Wednesday, January 27, 2010

John Julian

John Julian was probably the most eminent hymnographer of the nineteenth century (a time when there were dozens if not hundreds of books published in the subject).

Born on this day in 1839, in
Cornwall, he was ordained in the Church of England in 1866. He wrote three shorter books, Concerning Hymns (1874), The History of the Use of Hymns in Public Worship (1894), and Carols Ancient and Modern (1900), but his primary accomplishment was the enormous Dictionary of Hymnology (1892). This book contained more than 40,000 entries on hymn texts and hymn writers. In Julian's 1913 obituary in the Musical Times, it was described as:

...stand(ing) alone as a guide to the study of English Hymnody, which it has helped to raise to its present dignity as a branch of aesthetical and historical learning.

The Dictionary was revised and updated at least twice, and was reprinted by three publishers, most recently in 1985. Today, of course, it can be
downloaded from the internet. Nearly every serious book on hymnody published since probably includes it in the bibliography.

Like most people interested in hymnody, Julian also
wrote some hymn texts himself, including this one.

Gracious Spirit, Life divine
Breathe on us thy life benign;
Life, to join ourselves to thee
Life, our life in thee to see.

Bounteous Spirit, Light divine
Cause on us thy light to shine;
Light, our path in life to see,
Light, to lead our feet to thee.

Gentle Spirit, Love divine
With thy love all love entwine;
Love, in trial peace to give
Love, for all through life to live.

John D. Julian, 19th c.
Tune:
PATMOS (7.7.7.7.)
William Henry Havergal, 1869


Sunday, January 24, 2010

John Mason Neale

Anglican priest John Mason Neale was born today in 1818. It's hard to imagine today, knowing the large number of hymns that he translated or wrote (so many of which are still known today) that he was not at all respected in his own time by most of the leading figures in the Church of England.

Neale's high church ideas and enthusiasms led his own bishop to inhibit him (that is, to keep him from exercising any of his priestly functions) for several years. After the notorious John Henry Newman's
Oxford Movement led many Anglicans to convert to Roman Catholicism (including some other hymn writers such as Edward Caswall and Frederick William Faber), no bishop was willing to encourage such ideas. Neale was given the administration of Sackville College (which was actually an almshouse) as a means to keep him out of the way. When he finally received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity, it was bestowed by Trinity College -- in Hartford, Connecticut!

Neale translated several of the Latin verses of the fifth-century Christian poet
Caelius Sedulius, including this one (Hos­tis Her­o­des imp­ie), appropriate to the present season. It provides a little overview of Epiphany, touching on the most familiar events we commemorate in these post-Christmas weeks. There have been various changes to the text over the years; I found three different versions at the Cyber Hymnal. The hymn generally appears today as When Christ's appearing was made known, but that rewritten first stanza is under copyright. This one is closer to what Neale wrote.

The star proclaims that Christ is here;
But, Herod, why this senseless fear?
He takes no realms of earth away
But gives the realms of heav’nly day.

The eastern sages saw from far
And followed on that guiding star;
And led by light, to light they press,
And by their gifts their God confess.

Within the Jordan’s sacred flood
The heavenly Lamb in meekness stood,
That Christ, to whom no sin was known,
Might free all people from their own.

And O! what miracle divine,
When water reddened into wine!
He spake the word, and forth it flowed
In streams that nature ne’er bestowed.

All glory, Jesus, be to thee
For this thy glad epiphany;
Whom with the Maker we adore
And Holy Spirit evermore.

Caelius Sedulius, c. 450
tr. John Mason Neale, 1852; alt.
Tune:
LEIGHTON (L.M.)
William Leighton, c. 1614


Yesterday was another birthday -- this blog is two years old and embarking on a third. Not only does it nearly share a birthday with Neale (completely coincidentally!), but also the name, which as I've noted before, comes from another of his translated hymns.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Proclaimed the Present Lord

One of the gospel passages that often comes around during the season of Epiphany is the story of Jesus turning water into wine during a wedding celebration at Cana, told in John 2:1-11. Many churches will hear that lesson today.

There are a number of hymns that mention Cana, but most of them are in praise of the institution of marriage. However, the wedding itself was certainly not the point of the story (which took place at what we would call the reception, anyway). John lays it out pretty clearly at the end of the passage: Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Nothing there about marriage. It's part of the continuing Epiphany story, Christ revealing his divine nature to the world.

