard this thing,
Sent for the Wise Men and questioned them;
And said, “Go down unto Bethlehem,
And bring me tidings of this new king.”
8) So they rode away; and the star stood still,
The only one in the grey of morn;
Yes, it stopped—it stood still of its own free will,
Right over Bethlehem on the hill,
The city of David, where Christ was born.
9) And the Three Kings rode through the gate and the guard,
Through the silent street, till their horses turned
And neighed as they entered the great inn-yard;
But the windows were closed, and the doors were barred,
And only a light in the stable burned.
10) And cradled there in the scented hay,
In the air made sweet by the breath of kine,
The little child in the manger lay,
The child, that would be king one day
Of a kingdom not human, but divine.
11) His mother Mary of Nazareth
Sat watching beside his place of rest,
Watching the even flow of his breath,
For the joy of life and the terror of death
Were mingled together in her breast.
12) They laid their offerings at his feet:
The gold was their tribute to a King,
The frankincense, with its odor sweet,
Was for the Priest, the Paraclete,
The myrrh for the body’s burying.
13) And the mother wondered and bowed her head,
And sat as still as a statue of stone,
Her heart was troubled yet comforted,
Remembering what the Angel had said
Of an endless reign and of David’s throne.
14) Then the Kings rode out of the city gate,
With a clatter of hoofs in proud array;
But they went not back to Herod the Great,
For they knew his malice and feared his hate,
And returned to their homes by another way.

Some phrases in this article are highlighted in a yellow color, intended to have tool-tips perceivable when using a computer mouse to hover. But the tool-tips are unable to be be seen without a using a mouse cursor to hover, as on a phone or tablet without the control of a cursor.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote The Three Kings poem in 1877. Sir John Stainer arranged a late medieval melody used with it here for the first time, as The Golden Carol of Melchior, Casper and Balthazar. Longfellow’s poem has not previously been arranged with this overall melody, nor, apparently, previously with any other tune. Longfellow’s “Three Kings” does rhyme but otherwise it is in rhythmic “free-verse”—it does not have a clear “beat”. This arrangement of the poem into music is in the rhythmic short-long × 4 iambic tetrameter. The poem seems long to a contemporary audience, but comes in only at a little more than 6 minutes.

This setting takes in hand a rhythmically ambiguous text, directing it into a regular rhythmic schema, against the spoken poem’s seeming, native tendency to be indistinct, this arrangement using an easily recognized rhythmic interpretation of the poetic text that is original and unique to this adaptation.

Free-rhythm recitation of The Three Kings poem
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Ordinary, non-musical renditions of the poem, as in the sound sample above here (and with other renditions linked to below), seem not to have resolved the contemporary poetry reader’s tendency to muddy what we would wish to hear as a strongly rhythmic poetic text with a definite, assured pulse, or at least some vocal emphasis in the absence of regularly-repeating rhythm to suggest that it is poetry rather than prose. This song arrangement’s rhythmic interpretation keeps to an established, strong pulse. But there has to be a compromise, at the cost of using highly specific, individually unique rhythmic values varying greatly in detail from beat to beat for virtually every word of the poem, to force the piece to keep to its regular metric harness. Every single syllable of each word in the song has to be given a carefully chosen rhythmic “note-length” (quarter, eighth, sixteenth or place-keeper rest), to keep the overall song flowing in the chosen metric schema.

These limitations result in spooling the sheet-music out to a length of seven pages with two verses on each, because the full, precise rhythmic details can’t be reduced to a compact format. (Multiple lines of lyrics can’t be folded back under single lines of music notes, as can be done with rhythmically simpler songs, each text line has to have its own, dedicated note line.) The rhythmic values of each line have to be individually explicated in detail for a singer to execute them as intended for this adaptation.

“I was looking at one of those American classics that most of us studied in high school, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” How wonderful this is–a meter that captures a horse’s gallop. Longfellow was a good writer, telling a great story in a magical way, and he pulled this off. I bet most people assume it’s a standard poetic form of some kind. However, when I looked at it closely and counted syllables, I realized Longfellow mixed up his lines and endlessly created variations on his metrical scheme. A lesser talent, following the same rules more tightly, might make us bonkers by the 20th line. Longfellow managed to achieve a kind of beautiful roughness that is a metaphor for this country.” The ‘Rules’ of Poetry—Says Who?The broad result has “a hobby-horse beat”, not at “a gallop”, or even “a canter”, but at an easy, loping tempo. It is hoped that the final result makes the background difficulties sound easy. (If the visitor has a WordPress account, logging in will cause the advertisements to disappear.)

Stretched Metre of an Antique Song

The Longfellow text of The Three Kings has the advantage that it strongly rhymes; the first, third and fourth lines of each stanza rhyme; the second and fifth lines rhyme.

However, the Longfellow text presents considerable difficulties in the rhythmic interpretation, to achieve the ideal of “rhyming rhythm”, as it were, because the number of syllables and the rhythmic relationships internal to each line container, change too much from line to line to easily suggest a strong, unifying overall sense of what the poem’s rhythmic schema should be. This becomes instantly apparent in the other, existing performances in the videos, below.

It is notably difficult to enunciate the poem with a strong rhythmic pulse even in only a loosely organized schema; it’s hard to “catch the beat” of the poem as the reader initially encounters it, there’s too much uncertainty in what rhythm you ought to use to recite it. If you begin to think that you have caught the beat on one line, you will tend to be thrown off by a completely different set of implicit rhythmic relationships on the next line; as the singer reposes on the already established rhythmic fabric of the piece, the challenge is in envisioning how one will enunciate the next phrases immediately upcoming within that same texture. (In verse 3, line 4, the phrase Of bells and pomegranates and furbelows is completely un-metrical in terms of the rest of the poem.) And as a platform for the musical intonation of song, as we recognize the term, not in the poetic sense of “singing a poem”, but in our common sense of vocally and instrumentally intoned music, the proposition becomes unworkable, to the extent of making impossible, the project of setting the poem as a song, without some fundamental re-setting of the rhythmic schema.

