Tuesday, January 6, 2009

We Too May Seek That Cradle

So here we are on the twelfth day after Christmas, the actual day of the Feast of the Epiphany in Western tradition. Churches that are especially strict about the liturgical calendar have waited until today to celebrate the coming of the Magi, though their attendance would probably have been better this past Sunday.

Today's hymn has come up in discussion before but I still wanted to use it today because it's a particular favorite of mine, even though I don't see it in any of the contemporary hymnals where it might logically be found.

Saw you never, in the twilight,
When the sun had left the skies,
Up in heav’n the clear stars shining
Through the gloom, like silver eyes?
So of old the sages, watching,
Saw a little stranger star,
And they knew the Christ was given,
And they followed it from far.

Heard you never of the story
How they crossed the desert wild,
Journeyed on by plain and mountain,
Till they found the holy Child?
How they opened all their treasure,
Knelt in awe and wondering;
Gave the gold and fragrant incense,
Gave the myrrh in offering?

Know ye not that lowly baby
Was the bright and morning Star?
One who came to light the nations,
And the scattered isles afar?
And we, too, may seek that cradle;
There our hearts’ best treasures lay;
Love, and faith, and true devotion
For our Savior, God, alway.

Cecil Frances Alexander, 1853: alt.
French melody, 15th c.; arr. Charles Wood, 1902

This hymn was first published in Cecil Frances Alexander's Narrative Hymns for Village Schools (1853), where it was titled The Adoration of the Wise Men. It is perhaps considered too quaint for modern-day worshippers, but its charm is not lost on me, and hopefully not on you either.

Irish composer Charles Wood, probably best known for his Anglican anthems and service music, arranged this tune from a medieval French love song (Helas! je l'ay perdu, or Alas! I am lost) for the Cowley Carol Book in 1902.


Dorothy said...

Nor is its charm lost on me, C.W.S. What lovely words, indeed!

Noel Jones, AAGO said...

At Saint John Neumann Choir, we have sung it every year for the past three. It's one of our staples...

noel jones

C.W.S. said...

Thanks for stopping by, Noel. It's always good to hear that some of the classics (at least, my idea of the classics) are still being sung.