The author of this text did get the point.
Hyde Wyndham Beaton was ordained in the Church of England and served mainly rural parishes. In 1863 he co-edited The Parish Hymn Book, which contained this hymn.

Glory to thee, O Christ,
Who by thy mighty power
Didst manifest thy glory forth
In Cana’s marriage hour.

Thou spakest: it was done:
Obedient to thy word,
The water redd'ning into wine
Proclaimed the present Lord.

Blest were the guests who saw
That wondrous mystery,
The great beginning of thy works
That kindled faith in thee.

And bless├Ęd they who know
Thine unseen presence true,
When in the promise of thy grace
Thou makest all things new.

For by thy loving hand
Thy people still are fed;
Thine is the cup of blessing here
And thine the heav'nly bread.

O may that grace be ours,
Ever in thee to live,
And drink of those refreshing streams,
Which thou alone canst give.

So, led from strength to strength,
Grant us, O Christ, to see
The promised supper of the Lamb,
Thy great Epiphany.

Hyde W. Beaton, 1863; alt.
Tune:
ST. MICHAEL (S.M.)
Louis Bourgeois, 1551
adapt. William Crotch, 1836

A hymn with seven stanzas seems long to some, but they're short ones. And I like each of them for one reason or another, so I didn't see any to leave out. You could also sing this to that most popular of Short Meter tunes, ST. THOMAS, but that seems just a little too jaunty to me in this case.

Louis Bourgeois was the compiler of the Genevan Psalter where this tune first appeared, and was also the probable composer of a more famous tune in that collection, that we know as OLD HUNDREDTH (matched, of course, with that psalm). Composer William Crotch altered this tune a bit, probably reharmonizing it, nearly three hundred years later. Crotch's most well-known piece, perhaps a bit out of fashion these days, is the Epiphany anthem Lo, star-led chiefs, a chorus from his oratorio Palestine (1812).


P.S. The illustration above is a portion of The Wedding at Cana, painted by the seventeenth century artist Mattia Preti. (click to enlarge)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Hymns in the News


The horrific earthquakes in Haiti have been at the forefront of world news, as they should be. This article from the New York Times, which you may have seen, recounts a story from the first night, when survivors gathered in the streets where it was relatively safer, and spontaneously began singing hymns. This was not surprising; hymns have always brought comfort in perilous times, and can be shared easily across various social barriers.

You may not have seen this response to the disaster. Presbyterian minister and hymnwriter Carolyn Winfrey Gillette has written a hymn, announced yesterday by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and made available to be downloaded, with the suggestion that it be sung in their member churches this Sunday. Its final stanza concludes:

And may we see, in others’ pain,
The cross we’re called to bear;
Send out your church in Jesus’ name
To pray, to serve, to share.


More information on Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, including links to several of her hymns, is available here. She has written hymn texts in response to other tragedies; probably the two most familiar were for September 11, 2001 (she wrote it that afternoon), and after the Indian Ocean tsunami in December, 2004.

In the past, it would have been more local events that inspired the response of an immediate hymn, and the text may not have been widely known or used beyond that locality. But our modern mass media helps to distribute something like this in ways that were unimagined a hundred years ago.


One Year Ago: More Voices Found: Louisa Putnam Loring

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

John Darwall

Today is the anniversary of the baptism of clergyman, composer and poet John Darwall, in 1731 (date of birth unknown). For some unknown reason, of the many tunes he wrote only one has been in general use for the last 200 years.

Since writing about him here last year, I've had another year to look through nineteenth century hymnbooks, and I still haven't seen any more of his tunes published. Still seems odd to me that none of them were more widely used. But the one that we do know is so popular and so grand that many texts have been sung to it and written for it, at least one in most hymnals. We can use it every year for quite a while without running out of hymns.

This text is a paraphrase of
Psalm 84 (the tune was originally matched with Psalm 148) by Isaac Watts, first published in his collection The Psalms of David (1719).

God of the worlds above,
How pleasant and how fair
The dwellings of thy love,
Thine earthly temples are!
To thine abode,
My heart aspires
With warm desires
To see my God.

