Here’s an image of the shape-note hymn that is the basis for “This Old World,” the hymn from which I took the title to my new book.
Like many shape-note hymns, it’s drenched in the helpless state of humanity and the abject dependence of the human on God. Shape-note lyrics make me think of Jonathan Edwards, although they typically were written after Edwards’ time. But they have the same bracing theological feeling. You have the sensation of standing on a precipice, with the void below you and the wind blowing hard.
Sorry that the image I reproduced is somewhat blurry. Here are the lyrics, if you can’t make them out:
Mercy, O thou Son of David! Thus blind Bartimeos pray’d;
Others by thy grade are savéd, O vouchsafe to me thine aid.
(Accent added for clarification of rhythm.)