Summary Syllable Measurements Per Stanza of Longfellow’s The Three Kings Poem
For musical purposes, a Metric Index must repeat the same pattern across all stanzas.
This poem has no repeating pattern from which to “catch” the beat.
Details of the Measurements

It is reasonable to posit that in Longfellow’s time, there was a sufficiently high culture of poetry then-current among his contemporaries, that the solution to realizing a good rhythmic interpretation of this poem would present no special challenge to the people then. They would have just known “how to do it,” in extemporaneous enunciation, using the ordinary speech rhythms of their daily language, more ornately poetic than our efficiency-streamlined time is capable of, sprouting spontaneously out of their deep cultural loam, their commonplace poetic culture transmitted from person to person; whereas a child of this degraded age working in isolation has to make a more-nearly artificial study of it.

…classes selling themselves into slavery and marching out once more into liberty… – G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting ManPeople in that time held close to a vital oral culture. But in our false-virtual, alias age, in which we surrender so much exertion and even thinking to synthetic proxies, we are suffering a nearly terminal cultural deficit, as we become ever more dependent on artificial algorithms that emulate nearly to the point of extinction, our once-original activity and threaten to dispense entirely with our own involvement, as they enslave us into device-dependent thralldom. (The tendency conveging with transhumanism is for the human sensitivity to music to devolve down to a mere response layer in a self-generating computer program.) We approach that precipice lacking ordinary commonsense with which to function adequately in an authentic cultural environment.

This deficit is borne out in the available, contemporary poetry readings of The Three Kings given below as examples. The difficult-to-accomplish interpretive steps outlined in this explanation would have been easy merely to sing extemporaneously, to a people who practiced the art of poetic enunciation as part of their daily lives, as naturally as breathing.

Existing, contemporary poetic renditions of The Three Kings highlight our dilemma. The readers in the videos linked to below, use a generally arrhythmic approach as if they had never previously heard the recitation of strongly rhythmic poetry, like a people whose perception of color has been suppressed. This makes it quite difficult for the adapter of this poetry to music to find a traditional rendering, example style for the poem. (Click the links of the videos, below, to hear readings of the poem that spotlight this problem.)

The Several Videos of Readings of Longfellow’s “The Three Kings”
Available at the time of Writing
THE THREE KINGS by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow — the classic Christmas poem The Three Kings by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Three Kings, Christmas Poem. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Advent 2014 – 7 – The Three Kings (Longfellow)

My solution to the problem is to somewhat artificially impose a unifying pulse, “a dancing backbone”, against the relatively un-metered verbal rhythm of the original, poetic text, musically in the 6/8 meter of the Golden Carol, with various rhythmic combinations to reinforce 4 strongly stressed syllables per line. The most useful metaphor for the process, is the way first generation stealth aircraft fly, supported by continual, computer-regulated airfoil attitude adjustments, so-called fly-by-wire, many adjustments per second, of a deliberately un-aerodynamic plane design. The analogous effect is to customize the rhythmic stressed metrical count for each line, to make each fit into its rhythmic envelope to effectively convey the sense of the rhythm at all times. Overcoming the potential, unnatural result is the real art of the arrangement. 

The Golden Carol can be made to fit in well with The Three Kings text, but why is it necessary to go beyond the text of The Golden Carol? There are only two verses of which I am aware. While they are thematic, speaking of the moment of seeing the star and the Infant Savior, they are very terse. I find them rather maudlin, verging without theological or narrative purpose on the morbid. The Three Kings text, which goes through a more complete narration of the story and conveys good catechesis, seems a worthy source of material, to combine with The Golden Carol music.

This blue-bordered area clicks out to a new window with the 7 page vocal & keyboard score. The piano background support in the audio podcast above is sequenced from a single verse’s performance for the purpose of practicing the verses and developing the somewhat improvisatory vocal interpretation. The piano part is more rhythmically streamlined than the vocal part. The detailed the vocal rhythmic interpretation goes through various rhythmic permutations, numerous long, short and double-short (16th note) syllables, interspersed with rests/pauses at various places made appropriate by the flow of the text. That “granular”, “zoomed-in” level of vocal interpretive detail is made explicit in the score, corresponding solely with the vocal track in sound sample above. There is an additional MIDI sound-file podcast of the voice-track combined with the piano background fully detailed as written out in the score.


Fourteen page score

Text of the Longfellow “The Three Kings” poem PDF

Text of the Longfellow “The Three Kings” poem HTML online

I thought of a line that Chesterton might have used–he already commented on Sirius in a different context, , but about the Star’s theme suggested at line’s end, he might have said:

The Three Kings had little to do, for most of the journey, they were really just slouched in their saddles, between the horses and the star. Now, the Star of Bethlehem must been a relative of the Dog Star, running ahead in urgency, then doubling back to the Wise Men, barking “what’s the hold up? Time’s a wasting. Hurry!”, as a faithful dog will do when prompting men to follow it.

Music Source

Keva’s improvisatory arpeggiation in the 2nd verse of her rendering of The Golden Carol influenced my arrangement of the bass line in The Three Kings at the 1st verse lyric word “wonderful”.

Purchase Keva Vaughan-McMorrow’s Classic Holiday Favorites.
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Keva Vaughan-McMorrow, Piano (2013); William Keevers, Voice (2020). This ad-hoc podcast performance is the only sung-performance of The Golden Carol lyrics available at the time of writing.


The Golden Carol of Melchior, Casper and Balthazar was produced by the arranger of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Sir John Stainer. There is only a single significant arrangement of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, except dumbed-down faking arrangements.

