Sunday, May 20, 2007

And guard and bless our fatherland

More on Bishop William Walsham How. Last week was Rogation Sunday and we sang another of WW How's not very how hymns (see last post for the background on Bishop How). It begins 'To thee our God we fly" and according to the New English Hymnal it is for Rogationtide.

According to the English Hymnal it was under the category "National". There it lived with hymns such as Kipling's "God of our fathers known of old, Lord of our far-flung battle-line...", Chesterton's "O God of Earth and Altar", and some others including the National Anthem. The New English Hymnal has moved it out of the National category and into Rogation, but not without some adjustments.

Unacknowledged adjustments: no daggers.

Let's have a look at what the alterations are.

The first thing to note is that the words of the refrain which comes at the end of every verse have been changed.

In the original, it seems, it went

O Lord stretch forth thy mighty hand
And guard and bless our fatherland.

"Fatherland" is evidently not fashionable these days. Too patriotic?

Instead we have "... and guard and bless our native land".

It's not clear what we are to think if we were not born here, but would still like it to be blessed.

The second thing to note is that it has lost a lot of verses. It had nine in the English Hymnal, four of them with stars. Nine seems to be what William Walsham How wrote. Six survive into the New English Hymnal. They've also been presented in a different order.

One splendid one that has gone is this:

Though vile and worthless, still
Thy people, Lord, are we;
And for our God we will
None other have but Thee.
It's evident that this verse troubled others before the New English Hymnal came on the scene. The compilers of the BBC Hymnal in 1951 decided to change the words of that verse (which is the last verse of the hymn) and substituted this instead:
Though all unworthy, still
Thy people, Lord, are we;
And for our God we will
None other have but thee.

But the New English Hymnal Editors clearly didn't really like this sentiment at all (or maybe they couldn't cope with the inverted sentence structure of the last two lines, who knows). Anyway, for whatever reason they cut that verse out.

Two unobjectionable verses about the Church have also gone (verses 6 and 7 from the complete hymn given below). And verse 5 has been put at the end, for reasons that are not apparent.

I suppose that the end result is a list of petitions with no particular structure, and has a mention of the "land" in the refrain, and it therefore counts as a hymn for rogation. But it was never very great even in its complete and untampered form. It now seems to me to be really quite tedious. Surely English hymnody comes rather better than this?

Anyway, here is the complete thing, as written by How, without editorial intervention.

To Thee our God we fly
For mercy and for grace;
O hear our lowly cry,
And hide not Thou Thy face.


O Lord, stretch forth Thy mighty hand
And guard and bless our Fatherland.

Arise, O Lord of hosts!
Be jealous of Thy Name,
And drive from out our coasts
The sins that put to shame.


Thy best gifts from on high
In rich abundance pour,
That we may magnify
And praise Thee more and more.


The powers ordained by Thee
With heavenly wisdom bless;
May they Thy servants be,
And rule in righteousness.


The Church of Thy dear Son,
Inflame with love’s pure fire,
Bind her once more in one,
And life and truth inspire.


The pastors of Thy fold,
With grace and power endue,
That faithful, pure and bold,
They may be pastors true.


O let us love Thy house,
And sanctify Thy day,
Bring unto Thee our vows,
And loyal homage pay.


Give peace, Lord, in our time;
O let no foe draw nigh,
Nor lawless deed of crime
Insult Thy majesty.


Though vile and worthless, still
Thy people, Lord, are we;
And for our God we will
None other have but Thee.