Bunker Hill (Sylvanus Ripley)

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  • (Posted 2019-02-26)  CPDL #53403:         
Editor: Barry Johnston (submitted 2019-02-26).   Score information: Unknown, 1 page, 57 kB   Copyright: Public Domain
Edition notes: Oval note edition. Several measures changed slightly to fit Niles' poem. Fourteen stanzas included from Niles' poem, rearranged.
  • (Posted 2019-02-26)  CPDL #53402:       
Editor: Barry Johnston (submitted 2019-02-26).   Score information: 7 x 10 inces (landscape), 1 page, 78 kB   Copyright: Public Domain
Edition notes: Note shapes added (4-shape). Several measures changed slightly to fit Niles' poem. Ten stanzas of Niles' poem included, rearranged.

General Information

Title: Bunker Hill
First Line: Why should vain mortals tremble at the sight
Composer: Sylvanus Ripley (attributed)
Lyricist: Nathaniel Niles

Number of voices: 4vv   Voicing: SATB
Genre: SacredPatriotic music  Meter: 11 11. 11 5

Language: English
Instruments: A cappella

First published: 1781 in A Select number of plain Tunes (Andrew Law), p. 8
Description: The tune was published by Andrew Law in 1781, without words or attribution of composer; tune is sometimes ascribed to Sylvanus Ripley. The words were first put with the tune in The Massachusetts Harmony in 1784, with the last line of the words repeated; this was reprinted more than 25 times over the following decades. The tune was slightly rearranged, and new words added, by Joshua Leavitt in The Christian Lyre in 1831. The poem, of fifteen stanzas, was written by Nathaniel Niles in 1775, and published in a broadside in 1781.

External websites:

Original text and translations

THE AMERICAN HERO: A Sapphick Ode Made on the battle of Bunker-Hill, and the burning of Charlestown.
By Nathaniel Niles, A.M., Norwich, Conn., October, 1775.
English.png English text

1. Why should vain mortals tremble at the sight of
Death and destruction in the field of battle,
Where blood and carnage clothe the ground in crimson,
Sounding with death-groans?

2. Death will invade us by the means appointed,
And we must all bow to the king of terrors;
Nor am I anxious, if I am prepared,
What shape he comes in.

3. Infinite goodness teaches us submission,
Bids us be quiet under all his dealings;
Never repining, but forever praising
God, our Creator.

4. Well may we praise him: all his ways are perfect:
Though a resplendence, infinitely glowing,
Dazzles in glory on the sight of mortals,
Struck blind by luster.

5. Good is Jehovah in bestowing sunshine,
Nor less his goodness in the storm and thunder,
Mercies and judgment both proceed from kindness,
Infinite kindness.


6. O, then, exult that God forever reigneth;
Clouds which, around him, hinder our perception,
Bind us the stronger to exalt his name, and
Shout louder praises.

7. Then to the wisdom of my Lord and Master
I will commit all that I have or wish for,
Sweetly as babes' sleep will I give my life up
When called to yield it.

8. Now, Mars, I dare thee, clad in smoky pillars,
Bursting from bomb-shells, roaring from the cannon,
Rattling in grape-shot like a storm of hailstones,
Torturing ether.

9. Up the bleak heavens let the spreading flames rise.
Breaking, like Ætna, through the smoky columns,
Lowering, like Egypt, o'er the falling city,
Wantonly burned down.

10. While all their hearts quick palpitate for havoc,
Let slip your blood-hounds, named the British lions;
Dauntless as death stares, nimble as the whirl-wind,
Dreadful as demons!


11. Let oceans waft on all your floating castles,
Fraught with destruction, horrible to nature;
Then, with your sails filled by a storm of vengeance.
Bear down to battle.

12. From the dire caverns, made by ghostly miners,
Let the explosion, dreadful as volcanoes,
Heave the broad town, with all its wealth and people,
Quick to destruction.

13. Still shall the banner of the King of Heaven
Never advance where I am afraid to follow:
While that precedes me, with an open bosom,
War, I defy thee.

14. Fame and dear freedom lure me on to battle,
While a fell despot, grimmer than a death's-head,
Stings me with serpents, fiercer than Medusa's,
To the encounter.

15. Life, for my country and the cause of freedom,
Is but a trifle for a worm to part with;
And, if preserved in so great a contest,
Life is redoubled.