Saturday, 21 January 2012

Where they need no star to guide,/ Where no clouds Thy glory hide

Epiphany window by Burne-Jones in Winchester Cathedral

Catching up on this week's Choral Evensong from Winchester Cathedral reminded me that it's still Epiphanytide, of course. So here's an Epiphany hymn - I think my favourite (competing only with this). Apparently some people find it boring (fools!), but to my taste the parallelism of the 'as... so...' clauses in verses 1-3 is supremely elegant, understated, and beautiful; and verse 4 and 5 are superb. It's poetry, not 'just' a hymn. You don't even notice the demanding rhyme scheme, he makes it look so easy.

The author of this hymn is William Chatterton Dix, who also wrote 'What child is this?', 'Alleluia, sing to Jesus', 'Come unto me, ye weary', and this harvest hymn. That's a pretty good list. According to the unquestionable authority of a cursory google search, he seems to have written many of his hymns in his twenties, while confined to his bed with a severe illness and serious depression. I wonder if you can see any of that reflected in the last line of verse 4.

The tune adds substantially to this hymn's charms.

1. As with gladness men of old
Did the guiding star behold,
As with joy they hailed its light
Leading onward, beaming bright,
So, most gracious Lord, may we
Evermore be led to Thee.

2. As with joyful steps they sped
To that lowly manger bed,
There to bend the knee before
Him whom heaven and earth adore,
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek Thy mercy seat.

3. As they offered gifts most rare
At that manger rude and bare,
So may we with holy joy,
Pure and free from sin's alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to Thee, our heavenly King.

4. Holy Jesus, every day
Keep us in the narrow way;
And, when earthly things are past,
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide,
Where no clouds Thy glory hide.

5. In the heavenly country bright,
Need they no created light;
Thou its light, its joy, its crown,
Thou its sun which goes not down;
There forever may we sing
Alleluias to our King.

The introduction to Choral Evensong welcomed the listener to Winchester Cathedral thus: "in this place where the mortal remains of many of our Saxon kings rest. Epiphany in Winchester reminds us of the Christian inspiration of monarchy that built our nation". I liked that, of course; and it makes a nice excuse to post this Winchester picture of 'kings [and one or two queens] coming to the brightness of thy rising'.

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