I play one verse of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen on piano.
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But almost singular among serious hymns, only Sir John’s arrangement of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is used, in any of scores of different hymnals, it is so finely crafted, that no improvement can be imagined.

Stainer’s arrangement of The Golden Carol is so beloved among pianists, I was hesitant to trifle with it, for fear of committing a travesty. But Longfellow’s The Three Kings poem has too great dissimilarity in musical form from The Golden Carol, requiring cutting out of sections and a melodic bridge to be composed at the place of the first-verse line and they traveled by night and they slept by day for melding of text and music to be successfully performed. It is my hope that I kept to Sir John’s fine tradition. Above is the original arrangement of The Golden Carol, and the provenance of its form adaptation to The Three Kings is graphically demonstrated below.

Form Changes

Turn, turn, my wheel!  Turn round and round, Without a pause, without a sound:   So spins the flying world away! This clay, well mixed with marl and sand, Follows the motion of my hand; For some must follow, and some command, Though all are made of clay! Thus sang the Potter at his task… – Longfellow, Kéramos

Isaiah 45:9-19


Neuroscientists incorrectly describe some drug sockets on the surface of human neurons by the names of alien counterfeits of the true neurotransmitter keys, such as endorphin (indigenous morphine) or cannabinoid (after marijuana). But the human nervous system, each more mysterious than the froth of galaxies, wasn’t designed around those intruding substances, it has undreamt of complexity independent of such analogies, beyond the ergo non Deus est multiverse mythology. Likewise, the current fixation on social media is only a perversion of humanity’s natural craving to be directly, intensely cultural, to actively practice culture, to produce original works of culture from the fountainhead of tradition. The production of this Wedgwood ceramic commemorative of Longfellow’s Keramos poetry, testifies to the people’s serious, active cultural devotion.

Commonplaces of a Lost Culture

Toward a Cultural Archaeology of Our Ancestors’ Unknown Lives

Common people of Longfellow’s time, even those of economically modest background, often with little schooling, naturally aspired to the attainment of a fine culture. (Josef Piper, author of Leisure: The Basis of Culture, might have said, “…especially the poor and ‘uneducated'”–those who’d suffered contraction of their time for propagating their own culture because of industrialization.) The transmogrification of the common person from eminently commonsensical prior to media saturation, to a mere, passive consumer of the mass-media commoditization of canned, popular quasi-cultural “content” with a bias toward the actual lowbrow, is the contemporary legacy of historic, programmed cultural destruction–in common parlance, deliberate “dumbing-down”–extending from the ivory towers down to the normal schools according to a carefully worked-out plan, stage by stage, as shown by the indisputable, documented history of early 20th century educational philosopher Thomas Dewey and his colleague William Kilpatrick.


Ideology From the Ivory Tower Down to the Normal Schools. Intellectuals spin etherial theories about how the little people must live, but don’t pick up the tab. John Dewey destroyed primary 1-6 education between 1920 and 1940, from Columbia Teacher’s College for “trainers of trainers”, to mis-educate generations of teachers at Normal Schools across America, effectively jettisoning of the Western civilization legacy of Good and Great Books from America’s schools across the board.

To restore lost culture, there needs to be the invention of a restorative cultural anthropology that has the effect of “digging out of the ground” cultural commonplaces that were never remarked upon in their time because it never would have occurred to then-contemporaries that those commonplaces were in any way exceptional. (“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?“) This, then, is a kind of “cultural archaeology” to help us navigate our way out of the current cultural miasma.

A vibrant, personal culture animated the 19th century common people who were customers of Longfellow’s poetry. The cultural context of their lives is as remote from our present-day understanding, as are the lives of everyday people who once occupied what are now ancient ruins. Instead of projecting our presumptions onto this poetic work in the absence of sound historical understanding, there needs to be more detailed consideration about the cultural context little understood today of the common people who received this work of poetry more than a century past.


In itself the radio is a wonderful thing, bringing great music and pleasant entertainment into millions of homes. It also precipitated the decay of music made by people themselves, from printed scores, from folk memories passed down over the centuries, and from sheer quirky inventiveness.… [In a decaying mansion whose current inhabitants have no understanding of their forbearers’ once vivid culture]…there is … a … piano and shelves full of [old] sheet music. The strings of the piano have been left untuned for so long their tension has slowly warped the frame meant to hold them, so that now the instrument is irreparable.… Thousands of pages of music, most of it purchased from music stores and music publishers one song at a time—[therefore, each song was learned, sung, laughed at or cried to by numerous singers other than the ghostly pianist]—lie about collecting dust and dead flies. The … women used to play [the music] all the time. No one can [even] read it now. – Anthony Esolen. Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture (pp. 3, 7)

Children who were daily exposed to fine singing quickly themselves became proficient at it in own their turn, in the absence of culturally corrosive social media devices–they had to meet the Muse in the first person. Prior to broadcast media, everyday singing was the default cultural condition, a widespread social habit more ingrained than just a hobby, a full dimension of interpersonal life completely atrophied today. Part-harmonization was then the daily social habit of millions. These actors didn’t need to be specially coached to sing beautifully, because they were just exercising the customary cultural habit, that nearly everyone except the deaf or the tone-deaf practiced, singing impromptu in groups, a vastly expansive music club rather than a concert. The film clip is an accurate, nostalgic echo of the daily experience of the common people, casually repeated in dozens of old films, portraying the disappearing legacy of the once-routine habits of legions of real people who had actively, spontaneously, habitually made quality, casual vocal music as part of their ordinary cultural lives, in the period before the dominance of portable, transistor radios.

