Musically, I wanted to bury the hymn meter and pull the language apart a little. I wanted there to be some celebration to it also...not sure if I've ever used handclap samples in anything before, but I think it's interesting here.
In terms of meaning...I couldn't ignore that the text was dated 1865. And as far as I could tell, Sidney Lanier fought for the confederacy throughout the war. So talking about "masters" and "death" "in the woods" has a pretty brutal racial context here. But considering where the song ends, with the "master" coming out of the woods to die...I think you can find some emancipatory meaning in it. I don't know...I struggled with it quite a bit and ended up with this swagger-y Lou Reed thing.