O happy souls that pray
Where God appoints to hear!
O happy souls that pay
Their constant service there!
They praise thee still;
And happy they
That love the way
To Zion’s hill.

They go from strength to strength,
Through all this vale of tears,
Till each arrives at length,
Till each in heaven appears;
O glorious seat!
God, whom we sing,
Shall thither bring
Our willing feet!

God is our Sun and Shield,
Our Light and our Defense;
God's hands with gifts are filled;
We draw our blessings thence.
Thrice happy we,
O God of hosts,
Whose spirits trust
Alone in thee.

Isaac Watts, 1719; alt.
Tune:
DARWALL (H.M.)
John Darwall, 1773


This text is written in the unique Hallelujah Meter (6.6.6.6.4.4.4.4.), sometimes also written as (6.6.6.6.8.8.). The first four lines are each six syllables, the last lines are either four lines of four syllables or two lines of eight syllables (the difference is generally where the rhymes are). Though there are many other tunes written to this meter, I'd guess that most of them are joined to texts that have also been sung at some time to DARWALL.


One Year Ago: John Darwall

Saturday, January 9, 2010

John Knowles Paine

John Knowles Paine, born today in 1839, was the first American composer to be recognized and appreciated by the Europeans (which was important in those times). He was also the first American to write a symphony and the first professor of music at any American university.

He was born in Portland, Maine, where his father operated a music store. He played piano and organ from an early age and after his father's death in 1856, he played a series of recitals to raise the money to travel to Berlin for his musical education. After nearly four years, he returned and was hired as organist at the
West Church in Boston. Only six months later he took the position of organist and choirmaster at Harvard University.

His first major choral work, Domine salvum fac, was written for the installation of a new Harvard president in 1863. His organ variations on the Star-Spangled Banner were very popular during the Civil War, and in 1866 his Mass in D had its premiere performance in Berlin. Harvard was impressed; Paine was awarded an honorary degree in 1869 which then made it possible for them to appoint him as an instructor in music. In 1875 he was made a full professor, the first in this country.

Paine continued to compose orchestral, organ, and choral works; he was the first of the Second New England School of composers which included
George W. Chadwick, Horatio Parker, and Amy Beach among others. Unlike those colleagues, his major choral works have been recorded, both the Mass in D and his oratorio St. Peter (1872). His other long-lasting composition (at Harvard, at least) is the tune for the Harvard Hymn, which I believe is still sung at commencement ceremonies, and is still in the most recent Harvard University Hymn Book (2007).

Paine also wrote a handful of other hymn tunes which I have come across in recent years, though none that anyone still sings today, and none that are documented at any of the usual hymn websites. However, in the aforementioned St. Peter, he reharmonized three familiar German chorales. This Epiphany hymn by
Philipp Nicolai appears in many different hymnals, but you probably have not heard or sung it to this arrangement by John Knowles Paine.

How lovely shines the Morning Star!
The nations see and hail afar
The light in Judah shining.
Thou art my heart’s most beauteous Flower,
And thy blest Gospel’s saving power
For thee my heart is pining.
Thou mine, I thine;

Sing hosanna!
Heav’nly manna

Tasting, eating,
Whilst thy love in songs repeating.

Lift up the voice and strike the string,
Let all glad sounds of music ring
In God’s high praises blended.
Christ will be with me all the way,
Today, tomorrow, every day,
Till traveling days be ended.
Sing out, ring out,

Triumph glorious,
O victorious,

Chosen nation;
Praise the God of thy salvation.

Oh, joy to know that thou, my Friend,
Art Love, beginning without end,
The First and Last, eternal!
And thou at length —- O glorious grace!
Wilt take me to that holy place,
The home of joys supernal.
Amen, Amen!

Come and meet me!
Quickly greet me!

With deep yearning,
Christ, I look for thy returning.

Philipp Nicolai, 1597
translation composite
Tune:
WIE SCHON LEUCHTET (8.8.7.8.8.7.4.8.4.8)
Philipp Nicolai, 1599
harm. John Knowles Paine, 1872


The major work of Paine's later life was an opera, Azara, which was scheduled to be performed at the Metropolitan Opera in 1906. However, the performers, at that time used to singing only in Italian (regardless of the original language of any work) refused to learn a piece in English and the premiere never took place. It was performed in concert at Harvard and elsewhere, but has never been presented in a fully staged production.