ZuZu Practices “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” in the Trailer to “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
(Uncle Billy has lost the loan deposit. The Bank Examiner is coming to find the Savings & Loan is insolvent. Old man Potter will soon foreclose. The town’s people will be at his mercy, no longer able to afford homes of their own. George Bailey is despairing of the whole S. & L. project. Thoughts of suicide are tormenting the family’s dad.) The millions of pianos in America’s homes a century past, weren’t sitting unused collecting dust, neither were they the white-elephant furniture of compulsory music lessons for millions of middle-class trophy kids, pianos were the center of family social life decades before RCA began selling radios. The daughter in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” ZuZu, was working at her piano at a normal level for an 8-year old, at the same time that kids were learning long-division and studying intermediate literature and poetry–beyond the ken of most college undergraduates today. ZuZu’s book of Christmas Carols was for children. But the adult-level piece she was playing, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, would be beyond the ability, or understanding, of most junior college music students.

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Longfellow became moderately wealthy from his poetic career, so that he has been called “America’s first cultural superstar”. He never claimed to be an elite artist. His poetry was not distinctly in the heights, but ventured firmly into the middlebrow.


For the purposes of this discussion, “middlebrow’ may be defined as “the practice of modest-scale culture under the influence of fine-art, high culture”, the practice of fine-arts in miniature.  The strong, active involvement in culture of average people a century past, in this middlebrow context, can be seen by the fact that most people got intense enjoyment from active social singing, something virtually unknown today except in the vicarious voyeurism of viewing the cultural counterfeit of t.v. song contests. In the time prior to radio (1923), there were 100 piano factories in the US. (Now there are perhaps 5, only serving an elite trade.) In the decades prior to the end of World War I, sheet-music sales ran into the millions of copies.Between 1900 and 1909, nearly one hundred songs each sold more than one million copies of sheet music. Very many homes, even the most humble, had a piano, which would typically be played by a fully, musically-literate amateur to have fun with social singers. (Contrast ordinary, full music literacy a century past, with the legions of video-droolers today who never are known to crack a book.)

Popular “Parlor-Music” Pamphlet Books Prior to Radio (1923)

Many homes were stocked with inexpensive sheet music publications, called parlor music, pamphlet-like, soft-cover magazine-format song and piano-score booklets. They were avidly sung to by family members and friends, often with piano accompaniment. (Parlor Music publications were “loss-leaders”, lower-price samples of more detailed sheet music printing that publishers offered for sale. These price-discounted, introductory magazines were subsidized by the dedicated sheet-music they sampled, on the expectation of further sales, especially if a group like a church or school could be expected to buy in quantity, group parts of songs they had learned to love from the parlor music editions.)

To the regular people who were commonly, enthusiastic, casual song-“hobbyists”–though it never would have occurred to them to think of themselves using that term, as they were just having fun–these parlor-music booklets were enough by themselves to provide for a great time. Middlebrow culture wasn’t known to be given out with castor oil in schools.

The casual songbooks were organized into topical groups like, Patriotic; Hymns–often by major classical composers, at the point where highbrow and middlebrow meet, in the home–; Minstrel; Irish & Scottish; German; Italian, Bohemian (Czech) and “Spanish” (both European and New World). This popular, casual, active culture in music had its poetic equivalent, in the audience for Longfellow’s “The Three Kings” poem, published in his collection Keramos and Other Poems.


Loki tricking the blind god Höd into killing Balder.

But Loki was about to attack Himmelreich: During the early 20th century, a plan was slowly developed, at the behest of major industrialists who sought to discourage unruly innovation and independence of commoners. A top-down plan to turn education away from personal enrichment toward Prussian-style uniformity, was ultimately, successfully implemented during the distress of the 1930s, to bring about a cultural revolution, through the vulnerable under-belly of primary education: the well-poisoning of the vital cultural current among the common people, by a disciple of American “pragmatist” philosopher William James, John Dewey. He worked with his colleague William Kilpatrick at Columbia Teacher’s College from about 1910 to about 1940, to revolutionize educational theory, deliberately reducing the quality of educational curricula for conformance with ideological theory, establishing the artificial and false branch of study educationism which was uninformed by actual classroom pedagogy experience,  without practical observation of the real-time effects of this impoverishment on actual teachers and students in classrooms. (Dewey’s experimental Lincoln School proved a resounding failure; and near the end of his life, Dewey acknowledged how mistaken had been his promotion of “whole-word” early primary reading instruction.)

John Senior estimated that the common people would know how to sing about 200 songs, in the period immediately preceding the invention and deployment of radio beginning in 1923. — “When Harmony Was King“.Before the 1930s, when moviegoers were persuaded to outsource their personal culture to Andy Rooney as “Andy Hardy“, ordinary, common people often with little formal, institutional education, commonly only a few grades in school, were nevertheless possessed of a surprisingly high average culture level, based on primary education that looked for its model to the Christian acceptance of the classics of Western civilization. (Enthusiasm for cultural classics is easily acquired by children coming up in a home environment in which family and friends are already reciting the great works, either reading aloud to rapt audiences from popular classics, reciting poetry or everyone singing songs. It doesn’t require acceptance in a graduate program.) The common people’s reception of Longfellow’s poetry occurred within this context.

John Dewey and William Kilpatrick sought to radically deprecate the fine, middlebrow culture of the common people in favor of an artificial egalitarianism of the lowest common denominator…deliberately reducing the quality of the primary school educational curricula.Translator of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Anthony Esolen, makes mention of a Manitoba wheat farmer in the time before the mechanization of agriculture, who would recite daily, from memory, John Milton’s poem Paradise Lost as he performed his manual farm labor–a feat of concentrated memorization, of greater than 10,000 lines, unimaginable to people today whose brains are scrambled by multi-tasking. People of the most modest economic-class would nearly universally, cleave to the best in fine culture. In a book portraying New York of the period 1906-1916, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, children of a desperately poor family suffered stunted growth because of extremely poor nutrition. But after their modest nightly repast, they would customarily read aloud from the Bible and the whole of Shakespeare, repeatedly from cover to cover over the course of a decade.

