Thursday, July 11, 2013

John Quincy Adams

Today is the birthday of John Quincy Adams, the only US President known to have written a number of hymns and psalm paraphrases. As described here before, Adams wrote metrical versions of all 150 Psalms, though unfortunately they were never collected and published in one edition.  Several appeared in The Christian Psalter (1841) and others were published in Poems of Religion and Society (1849).

Of course, this would include a version of the well-known Psalm 23, perhaps the most widelly adapted of all the Psalms.  Adams's version begins:

My Shepherd is the Lord on high,
His hand supplies me still;
In pastures green he makes me lie,
Beside the rippling rill.

His lifelong interest in religion and the Bible made him open to different interpretations of scripture.  He converted from Congregationalism to the Unitarian faith, but, as President, he habitually attended at least two Sunday services, one Unitarian (he had been a founding member of the First Unitarian Church of Washington - now All Souls Unitarian - in 1821) and another, either Episcopalian or Presbyterian.  He once wrote  "I can frequent without scruple the church of any other sect of Christians, and join with cheerfulness the social worship of all without subscribing implicitly to the doctrines of any . . . "  (He was, however, rather bored by his experience at a Quaker meeting, conducted in silence.)

Today's text is his paraphrase of Psalm 65, a song of thankfulness for the bounties of God.

For thee in Zion waiteth praise,
O God, O thou that hearest prayer;
To thee the suppliant voice we raise,
To thee shall humankind repair;
On thee the ends of earth rely,
In thee the distant seas confide;
By thee the mountains brave the sky,
And girded by they strength abide.

Thou speakest in the tempest peace,
The roaring wave obeys thy nod;
The tumults of the people cease,
Earth marvels at the voice of God;
The morning's dawn, the evening's shade
Alike thy pow'r with gladness see;
The fields from thee the rains receive,
And swell with fruitfulness from thee.

Thy river, gracious God, o'erflows,
Its streams for human wants provide;
At thy command the harvest grows,
By thy refreshing show'rs supplied.
Thy bounty clothes the plains with grass,
Thy path grows fruitful as it goes;
And wheresoe'er thy footsteps pass,
The desert blossoms like the rose.

Thy goodness crowns the circling year,
The wilderness repeats thy voice;
The mountains clad with flocks appear,
The hills on every side rejoice.
New harvests from the valleys spring,
The reaper's sickle they employ;
And hark! how hill and valley ring
With universal shouts of joy!

John Quincy Adams, 
George Coles, 1835

Four Years Ago: John Quincy Adams

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