P.S. The portrait of Paine above (undated) is by Caroline Amelia Cranch (1853-1931), donated to Harvard Universaity by Paine's daighter-in-law in 1920.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Feast of the Epiphany

The Feast of the Epiphany, now observed twelve days after Christmas, is in fact the older of the two observances. As early as the fourth century, this day was marked to celebrate the Incarnation, including the Nativity, the visit of the three magi, the baptism of Christ in the Jordan, and even the anniversary of Jesus's first miracle at Cana. Now, of course, we've broken those all up into different occasions, with Christmas overshadowing them all.

The season of Epiphany retained the other observances of the Incarnation, those examples of Christ showing his divine nature to the world around him, leaving the date of January 6 for the story of the sages from the East (but signifying the nations of the world) following a brilliant
star which guided them to the wondrous birth in Bethlehem.

This particular hymn also dates from the fourth century, though it was not a part of the Catholic Epiphany liturgy until 1570, following the
Council of Trent. Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius only became a Christian poet late in life, after careers as a lawyer and judge. This text (O sola magnarum urbium) begins at line 77 of a much longer work, Quicumque Christum quaeritis. It has been translated into English several times; this one is based on a version by Edward Caswall, altered by the editors of Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1861 (where it was first matched to this tune).

Earth has many a noble city;
Bethlehem, thou dost all excel;
Out of thee the Christ from heaven
Came to rule o'er Israel.

Fairer than the sun at morning
Was the star that told his birth,
To the world its God announcing
Seen in fleshly form on earth.

Eastern sages at his cradle
Make oblations rich and rare;
See them give, in deep devotion,
Gold and frankincense and myrrh.

Sacred gifts of mystic meaning:
Incense doth their God disclose,
Gold the promised reign proclaimeth,
Myrrh his sepulcher foreshows.

Jesus, whom the nations worshipped
At thy glad Epiphany,
Unto Thee, with the Creator
And the Spirit, glory be.

Aurelius Prudentius, 4th cent.
tr. Edward Caswall, 1849; alt.
Tune:
STUTTGART (8.7.8.7.)
Psalmodia Sacra; 1715
adapt. Henry J. Gauntlett, 1861


One Year Ago: We Too May Seek That Cradle


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

All Speech Flow to Music (Day Twelve)

On the last day of Christmas we look back to the message of the angels, but also forward to apply it to our own time.

The Quaker poet
John Greenleaf Whittier was primarily known for his anti-slavery activities; they were the focus of his poetry and his editorship of The National Era and other abolitionist journals. Some biographical sources suggest that Whittier's political activity ceased after the Civil War, but this text from 1873, adapted from his poem A Christmas Carmen, shows his support for the cause of peace.

Sound over all waters, reach out from all lands,
The chorus of voices, the clasping of hands;
Sing hymns that were sung by the stars of the morn,
Sing songs of the angels when Jesus was born!

Sing concord of nations! in chorals of love
Sing out the war-vulture and sing in the dove,
The long night is ending and dawn has begun;
Rise, hope of the ages, arise like the sun!

Blow, bugles of battle, the marches of peace;
East, west, north, and south let the long quarrel cease
Sing the song of great joy from the angels begun,
All speech flow to music, all hearts beat as one!

John Greenleaf Whittier, 1873; adapt.
Tune:
LANSING (11.11.11.11.)
Charles H. Gabriel, 1912


This tune by Charles Gabriel first appeared in the Presbyterian Psalter (1912) used with a paraphrase of Psalm 24, Ye gates lift your heads, the glad summons obey. Whittier's text has also been sung to ST DENIO and CRADLE SONG.

In 1982, the text was set to music by composer Paul Halley, organist and music director at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in honor of Coretta Scott King, who was coming to preach at the cathedral. The piece was first sung on that occasion, and on others since.

Finally, here we are at the end of our twelve days of Christmas music. Hope you have found something interesting that you had not seen before. It's been fun for me but I'm not sure I'll jump to do another long daily series anytime soon!

Monday, January 4, 2010

If Ye Truly Seek It (Day Eleven)

Two more days of Christmas to go! Our last two hymns take us forward from the scene of the Nativity, starting there, reminding us of it, but also bringing the Incarnation into our lives today (despite not exactly being modern texts).