CS Lewis noted the common sense of the ordinary workers of modest means and firm, primary education:

ThatHideousStrength“Why you fool, it’s the educated reader who CAN be gulled. All our difficulty comes with the others. When did you meet a workman who believes the papers? He takes it for granted that they’re all propaganda and skips the leading articles. He buys his paper for the football results and the little paragraphs about girls falling out of windows and corpses found in Mayfair flats. He is our problem. We have to recondition him. But the educated public, the people who read the high-brow weeklies, don’t need reconditioning. They’re all right already. They’ll believe anything.…Don’t you see that the educated reader can’t stop reading the high-brow weeklies whatever they do? He can’t. He’s been conditioned.” – That Hideous Strength

But the smart elites, self-delusional about the exclusive value of their own narrow, mediocre tehcnical-regimentation “education” with any real culture thoroughly purged out, have no idea that the common people prospering in the back ways have a secret cultural life that evades progressive control.

Por exemplo, some fine folk fiddle players of French-Canadian culture in American Connecticut, came together as a random chance: A young man, Daniel Boucher, was interested in competition-level fiddling. His mother had a roomer, a man who was a trucker. Daniel happened to mention his fiddling hobby to the man. The man had once played fiddle himself. He found his old fiddle in a storage unit, dusted it off, and Daniel Boucher and Friends–a little embarrassed about how good they actually are–as humble, common workmen of a fine folk culture, went off to the Library of Congress to have their vivid culture, hidden from the elites along the margins, recorded for posterity, making continual mention of various family, cultural traditions.

Very recently, anyone even mildly educated would respect learning, education, and our great store of literature. Of course, we all know that when this happy state was with us, people would pretend to read, would pretend respect for learning. But it is on record that working men and women longed for books, and this is evidenced by the founding of working men’s libraries and institutes, the colleges of the 18th and 19th centuries. Reading, books, used to be part of a general education. Older people, talking to young ones, must understand just how much of an education reading was, because the young ones know so much less. And if children cannot read, it is because they have not read. Doris Lessing – Nobel Lecture “On not winning the Nobel Prize” December 7, 2007The Dewey treatment to denature and make pablum of our once-vigorous, deep-rooted culture, is fundamentally socialist in the same sense of “NewSpeak” in 1984. Tenacious adherence to our traditions makes our culture more broadly based in time, able to benefit from experience greater than just that of our contemporaries. But those most prone to Dewey’s anti-intellectual conditioning are cut off from the totality of the past. Because the common people’s now-disappeared culture was centered in the leisure phase of their everyday lives, it’s worthwhile to consider the normal pattern of cultural traditions in young people’s more-prosaic work lives, the focus of Dewey’s predecessor in mass social conditioning, “scientific manager” Frederick Winslow Taylor: Prior to industrialization, it was customary for young people to take an at-home apprenticeship in their parents’ own vocations, learning the tradition of work in the act of doing it, with none of the rigid, age-peer segregation of the period of factory regimentation in education and first work experience, sealed-off in a ghetto with other isolated young people in search of themselves, unable to help one-another in their quest. Prior to Taylor and Dewey, there wasn’t the alienation that young people cut off from their family and social traditions, universally face today. They knew who they were from intimate, everyday experience.
This is seen in the figure of Smith of Wootton Major: As a 12-year-old, Smith had eaten a piece of a ceremonial cake. Others of his contemporaries, received a gold coin or a locket in their pieces of cake, but Smith accidentally ate a fairie charm, which caused him to go wandering alone in strange lands unknown to others. But the most interesting thing about about the story was the ordinary Smith himself, as known to his peers, not his foreign adventures, rather, it was the Smith of the smithy who was of primary significance: He was an authentic artisan, who forged extremely useful implements which were also very beautiful, verging on art. (As a young child, California state textbooks informed me that the chief sin of the Cottage Industries was that they were inefficient.) The Dewey treatment was to take away that authentic cultural basis, leaving poor factory workers with nothing.

A Yankee farmer kept a diary of his farm work between about 1775-1795. A researcher analyzing the cumulative entries of that historic, primary-source document, discerned that the farmer was operating at such a high skill level, in comparison with the skill atrophy of today’s legions of drone workers, that he could have assumed any of 200 separate craft professions: when he was repairing his wagon, he was a wheelwright; when he was repairing or building a barrel, he was a cooper.


EMP over Omaha

As gigantic, soulless agri-biz displaces generations of farm families across vast swaths of North America, a thought experiment is in order: what if there were truth to alarmist predictions of computer Armageddon from a simple electromagnetic pulse bomb detonated in the stratosphere over Omaha? The leaders in the recovery of civilization would be the farmers, who must maintain machine shops on their farms because they can’t stop harvesting to drive hundreds of miles to get a replacement for a broken John Deere part. Graduates of specialized colleges & universities would be no better off than the urban poor. Such a scenario shows the concrete reality of programmed culture destruction, facilitated by John Dewey, by the post-WWII GI Bill, and the New Left decimation of higher education by Herbert Marcuse and others of the Frankfurt School.


The Fabian Society – A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

John Dewey was an original signatory to the Secular Humanist Manifesto who sought to propagate socialism in an America that was too cultured and prosperous to accept it. (“Making the West stink” against prosperity and culture would be the program of the Frankfurt School and Herbert Marcuse’s New Left, to fabulous success among the remnant ruins of culture in the halls of academia.) In the absence of the belief in God which is the common legacy of 99% of humans who ever lived—”When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything.”—denizens of the elite pseudo-intellectual layer of which Dewey was a member, sought to divert the traditional primary educational enterprise to effect permanent revolution through the classroom, to radically deprecate the fine, middlebrow culture of the common people in favor of an artificial egalitarianism of the lowest common denominator, to culturally homogenize the common people, to render them more easily governable, able to be regulated in the intimate details of their lives by their supposed, social superiors from the intelligentsia.

