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396 Topics: Ask an American – “Battle Hymn of the Republic"; to outweigh versus to be outweighed by; full versus whole versus entire; a lot of versus several

Complete Transcript
You're listening to ESL Podcast’s English Cafe number 396.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 396. I'm your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful, Los Angeles, California.

Have you visited our ESL Podcast Store? No? Well, you should. There are some excellent courses in business and daily English there I think you'll enjoy. Our store, like all of our wonderful information here about the podcast, is on our website at ESLPod.com.

On this Café, we’re going to have another one of our Ask an American segments, where we listen to other native speakers talking at a normal speed. We then explain what they said and then we listen to them again. Today, we’re actually going to talk about a very famous song. So, this is both an Ask an American segment in a way, and a podcast episode about a famous American song. This song is called “Battle Hymn of the Republic." And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Our topic on this Café is a very famous, powerful, American song – a song you will hear in schools, in political meetings, even in churches in the United States. It's not as popular as our national anthem, our national song – “The Star-Spangled Banner.” But it is one of the more popular traditional American songs. The name of the song is “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” A “hymn” (hymn) is typically a religious song, a song you would sing in a church, or in some sort of place of worship. A “battle” is what happens when two different countries fight each other in a war. The particular places and times where they fight are often called “battles.” We had many battles in World War II, in the American Civil War. During the middle of the 19th century, there were many famous battles that American children learn about – “The Battle of Gettysburg” is one of the more famous ones. So, this is a “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The “Republic” refers here to the United States. So, “Battle Hymn of the Republic” would be a song for a war that the United States is involved in.

We’re going to begin by listening to Chris Coover, a person who works for one of the more famous auction houses – companies that auction off art and other valuable documents. He works for Christie's auction house in New York City. He is going to talk about Julia Ward Howe.

Julia Ward Howe is the woman who wrote the words for this song – “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The music for this song was actually older than the song “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” It comes from another song, but Julia Ward Howe wrote the lyrics, the words to this song and she is the one who made the song famous. The story is that Julia Ward Howe had gone to Washington DC to meet with President Lincoln. She was already a famous poet at this time. She also, that day, saw parts of a battle between the Union troops – the soldiers from the northern United States and the Confederate troops – the soldiers from the states that were trying to leave the United States. The civil war was a battle between states that wanted to keep slavery in the South and states that wanted to get rid of slavery in the North. “Slavery” is owning people as property. In the case of the American Civil War, these were African slaves that were brought over to work in the United States. This poet then, Julia Ward Howe, saw a battle or at least, parts of a battle that day, and when she went home, she had a dream. In the dream, she says, she saw the words for the song – the lyrics for the song that she was going to write. And so, she got up the next morning and well, we’ll let Chris Coover tell you what happened.


“And she woke up in the middle of night with these visions of Lincoln and battles and marching troops, and wrote this rather remarkable series of verses.”

[end of recording]

You might've guessed what he was going to say. He says that, “She woke up” – she stopped sleeping – “in the middle of the night.” “In the middle of the night,” usually means sometime between midnight and six a.m. It's not an exact time – in the middle of the night. In the middle of the night, Julia Ward Howe woke up with these visions of Lincoln and battles and marching troops. “Visions” are like dreams. They are things that we might also get when we are awake. The idea of a vision is that somehow it is a message perhaps, from God or for someone else, something that is very important that you understand. People sometimes have visions where they believe that a religious figure, or a famous person is talking to them. Howe had a vision in her dream of Lincoln – our president – battles – these fights – and marching troops. “Troops” (troops) refer to the soldiers in a war. “Marching” refers to the verb “to march,” which means to walk in a formal way. When you have soldiers that are walking, they all walk at the same rhythm. They all walk at the same pace and when they do that, we would call that “marching. For example, if you have a parade, and you have some people playing instruments, we would call that a “marching band” because a group of musicians all walk in straight lines down the street. Here, we’re talking about “marching troops,” and that's part of the vision that Howe had. So, she woke up and she wrote this rather remarkable series of verses, our friend Chris Coover says. “Verses” (verses) refer to the parts of the song. It can also refer to the parts of a poem. The lyrics of the song have verses in them which, Mr. Coover says, “were rather remarkable,” meaning they were amazing. They were wonderful. Let's listen to him one more time.


“And she woke up in the middle of night with these visions of Lincoln and battles and marching troops, and wrote this rather remarkable series of verses.”

