Popularized in the fields of both the country and popular music, “The Deck of Cards” is a recitation song first recorded in the late 1940’s. This song, which relates the tale of a young American soldier arrested and charged with playing cards during a church service, first became a hit in the U.S. in 1948 by country musician T. Texas Tyler.
Though Tyler wrote the spoken-word piece, the earliest known reference is to be found in an account/common-place book belonging to Mary Bacon, a British farmer’s wife, dated 20 April 1762. The story of the soldier can be found in full in Mary Bacon’s World. A farmer’s wife in eighteenth-century Hampshire, published by Threshold Press (2010). Editor’s Note: Check out Another Sure Fire from Alabama: “(There’s A) Fire in the Night” for another interesting read!
Set during World War II, the song happened where a group of U.S. Army soldiers, on a long hike during a campaign in southern Italy, arrive and camp near the town of Cassino.
While scripture is being read in church, one man who has only a deck of playing cards pulls them out and spreads them in front of him. He is immediately spotted by a sergeant, who believes the soldier is playing cards in church and orders him to put them away.
The soldier is then arrested and taken before the provost marshal to be judged. The provost marshal demands an explanation and the soldier says that he had been on a long march, without a bible or a prayer book.
The Deck of Cards: Its Representation
With the marshal arresting and demanding for an explanation for the act, the soldier then explains the significance of each card:
Ace: the one true God.
Deuce: the Old Testament and New Testament in the Bible.
Trey (three): the Holy Trinity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit/Ghost.
Four: St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John, evangelists, and authors of the four Gospels.
Five: the two groups of five virgins who trimmed their lamps for a wedding. Five were wise (by saving enough oil) and were admitted, while the other five were foolish (did not have enough oil) and were shut out.
Six: the number of days taken by God to create the Earth.
Seven: the day on which God rested, now known as the Sabbath.
Eight: the eight righteous people whom God saved during the Great Flood: Noah, his wife, their three sons, and their wives.
Nine: the nine out of ten lepers cleansed by Jesus who did not thank him.
Ten: the Ten Commandments God handed down to Moses.
King: God, the Father.
Queen: the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus and Queen of Heaven.
Jack or knave: Satan or the Devil.
365 spots: the number of days in a year
52 cards: the number of weeks in a year.
Thirteen tricks: the number of weeks in a season, or quarter of a year.
Four suits: the approximate number of weeks in a month.
Twelve face, or “Picture” cards: the number of months in a year.
He then ends his story by saying,
“my pack of cards serves me as a Bible, an almanac, and a prayer book.”
The narrator then closes the story by stating that “this story is true,” by claiming he is the soldier in question.
Some players of the deck of cards will question bringing Christian thought into their realm. Likewise, some Christians will question bringing the deck of cards into their realm. And while some people in good conscience will judge the realms mutually exclusive, others may find common ground.
Objecting Christians might avoid being superstitious and mindlessly fearing a factory-printed, shrink-wrapped deck of cards. Like music or movies, surely cards can be used for both good and bad purposes, whether an innocent game or a gambling addiction. As wine can be used in holy communion yet also abused in drunkenness, perhaps cards can be used in Christian reflection and not only for forbidden gambling or so.
Indeed, “The Deck of Cards” is a song that simply demonstrates how the intent of the heart determines the significance of the cards.
Listen and try to relate to the lyrics of this Tex Ritter recitation song, “The Deck of Cards”.
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