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Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931)

General William Booth Enters into Heaven


[To be sung to the tune of The Blood of the Lamb with indicated instrument]

I
[Bass drum beaten loudly.]

              1Booth led boldly with his big bass drum --
              2(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)
              3The Saints smiled gravely and they said: "He's come."
              4(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)
              5Walking lepers followed, rank on rank,
              6Lurching bravoes from the ditches dank,
              7Drabs from the alleyways and drug fiends pale --
              8Minds still passion-ridden, soul-powers frail: --
              9Vermin-eaten saints with mouldy breath,
            10Unwashed legions with the ways of Death --
            11(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)

[Banjos.]

            12Every slum had sent its half-a-score
            13The round world over. (Booth had groaned for more.)
            14Every banner that the wide world flies
            15Bloomed with glory and transcendent dyes.
            16Big-voiced lasses made their banjos bang,
            17Tranced, fanatical they shrieked and sang: --
            18"Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?"
            19Hallelujah! It was queer to see
            20Bull-necked convicts with that land make free.
            21Loons with trumpets blowed a blare, blare, blare
            22On, on upward thro' the golden air!
            23(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)

II
[Bass drum slower and softer.]

            24Booth died blind and still by Faith he trod,
            25Eyes still dazzled by the ways of God.
            26Booth led boldly, and he looked the chief
            27Eagle countenance in sharp relief,
            28Beard a-flying, air of high command
            29Unabated in that holy land.

[Sweet flute music.]

            30Jesus came from out the court-house door,
            31Stretched his hands above the passing poor.
            32Booth saw not, but led his queer ones there
            33Round and round the mighty court-house square.
            34Then in an instant all that blear review
            35Marched on spotless, clad in raiment new.
            36The lame were straightened, withered limbs uncurled
            37And blind eyes opened on a new, sweet world.

[Bass drum louder.]

            38Drabs and vixens in a flash made whole!
            39Gone was the weasel-head, the snout, the jowl!
            40Sages and sibyls now, and athletes clean,
            41Rulers of empires, and of forests green!

[Grand chorus of all instruments. Tambourines to the foreground.]

            42The hosts were sandalled, and their wings were fire!
            43(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)
            44But their noise played havoc with the angel-choir.
            45(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)
            46O shout Salvation! It was good to see
            47Kings and Princes by the Lamb set free.
            48The banjos rattled and the tambourines
            49Jing-jing-jingled in the hands of Queens.

[Reverently sung, no instruments.]

            50And when Booth halted by the curb for prayer
            51He saw his Master thro' the flag-filled air.
            52Christ came gently with a robe and crown
            53For Booth the soldier, while the throng knelt down.
            54He saw King Jesus. They were face to face,
            55And he knelt a-weeping in that holy place.
            56Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Notes

1] William Booth (1829-1912) founded the Salvation Army in London in 1865 to yoke Christians to social work. His missionary organization spread to the United States 15 years later. Lindsay writes about the making of this poem in Collected Poems (New York: Macmillan, 1923): 21-22:

The poem called "General Booth Enters Heaven" was built in part upon certain adventures while singing these songs. When I was dead broke, and begging, in Atlanta, Georgia, and much confused as to my next move in this world, I slept for three nights in the Salvation Army quarters there. And when I passed through Newark, New Jersey, on another trip I slept in the Salvation Army quarters there. I could tell some fearful stories of similar experiences. I will say briefly, that I know the Salvation Army from the inside. Certainly, at that time, the Army was struggling with what General Booth called the submerged tenth of the population. And I was with the submerged.

In the spring of 1912 the news went around the world that the great founder of the Army had gone blind. Every Sunday newspaper had a full-page picture of the blind General. Later came the announcement of his death, with elaborate biographies. Later in these same newspapers, all over the world, came the story of his life as told by himself. So much has happened since, such rivers of blood have run under the bridges of the world, that this succession of newspaper features has been forgotten. Meanwhile the fanatical Salvation Army, that was like the Franciscans of the Strict Observance in the very earliest days of St. Francis, has emerged as a prosperous rival of the Y. M. C. A.

By General Booth's own story, quoted incessantly by the papers the year of his death, he went into the lowest depths of London, by malice aforethought and deliberate intention to rescue the most notoriously degraded, those given up by policeman, physician, preacher and charity worker. He reiterated in his autobiography that he wanted to find those so low there were none lower. He put them into uniform. He put them under military discipline. He put them in authority over one another. He chose their musical instruments, and their astonishing tunes. The world has forgotten what a scandal to respectable religion the resulting army was when it began. It was like the day St. Francis handed all his clothes to the priest, or the day he cut off the hair of St. Clara. In my poem I merely turned into rhyme as well as I could, word for word, General Booth's own account of his life, and the telegraph dispatches of his death after going blind. I set it to the tune that is not a tune, but a speech, a refrain used more frequently in the meetings of the Army on any public square to this day. Yet I encounter a great number of people who are sure they have never heard of the General, the army or the tune, or who ask me if I wrote the poem to "make sport."


7] Drabs: prostitutes.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Vachel Lindsay, General William Booth Enters into Heaven and Other Poems (London: Chatto and Windus, 1919): 1-4. PS 3523 I58G4 1919 Robarts Library. Collected Poems (New York: Macmillan, 1923): 123-25.
First publication date: 1919
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/4

Composition date: 1913
Form note: mainly couplets


Other poems by Vachel Lindsay