Sunday, December 6, 2009

To Give Them Songs for Sighing

As we wait during the season of Advent, stories are told of righted wrongs and promised justice, of the prosperity and peace that will prevail in the coming reign of Christ. Psalm 72, often read during Advent, is a prayer for this future.

This paraphrase of Psalm 72 is by James Montgomery. It was written for the British
Moravian community at Fulneck and was first sung on Christmas Day, 1821. Montgomery then sent it to George Bennett, an acquaintance who was then in the South Seas, thus beginning its long use as a missionary hymn as well as a prophetic Advent text.

Hail to you, God’s anointed,
Messiah yet to come!
Hail in the time appointed,

Your reign on earth begun!
You come to break oppression,

To set the captive free;
To take away transgression

And rule in equity.

You come with succor speedy

To those who suffer wrong;
To help the poor and needy,

And bid the weak be strong;
To give them songs for sighing,

Their sadness put to flight,
Whose souls, condemned and dying,

Are precious in your sight.

You shall come down like showers

Upon the fruitful earth;
And love, joy, hope, like flowers,

Spring in your path to birth.
Before you, on the mountains,

Shall Peace, the herald, go,
And righteousness, in fountains,

From hill to valley flow.

Kings shall fall down before you,

And gold and incense bring;
All nations shall adore you,

Your praise all people sing;
For you shall have dominion

O’er river, sea and shore,
Far as the eagle’s pinion

Or dove’s light wing can soar.

To you shall prayer unceasing

And daily vows ascend;
Your commonwealth increasing,

A reign that has no end:
The mountain dews shall nourish

The seed which you have sown,
Whose fruit shall spread and flourish,

A garden grace has grown.

O’er every foe victorious,

You on your throne shall rest;
From age to age more glorious,

All blessing and all blest.
The tide of time shall never

Your covenant remove;
Your Name shall stand forever,

That Name to us is Love.

James Montgomery, 1821; alt.
German folk tune, 17th c.

More denominations know this hymn to the ubiquitous tune ELLACOMBE, but that's not a favorite of mine. Few hymnals still include six stanzas of this text; often the fourth and fifth stanzas are combined into one by using only the first four lines of each one. Montgomery's original actually has two more, the original third and fifth:

By such shall you be fearèd
While sun and moon endure;
Beloved, obeyed, reverèd;

For you shall judge the poor
Through changing generations,

With justice, mercy, truth,
While stars maintain their stations,

Or moons renew their youth.

Arabia’s desert ranger

To you shall bow the knee;
The Ethiopian stranger

Your glory come to see;
With offerings of devotion

Ships from the isles shall meet,
To pour the wealth of oceans

In tribute at your feet.

Eight eight-line stanzas is probably a bit overlong even for me.

One Year Ago: Hark, the Voice of One That Crieth


Dorothy said...

I do like this one, C.W.S., but eight stanzas?! I'm totally with you on that one!

Leland Bryant Ross said...

This is one of my favorites, too, but I can't support either the alteration of the first line, or the modernization (thee >> you), and I'm not convinced the shift of person is an improvement either (though it does eliminate the gender issue).

Have you looked at the version in the Psalter Hymnal? They, like Montgomery, give many stanzas (don't have it in front of me, so I can't give an exact count; I'm thinking seven), but they treat it as a straightforward (and complete) metrical psalm, following Montgomery only where he is close enough to Scripture for their tastes, and using however many stanzas it takes to get the full biblical content metricized.

As for the tune, I agree with not using ELLACOMBE here; my own preference, based on my Northern Baptist upbringing, is for what we call SHEFFIELD (and the rest of the world calls BRITISH GRENADIERS). My hymnal index shows it set to at least 11 tunes, the others being ROCKPORT; JESUS CHRIST, UNSER HERRE; MISSIONARY HYMN; ST THEODULPH; WEBB; WESTWOOD; WOODBIRD; and WOLVERCOTE.

AuntE said...

I always find it interesting to see what other tunes people associate given words with - or the possibilities of tunes that might work. I personally like ELLACOMBE, but then that was probably by default.

Sorry, Leland, but BRITISH GRENADIERS wouldn't work for me as I'd always be thinking of the original! :) ...which, IMO, is the challenge of using folk melodies for sacred texts.

Leland Bryant Ross said...

Ah, but AuntE, if you had had a proper Northern Baptist upbringing, you'd have learned SHEFFIELD as "Hail to the Lord's Anointed" first, and only later in your secular schooling would you have been exposed to "British Grenadiers" ;-)... Much as most orthodox people associate the tune TEMPUS ADEST FLORIDUM with the text "Good King Wenceslas looked out" (or maybe some folks even "Gentle Mary laid her child"), and only late in life if ever make the acquaintance of "Spring hath now unwrappt her flowers" even in translation...

Oh, and I have a hunch (I'll have to check) that the WOODBIRD tune I referred to is none other than the more usually cited ES FLOG EIN KLEIN'S WALDVÖGELEIN.

C.W.S. said...

Yes, WOODBIRD is this tune (= Waldvogelein, I believe). Both the 1916 and 1940 Episcopal hymnals, coming out during the two World Wars, did not use any German tune names, changing them all to something more innocuous.