[end of recording]

Eventually, Howe took these verses, this set of words, these lyrics, and she combined them with the music of an older song, and this song – “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” then, became something that was very popular among the northern, the Union troops. Lincoln himself loved the song and had it played at many different events during the Civil War. The words of the song, which we’ll listen to a little bit in a few moments, were words that inspired the Union forces, the Union troops. The words definitely connect the cause of getting rid of slavery with God himself. It uses a lot of religious imagery, a lot of religious language, to talk about how what the North is doing, what the Union side in the war is doing is right, and just, and good. Because the song was associated with the end of slavery, the side of the Civil War that won, the verses or the words to this song became very popular and eventually became associated with the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s, where African-Americans – blacks – were trying to get their political and economic freedom, especially in places like the American South where there were still racism and discrimination. The most famous leader of the Civil Rights movement was a man by the name of Martin Luther King Junior, the Reverend Martin Luther King Junior. He fought for equal rights for African-Americans. And the night before he was killed, in 1968, he gave a famous speech and that the end of that speech, he took a line – a sentence – from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” I'm going to let you listen to it because Martin Luther King was an amazing speaker with an amazing voice, and to hear him say these words is really something amazing for an American who associates and knows the history of Martin Luther King Jr. Let’s listen.


"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

[end of recording]

It's a very short phrase, a very short sentence, but very powerful. King says, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” “Mine eyes” is a poetic way of saying, “my eyes.” “Mine eyes have seen the glory.” “The glory” is the honor, the importance, the amazing quality of something. It's often a word that we associate with God. In fact, that's exactly what the words of the song say, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming” – of the arrival – “of the Lord.” “The Lord” (lord) is one of the names that Christians used to refer to their God. “The Lord” refers, usually, to Jesus Christ, who in the Christian religion, came down from heaven and became man. So, this is a very religious, a very Christian association that we hear Martin Luther King use, and of course, it comes right from the song, which has the word “hymn” in the title – “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” So, there's this very strong religious connection. Let's listen again to the Reverend King.


"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

[end of recording]

King used this line in the speech to indicate that things were going to change, the situation was going to get better. That's why he sees the glory of the coming of the Lord. He sees that things will get better, and although King did not himself live to see that situation, things did get better in the United States for African-Americans. We’ll end our discussion here by actually listening to the song and talking a little bit about the meaning of the song. I'll sing for you the most famous verse, the most famous part of the song, as well as the main part of the song that repeats several times – what’s called the “chorus.” We’ll talk about it and then will explain it. The song begins.


Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

[end of recording]

You can sort of hear how this is almost like a song you would sing in a church. It has a very big quality to it. And in a few moments, you’ll listen another version of the chorus of the song.

First, let's talk a little bit about what the song means, at least the part that we sang. We've already explained the first line – “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” The sentence continues by saying, “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.” “To trample” (trample) means to step on something with your feet. “Vintage” (vintage) refers to wine, specifically good wine that has come from a good year for the product that wine is made of, which is, grapes. “Grapes” is the name of the fruit that we use to make wine, typically. So, God is trampling out the vintage” – it's almost as God is walking on the grapes himself in order to make this wine. Notice also, there’s the phrase, “the grapes of wrath are stored.” “Wrath” (wrath) usually means anger. So God, in some ways, is walking on these grapes that represent anger, that represent wrath. “The wrath,” of course, of God himself, whose angry at, in this case, the use of slavery by the southern states. The verb “store” means to keep. So, the whole expression “where the grapes of wrath are stored,” means where these particular grapes are kept. Now, that phrase “the grapes of wrath” was later used by a famous American novelist in the 20th century, John Steinbeck, who used it for the title of one of his novels – The Grapes of Wrath.”

The next line of the song is, “He,” meaning God, “hath,” which is an old way of saying “has” – “loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword.” The verb “loosed” is an old way of saying “loosened.” God has loosened or released this lightning. “Lightning is normally what happens when you have an electrical storm in the sky and there is a sharp point of light, of electricity, actually, that comes down to the earth. That's lightning. Well, “God has loosed the fateful lightning.” “Fateful” means something that will determine, in this case, perhaps life and death. “The fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword.” Something that is “swift” (swift) is something that is very fast, something that is quick. God is so angry that he is quickly going to use his sword. A “sword” is a weapon that you would use in war or in fighting someone. It's basically a big knife that you hold in your hand. You can think of it that way. The last line is, “His truth is marching on,” meaning God's truth is marching on. We normally think of people marching, people walking forward, but this is God's truth that is walking forward. It is going to happen. God will be victorious. He will win this battle. “He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword. His truth is marching on.” “Terrible” means bad – means powerful. It doesn't mean “bad” here in the sense that it's “bad” that God has this sword. It means that it is very powerful and that, of course, will be bad for the people on whom he uses it.

