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I am trying to remember a science fiction novel or story that featured a human warrior monk character who had been captured by a non-human enemy. The setting would have been the distant future, and the enemy was either robotic, or if it was from a biological alien race, that race seemed to be incapable of understanding humans' uses of metaphors.

The captor is trying to interrogate the monk, but the monk refuses to cooperate and starts singing an ancient hymn. (The lyrics are never directly revealed to the reader.) The interrogator gets more and more frustrated that no useful information is being gained, and also increasingly confused by the apparent nonsense that the monk is singing. It starts demanding that the monk explain the lyrics, which of course the monk refuses to do. Gradually from the questions the captor asks (including something like, "How can feet be jubilant?"), it becomes apparent that the monk is singing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

I can't have read this before 2004, since that was when I learned the words to the later verses of the song. (Be jubilant, my feet, which I recognized, is from the fourth verse.) Amusingly, I learned all the words to the song because the tune turned out to be very good for getting my newborn daughter to sleep.

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I wonder if you are remembering a scene from Beserker Fury by Fred Saberhagen.

There is a scene where the protagonist, Gift, and a number of humans have been captured by the robots. One of the group is a human described only as The Templar, and he responds to interrogation by singing The Battle Hymn:

And the machine, in its untiring examination of human motives, only wanted to hear more of the Templar song:

The prisoner was ready to oblige:

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat
He is sifting out the hearts of men before his judgment-seat;
Oh, be swift my soul to answer him, be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on!

Now this particular berserker, a computer or program evidently in command of the task force that was about to complete the devastation of the Solarian Gulf Fleet, wanted to know what a trumpet was, and how feet could possibly be jubilant. And the berserker, as before, wanted an explanation of the Templar song, and what it meant to the life units who seemed to draw strength from what they perceived as the presence and leadership of this mysterious God

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  • I did read Berserker Fury, so this must be it.
    – Buzz
    May 25, 2018 at 4:52

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