a thing too simple to be tried as truth

Here’s another poem, though I first knew it as a song. It is from John Holmes’ 1943 “Map of My Country”. It was set to music and included in Hymns for the Celebration of Life (1964), which was the first hymnal published by the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations after the merger of the Universalist Church and the American Unitarian Association.

By 1993, when the UUA published Singing The Living Tradition to replace Hymns for the Celebration of Life, the hopeful liberalism of mid-century religious humanism had given way to the ecofeminism and the identity politics of the New Left (which had then proceeded to collapse almost everywhere, except the liberal churches), and you could no sooner sing a song about tearing down wilderness, a “wider nation” or redeeming patriarchs than one about eating babies. Which is probably a good thing on the whole, although as near as I can tell, the reworking of political/power language in the American hymnody has not effected any perceptible change in our culture. Anyway. “The People’s Peace” didn’t make it into the new book, although one of the other 4 Holmes hymns from “Celebration” did. I discovered “The People’s Peace” at the recommendation of my friend Katy Korb, who was at that time the Minister of Community Unitarian Church in New Orleans (she’s now serving a parish in Naples, FL), and who remains one of the most sensible and intellectually honest people I have ever had the pleasure to know.

I love these words, though, and wonder what has become of the kind of temperment they evoke. I wonder what wider nation we might build if we cared more for the peace NOT past our understanding, and about the slow work of building a future, days into years, years into lives, and plans for long increase.

The People’s Peace
by John Holmes

Peace is the mind’s old wilderness torn down,
a wider nation than our father’s dreamed.
peace is the main street in a country town
our children named, our father’s lives redeemed.

Not scholar’s calm nor gift of church or state,
nor everlasting date of death’s release
but careless noon, the houses lighted late,
harvest and holiday, the people’s peace.

The Peace not past our understanding falls,
like Light upon a soft white tablecloth
at winter supper warm between four walls
a thing too simple to be tried as truth.

Days into years, the doorways worn at sill,
years into lives, the plans for long increase,
come true at last for those of God’s good will,
these are the things we mean by saying “Peace”

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10 Responses to “a thing too simple to be tried as truth”

  1. blue girl Says:

    That’s pretty, Res.

  2. Res Publica Says:

    I think so too 🙂

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    This one makes sence “One’s first step in wisdom is to kuesstion everything – and one’s last is to come to terms with everything.”

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