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.
John Darwall, 1773

This text is written in the unique Hallelujah Meter (, sometimes also written as ( 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

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