In the original, medieval universities, the principal method of instruction consisted of students completely memorizing the whole of texts, to the last word, to continually reiterate the lessons to themselves, verbally aloud, to “ruminate” the lesson contents, chewing over them like a cow chewing its cud.
This goal of cultural deconstruction was successfully accomplished by eliminating traditional primary school orientation toward better literature, by ridiculing the discipline of rote memorization–Repetitio est mater studiorum. Imagine an art school in which students were forbidden to execute imitations of great masters but only allowed to continually frustrate their hardwired culture-craving trying to reinvent the wheel from scratch, in the complete absence of tradition; or a Renaissance craft guild in which apprentices were forbidden to imitate the style of their Masters.

By the time “Why Johnny Can’t Read” (1955) brought the destructive effects of whole-word reading instruction to public attention, classroom teachers had themselves been denied exposure to good and great literature. They couldn’t teach culture they themselves had never received.The ivory-tower educationist theory of Dewey and Kilpatrick, sought to disrupt the basis of literacy for the common people, estimated to have approached 90% saturation between the Revolutionary Period and World War I, by interrupting training in traditional, decodable phonics-based early literacy instruction in favor of a list of 250 fundamental words which must be memorized as pictograms, called whole-word reading–“I don’t remember that” is the common refrain among children unable to decode phonics upon encountering a new word

And the contemporary, manufactured crisis in common-core mathematics, continues to be propagated against the common people, by moving away from structured training in the virtually complete, long-established curriculum of mathematics already 99% worked out between the time of Archimedes and the 19th century German mathematical genius Gauss, so that students must be left to their own devices to “discover” math in a “child-centered” educational context.


Aesop’s Fables: The Dog, The Ox and The Stable: The dog cannot enjoy eating the hay, but he can deny that pleasure to the ox. John Dewey and William Kilpatrick both received the classically-based, standard liberal arts education, but they were apparently unable to accept the bounty they had received, so they could at least deny its benefits to others.

In the time before the 1930s, when primary-school curricula in the works of middlebrow artists like Longfellow, and the 1,000 works of good literature were eclipsed by the “Dick and Jane” readers–Oh, Father. Oh, Mother. See Jane play.–Longfellow’s fans of every age group–irrespective of the artificial age-segregation of Dewey’s factory-worker spawning machines–would have commonly, directly recited his poetry aloud in live readings. People didn’t passively consume Longfellow’s work as spectators, they didn’t sit alone in their rooms silently reading the poems, they actively incorporated them into their own highly social culture, making them truly their own, practicing poetry in the persuasive art of elocution, to enunciate the poetic rhythms as if they themselves had improvised them–consider the distinction between the vast majority of musicians who individually perform improvisatory variations of the music from the tiny minority of music composers who originally birth it in a kernel, conceptual but not completely unpacked form–in the same age-old pattern as was practiced in the educational curricula of many, many cultures widely separated in geography and by era, structured around fine-art, traditional poetry, from the time of the epic, Homeric poems–the commercial culture economy of 19th century America notwithstanding.

Lyric Interpretation of the Poetic Text

Poetry appears to be breaking down into the Prosaic, in the age of Pragmatic Efficiency

People today with a peripheral, disposable, temporary interest in poetry, don’t practice poetry daily as an integral part of their lives, as did the serious amateurs who were common among people a century past. (This, then is to assert that those old timers’ dedicated, active culture-practice, contrasted radically with what should be properly termed, the cultural dilettantism of  today’s mass-culture consumers.)

People today don’t get to hear poetry recited daily by family or friends. They aren’t part of a broad, fundamentally poetic culture, as Longfellow’s fans actually were. How, then, can our contemporaries be expected to know how to properly recite poetry, a fine art which requires learning and practice?

Today’s mass-culture consumers don’t seem very capable of interpreting the poetic text because their whole culture has been out of practice,  irrevocably separated by a breach between generations passed out of memory, past the point of atrophy.

…we are vaguely bored and annoyed–all that de-de-dum, de-de-dum… The ‘Rules’ of Poetry—Says Who?
There is a point-of-view critical of this site’s rhythmic interpretation of the Longfellow “Three Kings” poetry text into song lyrics, that the emphasis on rhythmic intricacy is excessive. (The rhythmic values in question are made plain in the MIDI sound sample, above, outputted directly from the explicit score.) I had to make a dedicated study of the issue, first listening to the available videos live enunciating the poem, before attempting to reconcile the competing poetic and musical demands.


An arrhythmic interpretation free of strong cadence is common to the style of contemporary poetic enunciation.I found that the readings corresponded to my, perhaps biased, expectation that people today in our culturally degraded condition, in our time that is saturated with passive consumption of culture as a commodity, in the absence of an active culture of everyday, personal interpretation of poetry and music, would suffer deficiencies in the execution of a traditional poetic work. My finding is that an arrhythmic interpretation free of strong cadence is common to the style of contemporary poetic enunciation. But in so doing, their reciting, and our listening, miss out on the greater part of the poetic experience.

In other words, I rendered the printed text into strongly metric song lyrics, which my average contemporaries, hypnotized by the flashing of their electronic media, are unable to hear as strongly cadenced: they can’t tap to it, stomp to it, dance to it through the solar plexus, as their ancestors would have a century past as beneficiaries of the person to person, direct transmission of culture.

I am struck by an example of conscious arrhythmia, soldiers taught against the constant cadential training of their perpetual marching practice, upon embarking onto a bridge, not to march, but to walk without rhythm because of the danger that potential sympathetic vibration from a marching mass of men could cause a bridge collapse.

