Sunday, May 17, 2009

Kindly Earth With Timely Birth

In some English traditions, this last Sunday in Eastertide (also ennumerated as three weeks before Trinity Sunday) is celebrated as Rogation Sunday. The original rogation customs are varied, but involved the days just before the Ascension. Prayers were offered for the growing crops; in modern times this is broadened to God's whole creation.

O Jesus, crowned with all renown,
Since thou the earth hast trod,
Thou reignest, and by thee come down
Henceforth the gifts of God.
Thine is the health, and thine the wealth
That in our halls abound;
And thine the beauty and the joy
With which the years are crowned.

Thus in their change let frost and heat
And winds and dew be giv’n;
All fostering power, all influence sweet,
Breathe from the bounteous heav’n.
Attemper fair with gentle air
The sunshine and the rain,
That kindly earth with timely birth
May yield her fruits again;

That we may feed the poor aright,
And, gathering round thy throne,
Here in the holy angels’ sight
Repay thee of thine own.
That we may praise thee all our days,
And with our Maker's Name,
And with the Holy Spirit's gifts
The Savior's love proclaim.

Edward White Benson, 1860; alt.
Traditional English melody
arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906

Edward White Benson, later Archbishop of Canterbury, was the headmaster of Wellington College when he wrote this hymn. Originally in six verses, this version first appeared in the Episcopal hymnal of 1916. As we have seen in other cases, some verses are omitted and some combined with lines left out, giving a sharper focus to the theme for congregational use. The last four lines are found nowhere in Benson's original, but were added by someone on that 1916 committee to give the hymn a Trinitarian ending.

I do like this verse, originally the third of eight:

And as, when ebbed the flood, our sires
Kneeled on the mountain sod,
While o’er the new world’s altar fires
Shone out the bow of God;
And sweetly fell the peaceful spell—
Word that shall aye avail —
“Summer and winter shall not cease,
Seed time nor harvest fail."

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