Theodore Chickering Williams was a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and ordained in the Unitarian church. After a brief position in Massachusetts, he became the minister at All Souls Church in New York City, the largest Unitarian congregation there, and he remained for thirteen years. This later hymn first appeared in the Unitarian New Hymn and Tune Book (1914) and shortly thereafter in Charles Hutchins's collection Carols Old and Carols New (1916).

In the lonely midnight
On the wintry hill,
Shepherds heard the angels
Singing, “Peace, good will.”
Listen, O ye weary,
To the angels’ song,
Unto you the tidings
Of great joy belong.

Though in David’s city
Angels sing no more,
Love makes angel music
On earth’s farthest shore;
Though no heavenly glory
Meet your wondering eyes,
Love can make your dwelling
Bright as paradise.

Though the Child of Mary,
Sent from heaven on high,
In the manger cradle
May no longer lie,
Love is first forever,
Though the proud world scorn;
If ye truly seek it,
Christ your Love is born.

Theodore C. Williams, 1914; alt.
Tune: ADORO TE DEVOTE (6.5.6.5.D.)
French plainsong melody, date unknown

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Following Yonder Star (Day Ten)


Though the Feast of the Epiphany does not occur until the twelfth day after Christmas, many churches will observe it today. Today's most well-known Epiphany hymn is assumed by most people to be a Christmas carol, so it more or less falls within our series.

The story of the magi from the east that follow a star to Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn Jesus is only told in Matthew 2:1-12. They aren't called "kings" there (nowhere does it say there were three of them either) but apparently it was a later assumption that only kings could afford the gifts they brought. Verses from the Old Testament such as Isaiah 60:3 and Psalm 72:10-11 also prophesy about kings coming and bringing gifts to the Messiah. Online you can read much more about the various legends surrounding these visitors and how those legends developed over time.

We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

Refrain
O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.


Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign.
Refrain

Frankincense to offer have I;
Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Prayer and praising, voices raising,
Worshipping God on high.
Refrain

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.
Refrain

Glorious now behold him arise;
Monarch, God, and sacrifice;
Alleluia, Alleluia,
Sounds through the earth and skies.
Refrain

John Henry Hopkins, Jr., 1857; alt.
Tune:
WE THREE KINGS (8.8.4.4.6. with refrain)

John Henry Hopkins wrote this for a Christmas pageant at the (Episcopal) General Seminary in New York where he was the first music instructor. It was first published in his collection Carols, Hymns, and Songs (1863), where, as you can see, only the refrain was to be sung by the congregation. Three (presumably male) soloists sang the first and last stanzas in three-part harmony, and each sang one stanza of the middle ones. This arrangement was used in many hymnals from the nineteenth century, though rarely, if ever, today. I don't think I've ever been anywhere where it was sung like that.

Hopkins is now only known for writing the words and music of this hymn, but of course he was much better known in his own day. He wrote several other hymn texts and tunes, as well as service music for the Episcopal Church. At the Cyber Hymnal site you can see three more of his Christmas hymns from his 1863 collection, and the titles of several more hymns at the Hymnary.org site.



One Year Ago: Star of the East


Saturday, January 2, 2010

To Show God's Love Aright (Day Nine)

Moving away from the obscure for a day or two we come to a Christmas selection that I know is a favorite of many. More than four hundred years old, it comes from German Catholic origins, first published in Gebetbuchlein des Frater Conradus (1582) in nineteen stanzas. At that time it focused on Mary, comparing her to the Rose of Sharon from the Song of Solomon 2:1. In Cologne, a later hymnbook, Alte Catholische Geistliche Kirchengeseng (1599) published twenty-three stanzas.

Before long the hymn was taken up by the Protestants and reinterpreted to relate to Jesus. Some claimed that the German word "Ros," or rose actually should have been "Reis," or branch. This would correspond more closely to
Isaiah 11:1.

The translation we know today, mostly from
Theodore Baker, somehow or other combines both the Rose with the prophecy of Isaiah. An earlier translation by Catherine Winkworth (1869) remains closer to the Marian German origins of the text. Many of the German stanzas are also preserved online. Most American hymnals today only print these three.