The chorus of the song is very simple, “Glory, glory, hallelujah.” “Hallelujah” is an old word that is used in the worship of God in the Judeo-Christian tradition. “Hallelujah” is often associated with church songs, especially traditional church songs. So, the phrase “Glory, glory, hallelujah,” is a way of praising God, thanking God for what he has done. That phrase is repeated three times and then the last line of the chorus is, “His truth is marching on,” which is once again, the same line that ended the first verse. We’ll listen now, just to the chorus, and instead of me singing it, we’ll have someone else sing it.


Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on."

[end of recording]

Wow! Thank you ESL Podcast Band and Chorus. Yeah! Amazing! Thank you guys for coming today. Now let’s answer some of the questions you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from Majid (Majid) in Iran. Majid wants to know the meaning of the verb, “to outweigh” (outweigh). “To outweigh” can mean a couple of different things. It can mean something is heavier than something else. It weighs more than something else. However, the more common use of this verb is to mean, to be greater than or to be more important than. “There are lots of things I have to consider – I have to think about—in picking where I'm going to go on my vacation, but some things outweigh others.” There are some things that are more important, that I will consider more important like weather and cost, versus other things that are less important. Well, the things that are more important outweigh the things that are less important. They’re more important, they’re greater than in some way. There is also an expression “to be outweighed by,” which is merely the passive construction of this verb. It means the same thing but it’s used differently. Grammatically, the things are sort of reversed when you have a passive voice. I'll give you an example. “Cost outweighs distance in deciding where I'm going to take my vacation.” Cost is more important than how far something is from me. That's the idea. I could also say, “Distance is outweighed by cost.” Notice how the order of the things are reversed in the sentence. The thing that outweighs it is at the end of the sentence and the thing that is outweighed is that the beginning of the sentence. But they mean the same thing.

Our next question comes from Vitaly (Vitaly) in Israel. Vitaly wants to know the meaning of the words “full,” “whole,” and “entire.” “Full” means something cannot contain anything else. For example, if you have a glass and you put water into the glass, and you go all the way up to the top of the glass, the glass is full. You can’t put any more water in it. Sometimes, “full” is used to mean complete – something that is covering from the beginning to the end. “It took a full three days for me to walk from here to San Diego.” “Full” means the complete time, from the very first day until the end of the very last day. “It took a full three days.”

“Whole” (whole) means total, undivided. “I want to eat a whole pie.” I want to eat every piece of the pie. I want to eat the total pie. I want to eat the whole pie, apple pie, actually, although I like pumpkin pie, too. “I have a whole set of dishes.” I have dishes that you use to eat off of, and I have all of the dishes I need. I have a whole set – one for every person.

“Entire” (entire) also means complete – all of the parts is also another meaning of “entire.” “The entire population of the city is here.” That would mean that all of the city's population, every single person is here. Or, “I have the entire collection of books written by Sherlock Holmes.” I have all of his books, every single one. “I have an entire collection.” I have the entire collection.

“Full,” “whole,” and “entire” then, often mean the same thing. There are some very small differences. Those differences are not always easy to explain. For example, if you say “The glass or the cup is full,” you mean that it has all the liquid it can contain. You can't put any more water, or soda, or coffee into it. If you say, “The glass or the cup is whole,” you mean it isn't broken, all of the cup is there, all of the glass is there. There aren't any pieces that are missing. If you say, “The bus is full,” you mean there are no more seats on the bus. There are so many people inside that there is no place to sit down. The bus is full, or the train is full. If you say, “The bus is whole,” you mean it's all one piece. It hasn't been cut apart, for example, or somehow taken apart. So, when referring to objects, “whole” means that they're all one piece, that they are complete. “Full” usually means that the object contains something and it can no longer contain anything else. There's no more room. That's what “full” means. There's no room. Whereas, “whole” for an object, usually means it isn't broken, it's complete. Sometimes “whole” and “entire” can be used in the same way. For example, “I ate the whole sandwich.” “I ate the entire sandwich.” Those two sentences mean the same thing. You could not say, “I ate the full sandwich,” however. You could only say “whole” or “entire.” The reason is, we’re talking about something that is complete, an object that has all of its pieces. You are saying in this sentence, that you ate every piece of the sandwich. I ate the whole sandwich. I ate the entire sandwich.