I received comparable indoctrination in despite of fundamental human nature, upon being introduced to the panacea novelty of speed reading in the third grade. Students were then forbidden to form words with their mouths as they read, as “ignorant sub-vocalization”, according to then-prevalent, educationist fad-theory, requiring suppression of mere throat motions in sympathy with reading. But I have deliberately trained myself in the opposite, in a contemporary initiative in elocution by The Read Aloud Handbook. (I couldn’t have used speed-reading to spool out this song.) I consciously read aloud to myself to increase in-depth reflection during study–having to vocalize study text as if I were giving a lecture, similar to the discipline of piano keyboard sight-reading.

In The Gutenberg Galaxy, Marshall McLuhan reported on a study of early European universities, in which the principle method of instruction consisted of students writing out the whole dictation of oral lectures, or copying existing manuscripts in scriptoria, copy rooms. Students were not only to memorize these texts, to the last word, but they were instructed to continually reiterate the lessons  to themselves, verbally aloud. Then, they were to dispute their understanding of the texts and lectures in a logical gymnasium, an intellectual rough-house, with the expectation that, among the most dedicated, some new extension of knowledge might result. In an analogy that bears upon the nickname of Thomas Aquinas, The Dumb Ox: Students were to “ruminate” the lesson contents, chewing over them like a cow chewing its cud. (Our time can’t even understand the implication that St. Thomas was “dumbfounded” by what God was revealing to his mind, in spite of the customary, oral disputation of the lessons.)

I sought out “earliest sound recordings of poetry”, to attempt to answer the question, “was poetry in the pre-electronic period enunciated arrhythmically, or with a significant sense of cadence?” In the example of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s enunciation of his own poem The Charge of the Light Brigade, I made a special recording, highlighting the lyrics as the poet read, to try to discern especially his method of rhythmic interpretation. I think that my particular rhythmic articulation of Longfellow’s The Three Kings is supported by this example of the enunciation of poetry from a time when poet/authors and everyday singers had much broader experience with live performance than passive culture-consumers, popular-culture pâté de foie gras, do today.

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.
Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wondered.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right through the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre stroke
Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell.
They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

Click the Button to Hear the Song, or Play the Poem in a New Window

The effect of Tennyson’s reading seems to me to be “mono-tonal melody”, for lack of a better term, with its own free-intonation but not as restricted by some artificial uniformity of melodic rhythm. This is in consideration of the fact that there was a time in Western culture, perhaps ideally symbolized by the age of improvisatory troubadours, meistersingers, when there was no significant divergence between “poetry” and “music”.


T.S. Eliot’s reading of his unrhymed and arrhythmic Journey of the Magi seems still to show the use of intonation to imply cadence, an attribute that doesn’t seem to fit so neatly into some particular distinction between rhythm and melody. The issue, how our unpoetic contemporaries are supposed to observe the poet’s sensibilities, remains uresolved.

Click the Button to Hear the Song, or Play the Song in a New Window

History From Poetry to Music

In the founding age of Western European culture, of noble poets and idealistic, chivalric dedication to Ladies, poetry was strongly, not casually, improvisatory according to the profound stream of highly developed tradition. Coherent poems might be written down, as the scribe of the Epic Homeric poetry is thought to have transcribed the traditional improvisation of the Iliad over a course of days. Intensely melismatic poetry might be transcribed, but early on there was no attempt to commit the total content of the intoned word onto paper. (A practicing cultural anthropologist of music, an ethnomusicologist, remarked on once spending hours trying in vain to commit a short segment of a fine, authentic folk melody to paper. The notation was incapable of capturing the voice’s true nuances.) Indeed, the adoption of comprehensive notation would dramatically alter the poetry or music so transcribed; “pinning the butterfly” to the lattice of plainchant notation would result in the eventual loss of the delicate intricacies of melismatic intonation.

An example highlighting the historical point of this split between the closely allied art-forms of music and poetry, clearly evident by the time that bar-lines were first introduced in sheet music of the Renaissance, is in Anthony Holborne’s Muy Linda (c. 1597), which lacks any bar-lines (see the sheet music score below the video), and therefore, is part of a more rhythmically free, greater aeon of music than the, perhaps, late-Renaissance time when music began to be rhythmically homogenized by the application of conventional bar lines and time signatures. The highly syncopated cross rhythms, which today’s brains have trouble even beginning to comprehend, might only really be properly heard by sitting in the middle of the musical group. This divergence became fully evident when there occurred, the degradation into the parallel-rhythmic “block-chords” of homophony from the old, rhythmically dynamic polyphony, from before the development of triadic harmony.

Muy Linda

Free rhythm absent bar-lines and time signatures in Anthony Holborne’s Muy Linda. (The “3” in place of the time signature only signifies triple-meter, it doesn’t propose to limit the number of musical syllables in the phrase paradigm. Prior to the fencing off of notes, it is the musical analogue of the medieval, manorial system of traditional sharing with all classes of lands of various quality grades, prior to the agricultural revolution quick to be exploited by moneyed elites of enclosure with fences, ostensibly to “keep farm animals contained”.)

Rhythmic poetry from before the arrhythmic post-modern period is free of perceptive constraints our degraded time may regard as insurmountable. Tennyson’s poetic rhythm features a notable cadential pulse but doesn’t suffer from the constraints of sheet-music bar lines which are the unavoidable concomitant of other thrusts of rhythmic development of Western music in the common-practice period 1450-1950.

Chaucer-Knights-TalePoems and songs discussed in this article show attributes of various combinations of rhythmic intricacy or arrhythmia. Some have strong rhythmic stress in a metrically irregular arrangement. A regular metric schema with strong rhyming or alliteration is found in The Knights’ Tale of Geoffrey Chaucher–with contemporary pronunciation, yet still highly metrical. That is the standard I aspire to emulate in this arrangement. The singer and listener must be the judge of the effectiveness of this effort.