Lo! how a Rose e'er blooming
From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse's lineage coming,
As those of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah 'twas foretold it,
The Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it,
The virgin mother kind.
To show God's love aright,
She bore to us a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

This Flower, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor
Divisions everywhere;
True flesh, yet very God,
From sin and death Christ saves us,
And lightens every load.

German carol, 15th cent.
tr. Theodore Baker (st. 1 & 2), 1894
Harriet Krauth Spaeth (st. 3), 1875; alt.
Tune:
ES IST EIN ROS' (7.6.7.6.6.7.6.)
Cologne, 1599; harm, Michael Praetorius, 1609

Most people probably visualize a red rose when singing this hymn, and another legend about the origins of this carol tells how a German monk from Trier was walking through the woods in winter and found a rose in bloom growing up through the snow. He brought the miraculous flower back and placed it on the altar to the Virgin Mary, and the carol was first written by someone from that monastery. The flower pictured above, however, is the Christmas rose, which does apparently bloom in winter.

This week I came upon another stanza translated by Harriet Spaeth, sometimes used between the second and third one here. Looking further, I see that her full translation, in five stanzas, and generally used in older Lutheran hymnals, begins Behold, a Branch is growing (no Rose for her!). Some of you may know this one; I'm sure I've never sung it before.

The shepherds heard the story
Proclaimed by angels bright,
How Christ, the Lord of glory
Was born on earth this night.
To Bethlehem they sped
And in the manger they found him,
As angel heralds said.


I don't dislike it (the word sped falls in a fun place in the harmony), but I think we've had a lot of shepherds and angels this week, don't you?


One Year Ago: Elizabeth Rundle Charles

Friday, January 1, 2010

Triumphant the New Song We Sing

While we are still marking the twelve days of Christmas here at CWS (see the entry below for today's hymn), much of the world has moved on. The coming of the New Year offers an opportunity to look ahead and leave the past behind, which today's hymn celebrates with its theme of renewal.

O God, by whom all change is wrought,
By whom new things to birth are brought,
In whom no change is known;
Whate'er thou dost, whate'er thou art,
Thy people still in thee have part,
Still, still thou art our own.

Spirit who makest all things new,
Thou leadest onward; we pursue
The heav'nly march sublime;
'Neath thy renewing fire we glow,
And still from strength to strength we go,
From height to height we climb.

Sorrow and dread we leave behind;
New light, new glory still we find
New realms divine possess,
New births of grace new raptures bring;
Triumphant the new song we sing,
The great Renewer bless.

Thomas Hornblower Gill, 1869; alt.
Tune: INNSBRUCK (8.8.6.8.8.6.)
Heinrich Isaac, c. 1500

Thomas Hornblower Gill was Unitarian by birth, but became a Nonconformist later in life. This hymn was apparently first printed in an American hymnbook, Songs of the Spirit (1871) and later in the British Baptist Hymnal (1879) and several others, including the American Unitarian Hymns of the Spirit (1937). The old tune by Heinrich Isaac, an influential Flemish composer of his time, was also used by J.S. Bach in his cantatas.


One Year Ago: More Voices Found: Bessie Porter Head



Light Our Desert Pathway (Day Eight)

Popular Victorian hymnwriter Frances Ridley Havergal carried out a special annual New Years' tradition. Each year for many years she would write a poem for the occasion and distribute it to her friends and associates. They varied in length, but some of the longer ones (such as the one I wrote about last year) have had a more extended life as hymns.

This short Christmas text, a prayer by Havergal, conveys a different mood from the ones I have been presenting, but I think it's important to remember that not everyone is always in the mood for shepherds and angels and tidings of great joy at this time of year.

Mists and clouds and shadows
Veil the wintry hour
But the sun dispels them
With its rising pow'r.

Mists and clouds and shadows
Often dim our day,
But a Christmas glory
Shines upon our way.

May the Child of Christmas
Counsellor and Friend
Light our desert pathway
Ever, to the end.

Frances Ridley Havergal, date unknown; alt.
Tune:
NORTH COATES (6.5.6.5.)
Timothy R. Matthews, 1862

Timothy Matthews has another more well-known tune sometimes sung around this time of year. North Coates was the village in Lincolnshire where he served as rector for many years.

One of my favorite Christmas ornaments on our tree when I was growing up was a small lantern, which came to mind when thinking about this hymn. The illustration above was as close as I could come to it.