Thursday, February 11, 2016

The People's Anthem, by Ebenezer Elliott (1848)

This poem, written in England in 1848, has been on my mind a lot lately.  It plays on Britain's ancient national anthem, which famously asks God to Save the Queen (or King).  Elliott asks when will God save the people, which seems like a pretty good question.

This poem is best known as part of the 1970's musical Godspell, where it is called "Save the People."  I love the Godspell version, but I want to give credit to the original poet.  Ebenezer Elliott was a successful iron merchant and steel manufacturer in the North of England, but he had known hard times and he became famous for his poetry on behalf of the little guy.  Some people (especially in Washington) wonder that a successful businessman would want to do anything other than grind the people into dust, but thankfully mankind is more complicated than that.

The People's Anthem

When wilt thou save the people?
O God of mercy!  When?
Not kings and lords, but nations!
Not thrones and crowns, but men!
Flowers of thy heart, O God, are they!
Let them not pass, like weeds, away!
Their heritage a sunless day!
God save the people!

Shall crime bring crime for ever,
Strength aiding still the strong?
Is it thy will, O Father!
That man shall toil for wrong?
"No!" say thy mountains; "No!" thy skies;
"Man's clouded sun shall brightly rise,
And songs be heard instead of sighs."
God save the people!

When wilt thou save the people?
O God of mercy!  When?
The people, Lord!  The people!
Not thrones and crowns, but men!
God save the people!  Thine they are;
Thy children, as thy angels fair;
Save them from bondage and despair!
God save the people!


  1. Here's another bit of Elliott, which I found in Wikipedia. This is very powerful:

    The locustry of Britain
    Are gods beneath the skies
    They stamp the brave into the grave
    They feed on Fannie's sighs.