December 4, 2012

“Hawk!” the Herald Angels Sing

Ideas often spring from multiple  influences. The day after Thanksgiving, I was stalking eagles, hawks, and waterfowl in the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. Now my choir is preparing music for Advent and Christmas. Somehow, these activities inspired the verse below that is intended to be sung to the familiar Mendelssohn tune for “Hark! the herald angels sing.”

“Hark! the herald angels sing” was originally penned by the prolific hymnist Charles Wesley, though his version began “Hark, how all the welkin rings, / Glory to the King of Kings!” Wesley associate George Whitefield is responsible for changing that into the opening we have come to know.

I have often found that first couplet of the text strange or ambiguous. What is being said by the poet, and what is being said by the angels? The confusion is encouraged by the fact that the hymn has been variously printed. The current Episcopal hymnal renders the first couplet as “Hark! the herald angels sing / glory to the new-born King!” I have an older Presbyterian hymnal that shows this as “Hark, the herald angels sing, / “Glory to the new-born King; … !” (Two versions of words and music can be found here and here.) On reflection, by the way, “Hark,” meaning harken to, is not intended to be a word spoken by the angels.

My verse, a parody, really, is below. I have formatted it in my own usual style rather than trying to follow any particular rendering of the traditional hymn in a hymnal or elsewhere.

“Hawk!” the Herald Angels Sing

“Hawk!” the herald angels sing;
“Watch those raptors on the wing!”

“Peace on earth,” the angels cry,
Struggling hard to rule the sky.

Joy they bring to those below
While large birds dart to-and-fro.

Angels, guard your wings and face
As you sing of heav’ly grace.

“Hawk!” the herald angels sing;
“Watch those raptors on the wing!”

Angel and hawk


  1. I love it.
    This reminds me of something I read decades ago in a compendium of Readers Digest humor that was itself already decades old. There was a decree at the old New York Herald that the word "herald" was always to be italicized in its pages.
    Alas, your blog's comment section doesn't seem to allow me to italicize anything. But readers of that paper's Christmas story one year found a reference to "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" with Herald in italics -- evoking a divinely inappropriate vision of its reporters and editors.

  2. Oops! I sometimes typed “angel” and sometimes typed “angle.” Perhaps the mathematical part of my brain is more in control than my Christian part. Anyway, I think I’ve now corrected all the mistakes.

    For future reference, it is possible to incorporate such typography as italics and boldface in comments. One simply has to use pairs of HTML tags. Thus, for example, <i>Herald</i> is rendered Herald. Substituting “b” for “i” would yield text in boldface. Most other HTML tags are not allowed.

  3. There is no mystery here, Mr. Deimel. Your quotation of the original text by Charles Wesley shows that he meant that only the poet was speaking, to his audience: Hark, how all the welkin rings, / Glory to the King of Kings!

    The glory comes from the fact that the welkin rings with praises of the Lord's birth, and the language is not an attempt to quote verbatim what the angels were singing.

    The revision, by his associate, faithfully maintains the same structure: Hark [i.e., Listen:], the herald angels sing, / Glory to the King of Kings! Again, the glory comes from the fact that the herald angels sing praises for the Lord's birth.

    Quotation marks are unnecessary in the poet's text to explain its meaning -- they are appropriate only when quoting the text itself. In light of the poet's clear intent, I am unclear as to just what aspect of the poem you are parodying. That being said, have at it, just so the poet's basic message remains clear.


Anonymous comments are not allowed. All comments are moderated by the author. Gratuitous profanity, libelous statements, and commercial messages will be not be posted.