Wednesday, January 21, 2009

William Marion Runyan

William Marion Runyan was born on this day in 1870. Ordained in the Methodist church in 1891, he served congregations in Kansas for several years.

Various sources report that he wrote his first gospel song in 1915, and he wrote both texts and tunes in the years to come, his works straddling that divide between public domain and copyrighted material (most anything published after 1923 in this country is copyrighted).

In 1918 he co-edited a songbook with Daniel B. Towner, another gospel songwriter, Songs of the Great Salvation, which has many selections by both men, far more for Runyan at least than are listed at his Cyber Hymnal page. Later, Runyan also co-edited The Service Hymnal for Hope Publishing.

He is most well-known as the composer of the tune used for the (still copyrighted) hymn Great is thy faithfulness.

This earlier (?) text by Runyan is not a gospel song but a hymn text in Common Meter, so we don't know if it was written before the 1915 date, and apparently no one knows if it was written after 1923 either, though no source seems to show it as copyrighted.

“Like as a mother comforteth,”
O words of gentle worth!“
So will I comfort you,” declares
The Mother of the earth.

She bends in faithful watchfulness;
She slumbers not nor sleeps;
Above her trusting child, our God
A constant vigil keeps.

She patient is, as mothers are
Who love their children well;
Our faults and failings she forgives;
Her mercies—who can tell!

“Like as a mother,” grant, O God,
This likeness e’er may be
A holy symbol to declare
The love that dwells in thee.

William Marion Runyan, 20th c.; alt.
John Bacchus Dykes, 1875

The revision to cast the entire text into the feminine gender was done several years ago. Looking at it today I also like the tension between the masculine articles and the motherhood theme in the original text, so I'm not sure which way I would go in case of eventual publication.

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