Finally, Gustavo (Gustavo) in Brazil wants to know the uses of the words “several,” and “a lot of.” “Several” means more than two, but not a very large number, maybe three, four, five, possibly six, but not a thousand or ten million. That would be several. “There are several people here.” I don't mean there are a thousand people here. I probably mean there are maybe six, or ten people here. “A lot of” is a great amount of something, many of something. “There are a lot of people here.” That could mean there are 20 people here. It could mean there are a thousand people here. So, for objects or things that can be counted, like people, you can use either “several,” or “a lot of.” “A lot of,” however, is more open to interpretation. It could mean just five or six, but it could also mean five or six hundred. If you're talking about nouns that are not count nouns – nouns where you don't usually make them plural, like for example “patience,” you wouldn't say someone has several patiences – that is not possible to say in English because “patience” is not a count noun. You can't make it plural you could say, “He has a lot of patience,” however, because you're not changing the verb. You're not making it a count noun. You're not making it plural. “A lot of,” then can be used for these other nouns. We sometimes call them “mass (mass) nouns.” You can use “a lot of” with a mass noun but you can't use “several” with a mass noun. You can't talk about, “I have several patience.” No. You have to say, “I have a lot of patience,” or “I have a lot of anger,” or “I have a lot of happiness.” Those would also be possible uses of “a lot of” to mean great many, a great amount.

If you have a question or comment, you can e-mail us. Our e-mail addresses eslpod@eslpod.com. We receive several questions every day, here, and we don't have a lot of time but we’ll do our best to answer as many as we can.

From Los Angeles, California, I'm Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast English Café was written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. This podcast is copyright by the Center for Educational Development.

vision – a dream when one is awake; something one seems to see even though it isn't there, and that feels real and important, usually about something that will happen in the future

* Damian had a vision that the boat would sink, so he decided not to get on it even though he had a ticket.

battle – one fight between soldiers in a war

* How many men and women were killed in the battle?

marching troops – groups of soldiers who are going into battle, going to fight against the enemy

* The sight of the enemy’s marching troops frightened the young, inexperienced soldiers.

verse – a group of lines that form part of a song or poem, with one song or poem being made up of several verses

* Did you have to memorize Bible verses when you were a student at the Catholic school?

glory – honor, importance, and majesty, especially when talking about God

* Beautiful sunsets give us a small glimpse of God’s great glory.

the coming of the Lord – when God comes to earth and humans can see Him; the appearance of Jesus Christ and the moment when Christians believe God will return to earth

* Lauren is telling all her friends about the Bible, hoping to turn them into believers before the coming of the Lord.

to trample out – to step on something with one's feet and completely squash or crush it

* It made us sad to see how the daisies had been trampled out by the soccer players at the park.

vintage – the wine that was produced by a particular harvest of grapes in a particular year

* Which wine is your best vintage?

grapes of wrath – a situation that is unjust, unfair, and wrong, and is making God angry

* If we continue to harvest these grapes of wrath, we will surely feel God’s anger.

swift – very fast

* The current is very swift, so it isn’t safe to swim in this part of the river!

sword – a type of weapon, like a very long knife

* In the past, princes had to learn to fight with a sword, but today it isn’t a very common weapon.

to march on – to continue; to advance or progress, especially in a majestic, important, and dignified way

* No matter what happens, we’ll keep marching on until we succeed.

hallelujah – a word used in worship to thank God, or to express joy, praise, or admiration for God and His work

* A: Did you hear that Marta’s cancer has been cured?

B: Hallelujah!

to outweigh – to be heavier; to be greater than

* The benefits of saving for retirement outweigh the inconveniences.

to be outweighed by – to be less important or great

* Her own needs are outweighed by those of her children.

full – containing all that can be held; complete

* Don’t you find it hard to sleep with a full stomach?

whole – total; entire; undivided

* They spent the whole day shopping at antique stores.

entire – intact; complete; having all its parts

* That book was so good! I read the entire novel in one day!

a lot of – a great amount, many

* There were a lot of children at the library this morning.

several – more than two, but not a very large number

* Reyna has dated several men, but she still hasn’t fallen in love.

What Insiders Know
"John Brown's Body"

The “lyrics” (words in a song) of the “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” were created for the “melody” (musical notes without words) used for "John Brown's Body.” “John Brown’s Body” is an “irreverent” (showing little or no respect) song about John Brown, an “abolitionist” (a person who fought against slavery). The “origins” (where something is from) of the song are unclear, but many people believe the lyrics were created by a group of “Union” (northern army during the Civil War) soldiers in the 1800s.

Today, there are many versions of the lyrics, but here is one of the better-known versions, although there are others that are more beautiful and respectful. It’s a very repetitive song, and each verse has a single line that is repeated three times.

John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
But his soul goes marching on.

The verb “to moulder” (British spelling) or “to molder” (American spelling) means to decay, rot, or spoil slowly. A “grave,” is the place where one dead body is placed underground. So this first verse is about John Brown’s dead body rotting in the earth, but his “soul” (a person’s thoughts, feelings, and spirit) goes marching on, or continues to live.

In other verses, these are some of the lines that are repeated three times. They’re always followed by, “But his soul goes marching on.”

He's gone to be a soldier in the Army of the Lord.

John Brown's “knapsack” (backpack) is “strapped” (tied) upon his back.

John Brown died that the slaves might be free.