Sunday, September 03, 2006

My God accept my heart this day

I wasn't in Church at the Gradual Hymn today, because I was out in the parish room catechising the children. But if I had been in Church I would have had to sing hymn 318 in the New English Hymnal.

Hymn 318 begins "My God accept my heart this day and make it always thine..."

According to the New English Hymnal it is by "Matthew Bridges and EDITORS."

Matthew Bridges lived in the 19th Century (1800-94). He started out as an Anglican but converted to Roman Catholicism in 1848, the same year as he published the first edition of Hymns of the Heart.

It seems that Matthew Bridges's hymn had five verses. However, only four of his verses appear in any of the Anglican hymn books so far consulted. The English Hymnal and some others print four verses and then add a doxology as a fifth verse, one of the standard doxologies that fit all common metre tunes:
All glory to the Father be,
All glory to the Son,
All glory, Holy Ghost, to thee,
While endless ages run.
Bridges didn't write that. Rather the hymn book editors tacked it on to make four verses into five.

The editors of the New English Hymnal had another idea about how to make the hymn up to five verses. How about writing a new verse to put on the end instead of the doxology? Writing new verses seems to be what they like best.

This is what they made up:

The vision of thy glory there
Shall be my hope and song,
That where thou dost a place prepare,
I may at length belong.
As a piece of doggerel, this looks fair enough until you think about it. "There" refers to heaven which was mentioned at the end of the previous verse.

But isn't there something odd about the tense? Because it is my hope now, isn't it, that I may at length belong in heaven? So it's not that it shall be my hope, but that it is now my hope, and it is now my song. So I suppose we want to say "The vision of thy glory there, let it now be my hope and song" (though that's a rather odd way to put it). The mood of "shall" in the third person is presumably imperative, but, I think, also future tense.

I suppose the best bet for making this make theological sense would be to suppose that we mean "it shall be my hope and song for the rest of my life, until I get to death". Indeed perhaps the phrase is supposed to be dependent upon the phrase "Let every thought and work and deed" at the start of verse 4. Perhaps we are supposed to be saying (verse 4) "Then life shall be thy service Lord...", and (verse 5) "the vision of thy glory shall be my hope and song". But more on this anon.

One might think that the new verse 5 was oddly constructed grammatically, because in the first two lines the content of the hope and song seem to be "the vision of thy glory there"
The vision of thy glory there
Shall be my hope and song.
Full stop, as it were.
and then we get another expression, "that where thou dost..." which also seems to be grammatically dependent on "hope and song".

...my hope and song,
that where thou dost a place prepare,
I may at length belong.
But presumably, the "that..." clause is meant to unpack what it means to say that the vision of thy glory is to be my hope and my song, namely it means that I shall hope and sing that where thou dost a place prepare I may at length belong.

Well, sort of all right, if a bit prosaic and pedantic. But now here's another question: do I hope that I may belong there? Probably I hope that I do belong there, no?

In fact what I hope for at length is not so much that I shall belong there, but that I shall be there. Belonging there is not something that needs to be delayed until later, though being there probably does.

Does one get the sense that "belong" is there just to rhyme with "song"?

And actually, come to think of it, don't you think that "song" is there just to rhyme with "belong"? Because really this is all about hope and nothing at all about song.

But anyway, why why why did we want to say any of this at all?

Because isn't it obvious that the end of verse 4 has to be the end of the hymn?

I mean, the end of verse 4 is just fantastic and neat, and sums up everything we needed to say with perfect closure:
Then life shall be thy service, Lord,
And death the gate of heaven.
We've already got it all there. Death as the gate of heaven neatly says everything that the editors are trying to achieve in their clumsy verse 5. But by adding verse 5 they have not only given us an otiose repeat of what verse 4 was saying, but actually undermined the effect of that closure. I have no doubt that Bridges knew what he was doing when he made "And death the gate of heaven" the closing line of his hymn. Let's just leave it that way, shall we?

But it seems that the hymn book editors think we need five verses not four.

Well, so be it. But, as I said, it seems that there were five verses in the original as Bridges wrote it, so we don't actually need the editors' help in turning it into a five verse hymn.

What is now verse 4 for us was, I think, verse 5 in Bridges's poem. It was indeed the last verse. But it was preceded by this verse:
May the dear blood once shed for me
My blest atonement prove
That I from first to last may be
The purchase of Thy love!
I don't quite know what's wrong with this verse. I think I would favour restoring that, in preference to the pseudo- composition of the NEH editors.

Oh, and actually I see that they've done more of their dastardly work earlier in the hymn. Compare this (probably what Bridges wrote, if Cyberhymnal is a reliable source):

Anoint me with Thy heavenly grace,
Adopt me for Thine own,
That I may see Thy glorious face,
And worship at Thy throne.
with this (what the NEH has):

Anoint me with Thy heavenly grace,
And seal me for thine own,
That I may run this earthly race,
In thy strong might alone.
The "seal me" bit was already in the English Hymnal, and before that in Hymns A and M but the rest is new work by the NEH.

Comments please...

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