The Knight’s Tale, Part 1

The Knight’s Tale, Part 2

It was in consideration of these distinctions, with the primary rule that the text must dominate the music, and never vice-versa, that I sought to interpolate various applications of rhythmic modal instances of rests, standard quarter-&-eighth note couplets, and sixteenth-notes insertions, between the poetic and musical worlds.

Though Longfellow’s The Three Kings poem rhymes according to a regular pattern, I found it hard to discern how to interpret it according to a regular metrical, rhythmic scheme without verging into the explicitly musical sphere.  So, perhaps this interpretation needs to be declared a song rather than an intoned poem.

This arrangement has been made with an effort to maintain fidelity to as much of the original, poetic rhythm as possible, while giving a place to the conventional sense of musical text rhythm. The listener may fully enjoy the effect without taking too much notice of the compromise.

It is said that, from 250 years ago into the past, people were incapable of speaking prosaically, at all, it was natural for their culture to at least aspire to rhyme, and certainly their speech was highly rhythmic by unconscious convention. (Having sampled Martin Luther’s original Ein Feste Burg, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, it seems in the Renaissance, even dour churchgoers couldn’t conceive of music that didn’t dance.)

G.K. Chesterton on World Civilizations and World Religions from The Everlasting Man

The philosophers had also heard [one far-off cry in an unknown tongue upon the heaving wilderness of the mountains]. It is still a strange story, though an old one, how they came out of orient lands, crowned with the majesty of kings and clothed with something of the mystery of magicians. That truth that is tradition has wisely remembered them almost as unknown quantities, as mysterious as their mysterious and melodious names; Melchior, Caspar, Balthazar. But there came with them all that world of wisdom that had watched the stars in Chaldea and the sun in Persia; and we shall not be wrong if we see in them the same curiosity that moves all the sages. They would stand for the same human ideal if their names had really been Confucius or Pythagoras or Plato. They were those who sought not tales but the truth of things; and since their thirst for truth was itself a thirst for God, they also have had their reward. But even in order to understand that reward, we must understand that for philosophy as much as mythology, that reward was the completion of the incomplete.

Such learned men would doubtless have come, as these learned men did come, to find themselves confirmed in much that was true in their own traditions and right in their own reasoning. Confucius would have found anew foundation for the family in the very reversal of the Holy Family; Buddha would have looked upon a new renunciation, of stars rather than jewels and divinity than royalty. These learned men would still have the right to say, or rather a new right to say, that there was truth in their old teaching. But after all these learned men would have come to learn. They would have come to complete their conceptions with something they had not yet conceived; even to balance their imperfect universe with something they might once have contradicted. Buddha would have come from his impersonal paradise to worship a person. Confucius would have come from his temples of ancestor-worship to worship a child . . . .

The Magi, who stand for mysticism and philosophy, are truly conceived as seeking something new and even as finding something unexpected. That tense sense of crisis which still tingles in the Christmas story and even in every Christmas celebration, accentuates the idea of a search and a discovery. For the other mystical figures in the miracle play; for the angel and the mother, the shepherds and the soldiers of Herod, there may be aspects both simpler and more supernatural, more elemental or more emotional. But the Wise Men must be seeking wisdom; and for them there must be a light also in the intellect. And this is the light; that the Catholic creed is catholic and that nothing else is catholic. The philosophy of the Church is universal. The philosophy of the philosophers was not universal. Had Plato and Pythagoras and Aristotle stood for an instant in the light that came out of that little cave, they would have known that their own light was not universal. It is far from certain, indeed, that they did not know it already. Philosophy also, like mythology, had very much the air of a search. It is the realisation of this truth that gives its traditional majesty and mystery to the figures of the Three Kings; the discovery that religion is broader than philosophy and that this is the broadest of religions, contained within this narrow space . . . .

We might well be content to say that mythology had come with the shepherds and philosophy with the philosophers; and that it only remained for them to combine in the recognition of religion. But there was a third element that must not be ignored and one which that religion for ever refuses to ignore, in any revel or reconciliation. There was present in the primary scenes of the drama that Enemy that had rotted the legend with lust and frozen the theories into atheism, but which answered the direct challenge with something of that more direct method which we have seen in the conscious cult of the demons. In the description of that demon-worship, of the devouring detestation of innocence shown in the works of its witchcraft and the most inhuman of its human sacrifice, I have said less of its indirect and secret penetration of the saner paganism; the soaking of mythological imagination with sex; the rise of imperial pride into insanity. But both the indirect and the direct influence make themselves felt in the drama of Bethlehem. A ruler under the Roman suzerainty, probably equipped and surrounded with the Roman ornament and order though himself of eastern blood, seems in that hour to have felt stirring within him the spirit of strange things. We all know the story of how Herod, alarmed at some rumour of a mysterious rival, remembered the wild gesture of the capricious despots of Asia and ordered a massacre of suspects of the new generation of the populace. Everyone knows the story; but not everyone has perhaps noted its place in the story of the strange religions of men. Not everybody has seen the significance even of its very contrast with the Corinthian columns and Roman pavement of that conquered and superficially civilised world. Only, as the purpose in his dark spirit began to show and shine in the eyes of the Idumean, a seer might perhaps have seen something like a great grey ghost that looked over his shoulder; have seen behind him filling the dome of night and hovering for the last time over history, that vast and fearful fact that was Moloch of the Carthaginians; awaiting his last tribute from a ruler of the races of Shem. The demons, in that first festival of Christmas, feasted also in their own fashion.

— G.K. Chesterton, “The God in the Cave”, The Everlasting Man

The new material added to the public domain musical work, and metric adaptation of the public domain text, clearly constitute copyrightable authorship in both musical arrangement and text adaption.” – JDW, Registration Program, Office of Registration Policy & Practice, United States Copyright Office

The short link.

John Ireland’s The Holy Boy Sheet music

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