Monday, August 22, 2016

"And Now the Wants Are Told"

Here is a good hymn text sorely in need of a new tune.

And now the wants are told, that brought
thy children to thy knee;
here lingering still, we ask for nought,
but simply worship thee.

The hope of heaven's eternal days
absorbs not all the heart
that gives thee glory, love, and praise,
for being what thou art.

For thou art God, the One, the Same,
o'er all things high and bright;
and round us, when we speak thy name,
there spreads a heaven of light.

O wondrous peace, in thought to dwell
on excellence divine;
to know that nought in man can tell
how fair thy beauties shine!

O thou, above all blessing blest,
o'er thanks exalted far,
thy very greatness is a rest
to weaklings as we are;

for when we feel the praise of thee
a task beyond our powers,
we say, "A perfect God is he,
and he is fully ours."

Original author William Bright, 1865. Published in 1895 under the authority of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

This seems meant for a meditation at the end of a church service or prayer service. It draws the mind from our earthly needs to God's eternal glory.

My only quibble is that "heaven's eternal days" include the beatific vision and hence will involve the perfection of the worship that the song is all about. But that really is a quibble. It is a long tradition to contrast any desire for the concrete things we might hope for in heaven with pure worship.  "Look for Me At Jesus' Feet" and "I Want to See Jesus" are examples in Southern gospel music.

The poem captures well the mind's repose in the greatness of God. We don't have to do something about it. We can appreciate it and rest our minds on the contemplation of it. "Thy very greatness is a rest to weaklings as we are."

The tune to which it is set in the 1940 hymnal is "Stracathro," found here. It is less than exciting as a tune, in my opinion. Ideally we would find a tune that would have more intrinsic interest while being singable and fitting with the words. It could be introduced to modern churches as a worship song.


R.C. said...

"Coronation" wouldn't be bad (common setting for "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name").

That would require doubling the last two lines of each stanza, but from humming that in my head, it doesn't sound too bad.

Lydia McGrew said...

I love "Coronation" as a tune, but my own opinion is that it wouldn't work here. This is a much more contemplative text. Plus doubling the last two lines if each stanza just sounds pointless, whereas in "All Hail the Power" it fits with the triumphal nature of the words. I can't imagine repeating, "Here lingering still we ask for nought but simply worship thee" and having that "work" artistically.

Lydia McGrew said...

Posting this comment for Kristor, to whom blogger was giving a hard time:

I love Stracathro. It is one of those settings that doesn't assert itself, doesn't get in the way. It rather just offers itself as a fitting platform and instrument for emphatic meditation upon the words of the text. Why would one want excitement from a tune, when the whole urge of the poem is toward the immense fathomless rest of the creaturely mind upon the infinity of God, who is the point and resolution of all excitements?

Humility, simplicity, parsimony, economy: these are goods too often overlooked in music (cf. rap, rock, etc. ad nauseam)(and you, too, Berlioz, you brilliant infant). The purest highest most profound ecstasies are to be found in resolution, rest, quietness.

Lydia McGrew said...

I myself find it difficult to love Stracathro, not because I want excitement from a tune, but because I want tunefulness and singability. For example, Aberystwyth (the best-known tune of "Jesus, Lover of My Soul") is not exciting. It's quiet and even unassuming, but is very beautiful and tuneful. It stays with one and thus fixes the words in one's mind. I don't find (for myself) the same to be true of Stracathro. Then again, a tune like Aberystwyth doesn't come along every day.