Sunday, May 29, 2011

Our Hymn of Grateful Praise

Rogation Sunday, a time to mark the changing season and our thanks for the good things of the earth is celebrated in some churches on the last Sunday of the Easter season. Today's hymn is probably still found in nearly every modern hymnal, as it has been for the last century and longer.

For the beauty of the earth,
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,

Source of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flow'r,
Sun and moon, and stars of light,

For the joy of ear and eye,
For the heart and mind's delight,
For the mystic harmony
Linking sense to sound and sight,

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild,

For each perfect gift of thine
to all people freely giv'n,
Graces human and divine,
Flowers of earth and buds of heav'n,

Folliott Sandford Pierpoint, 1864; alt.
Tune: DIX (
Conrad Kocher, 1838

Folliott Pierpoint, a native of Bath in England, reportedly wrote this text after returning from a walk on a fine spring day. Though the hymn is widely used, it is also widely altered; it almost seems that every hymnal editor who has chosen to include it has changed something in the text. Even the well-known last line of the refrain, which I used above as the title, was originally "this our sacrifice of praise." There are also three additional stanzas:

For thy Bride that evermore
Lifteth holy hands above,
Off'ring up on every shore
This pure sacrifice of love,

For the martyrs' crown of light,
For thy prophets' eagle eye,
For thy bold confessors' might,
For the lips of infancy,

For thy virgins' robes of snow,
For thy maiden Mother mild,
For thyself, with hearts aglow,
Jesus,Victim undefiled,

The first of these is sometimes used, altering "Bride" to "Church," but the other two have disappeared completely. I suppose the assumption is that they don't go with the theme of God in Nature, though that wasn't really Sandford's original theme.

DIX is a German tune that was named at some later date in English hymnals when the tune came to be widely matched with
an Epiphany hymn by poet William Chatterton Dix.

Two Years Ago: Kindly Earth with Timely Birth

One Year Ago: Earth Feels the Season's Joyance

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Streams For Thirsting Souls

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday in many churches and if yours is one of them you have probably already heard more than one version of Psalm 23 either read aloud or sung, and a sermon on top.

There are many hymn texts derived from this psalm; some of which we have already seen here (click on the tag below). Two of the most familiar of them
were listed last year on one grouping of "the ten best" hymns. Here's one more for today, and I think I could go on for several more years with one more each year.

I shall not want: in deserts wild
Thou spread’st a table for thy child;
While grace in streams for thirsting souls,
Thro’ earth and heav'n forever rolls.

I shall not want: my longest night
Thy loving smile shall fill with light;
While promises around me bloom,
And cheer me with divine perfume.

I shall not want: thy righteousness
My soul shall clothe with glorious dress;
My heav'nly robe shall be more fair
Than garments kings or angels wear.

I shall not want: whate’er is good,
Of daily bread or angels’ food,
Shall to my longing heart be sure,
So long as earth and heav'n endure.

Charles F. Deems, 1872; alt.
Robert Schumann, 1839, adapt.

Charles Force Deems led the Church of the Strangers in New York City when he wrote this hymn. It was a nondenominational Protestant congregation, founded in part by a $50,000 gift fron philanthopist Cornelius Vanderbilt, and its pastor was feeling a bit overwhelmed with the many individual needs of his parishioners. Meditating on those concerns, the words "I shall not want" from the psalm spoke to him most directly and the hymn soon followed.

The tune CANONBURY which still appears in many hymnals is arranged from a melody by the German composer Robert Schumann in his solo piano work Nachtstucke, Opus 23 No. 4.

Two Years Ago: Samuel Webbe

One Year Ago: Austin C. Lovelace

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Now You Live Forever

Low in the grave you lay,
Jesus, my Savior,
Waiting the coming day,
Jesus, my Love!

Up from the grave you arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er your foes,
You arose a victor from the grave's domain,
Now you live forever, with the saints to reign.
You arose! You arose!
Hallelujah! You arose!

Vainly they watch your bed,
Jesus, my Savior;
Vainly they seal the dead,
Jesus, my Life!

Death cannot keep its prey,
Jesus, my Savior;
You tore the bars away,
Jesus, my Lord!

Robert Lowry, 1874; alt.
CHRIST AROSE ( with refrain)

The sound file doesn't quite capture the usual distinction between the short stanzas, generally played and sung quite slowly and heavily, in contrast to the longer, quicker joyful refrain.

Baptist minister Robert Lowry reportedly wrote this song during the Easter season of 1874, and it was published the following year in Brightest and Best, a collection he helped compile in his caopacity as musical editor at Biglow & Main, which was becoming the largest publisher of Sunday school music and gospel songs in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

This Easter song went on to many other nondenominational songbooks as well as denominational hymnals around the world, well into the twentieth century and beyond, including the British Methodist Hymn-Book (1933) and (a late arrival) in the US Methodist Hymnal of 1964. Even more recently it has been included in the Congregational Hymns for a Pilgrim People (2007) and the Baptist Celebrating Grace (2010). The Guide to United States Popular Culture (2001) even lists it as one of the most popular Easter songs, alongside Irving Berlin's Easter Parade (!) -- I'd like to see which one would really come out on top if you asked a hundred people.

Three Years Ago: Julian of Norwich

Three Years Ago: Mother's Day

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Not Faithless, But Believing Be

On the Second Sunday of Easter, many churches will hear the story of the disciple Thomas (from John 20: 24-29), who was not with the others the first time they saw Jesus after the Resurrection, and would not believe the story until he had seen his friend for himself. I like to remind people that the other disciples didn't believe the story either when Mary first told them the week before (Luke 24: 1-11), but somehow Thomas is the one who gets scolded for it and held up as a bad example.

This sixteenth century hymn, originally written in Latin by the French Franciscan monk
Jean Tisserand, takes us from the Resurrection to the story of Thomas. The translation most often sung today is by John Mason Neale which first appeared in his Mediaeval Hymns and Sequences (1851). The tune is even older, but it is the one that has always been used with this text -- it's rare that a text/tune combination lasts for more than five hundred years, as we have seen.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

O sons and daughters, let us sing!
Tis Jesus Christ, whose tale we bring,
O'er death today rose triumphing.

That Easter morn, at break of day,
The faithful women went their way
To seek the tomb where Jesus lay.

An angel clad in white they see,
Who sat, and spake unto the three,
“Your friend has gone to Galilee.”

That night th’apostles met in fear;
Amidst them came their friend most dear,
And said, “My peace be on all here.”

When Thomas first the tidings heard,
How they had seen the risen Lord,
He doubted the disciples’ word.

“My pierc├Ęd side, O Thomas, see;
My hands, my feet, I show to thee;
Not faithless, but believing be.”

No longer Thomas then denied;
He saw the feet, the hands, the side;
“Thou art my Lord and God,” he cried.

How blessed are they who have not seen,
And yet whose faith has constant been;
For they eternal life shall win.

On this most holy day of days
To God yur hearts and voices raise
In laud and jubilee and praise.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Jean Tisserand, 1525;
tr. John Mason Neale, 1851; alt.
O FILII ET FILIAE (8.8.8. with Alleluias)
French melody, 15th cent.

The original melody has not survived completely unaltered; your hymnal may well have something a but different. The triple Alleluia most often is sung at the beginning and the very end, though some arrangements over the years have inserted it between each stanza. And, of course, most hymnals today do not include all nine stanzas.

P.S. - The illustration above is from The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, c. 1604 (not far from the origin of this hymn), by the Dutch painter Hendrick ter Brugghen.

Two Years Ago: Saint Philip and Saint James

One Year Ago: Joseph Addison