THE SHORTENING WINTER'S DAY IS NEAR A CLOSE
All three paintings by Scottish Landscape Artist,
Joseph Farquharson, 1846 - 1935
This past Sunday, I attended a choral evensong, one of my favorite autumn traditions. The service closed with the lovely hymn "The Day Thou Gavest," and the words and music of this evensong standard have been playing in my head ever since. You might also be familiar with the tune from Rick Wakeman's dramatic instrumental anthem for Anne Boleyn that Gerry pointed me in the direction of: click here to enjoy in concert! You will also find that a shorter version appears on Wakeman's CD The Six Wives of Henry VIII.
The music, "St. Clement," was composed either by the Rev. Clement Cotteville Schofield or by Sir Arthur Sullivan; and the lyrics were written by British hymnologist John Ellerton in 1870:
The Day Thou Gavest
(click to hear choral rendition)
The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended;
The darkness falls at Thy behest;
To Thee our morning hymns ascended,
Thy praise shall sanctify our rest.
We thank Thee that Thy church unsleeping,
While earth rolls onward into light,
Through all the world her watch is keeping,
And rests not now by day or night.
As o'er each continent and island
The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent,
Nor dies the strain of praise away.
The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethren 'neath the western sky,
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
Thy wondrous doings heard on high.
So be it, Lord! Thy throne shall never,
Like earth's proud empires, pass away;
Thy kingdom stands, and grows for ever,
Till all Thy creatures own Thy sway.
by John Ellerton
This beautiful hymn ranks as one of the top choices for funeral music, and no wonder -- the first stanza is a perfect metaphor for the close of life, the end of day, and the sad reality that this conclusion rarely comes at our own behest, but at that of another, greater power. There's also a little bit of Ozymandias lurking in the last stanza -- sand more vast than any proud empire could ever hope to be.
Beyond the first stanza, why do I like this hymn so much? Queen Victoria favored it as a fitting metaphor for her Empire "on which the sun never set." It was sung at her Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and again in 1997 when Britain handed control of Hong Kong to China. However, I have never counted myself an imperialist, nor do I claim to be a great proponent of the the church triumphant or the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.
What I hear in these lines -- and in the word church -- is a reference to the power of the universe, a much larger force than mere humanity, untainted by motive, striving not in its own best interest but just being, in a way that's difficult for an earthling to grasp. It feels to me like what The Prophet calls "Life's longing for itself."
Perhaps the Universe too has a longing for itself. The world longs to turn; the sun longs to set. This is precisely what Anne Sexton suggests in her poem "Lament." She offers this description of how the universe responds to a day of tragedy:
unaccustomed to anything else
goes all the way down."
The humans weep at the loss of a friend; the sun does not know any different.
The unsleeping church in Ellerton's hymn reminds me of the parental voice in the old Welsh lullaby, "All Through the Night," a song assuring us that love alone is keeping watch:
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping,
Hill and vale in slumber sleeping
Love alone its watch is keeping,
All through the night . . .
While the weary world is sleeping,
All through the night . . .
~ as sung by Connie Kaldor
on her CD Lullaby Berceuse
Another beautiful rendition of this lullaby can be heard in the Denholm Elliot film version of A Child's Christmas in Wales
The most beautiful close of day paintings that I know of are those by Joseph Farquharson who painted numerous vividly hued winter sunsets, all with such evocative names as "The Shortening Winter's Day is Near a Close" (at top), "Afterglow" and "Glowing Sunset" (see above), "Day's Dying Glow," "The Sun Had Closed the Winter's Day,"
and this one --
SEE YOU IN TWO WEEKS FOR MY
Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, November 14, 2011
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