STLT#25, God of the Earth, the Sky, the Sea

Welcome to today’s edition of Hymn By Hymn, wherein Kimberley quibbles with the hymnal editors.

God of the earth, the sky, the sea,
maker of all above, below,
creation lives and moves in you;
your present life through all does flow.

Your love is in the sunshine’s glow,
your life is in the quick’ning air;
when lightnings flash and storm-winds blow,
there is your power, your law is there.

We feel your calm at evening’s hour,
your grandeur in the march of night;
and when the morning breaks in power,
we hear your word, “Let there be light.”

But higher far, and far more clear,
you in our spirit we behold;
your image and yourself are there —
indwelling God, proclaimed of old.

This has the potential to be such a terrific hymn – Longfellow’s lyrics are a wonderful reflection of the immanent God, that divine energy living in everything. Longfellow captures the living pulse that says God is in everything and that the love of this indwelling God is present, always, for all of us.

And then the editors screw up the rhyme pattern in the first freaking verse:

God of the earth, the sky, the sea,
maker of all above, below,
creation lives and moves in you

…YOU? Really? The original, of course, and as expected, is “thee.” And it isn’t like the word isn’t used in STLT – it appears 64 times – five times so far in the hymns we’ve just sung, and we’re only up to #25! Surely one more “thee” would not have hurt. Instead it hurts the ear and feels unnatural, and takes us out of the song.

And while we’re talking about being taken out, the hymn tune that’s being used here – Duke Street – is simply the wrong match. Yes, the meter matches (L.M, or Long Meter – a common meter of four lines of eight). But even if you reject (as our editors do) the commonly used tune St. Catherine (along with typical alternate Pater Ominum) – which isn’t a bad thing, as both tunes feel terribly out of date and a bit hokey – the choice of Duke Street feels incongruent. And it isn’t like there aren’t more LM tunes to choose from – there are 30.

Now admittedly, not all of the 30 would work either, and that’s fine (One More Step is in this grouping, for example). This is how hymnody works – multiple tunes in the same meter that have different emphases, different moods, different tempos. Ultimately, you want a tune that reflects and enhances the lyrics.

And this is where it is subjective, of course. (The change from “thee” to “you” was just silly.) Duke Street, the tune used in STLT, is somewhat strident. It’s a proclamation tune. And when we use it later in Unto Thy Temple, Lord We Come, it makes sense – we’re proclaiming our intention. But here, in this gorgeous language reflecting nature and creation and the indwelling God? Strident makes no sense.  Instead, I’d use Danby (also used for Let All the Beauty We Have Known and Let Christmas Come), or even Gift of Love (Though I May Speak with Greatest Fire) for a more folksy feel. These settings are more reflective, more mystical, more contemplative. And to me, there is Wonder in Longfellow’s lyric, and thus there should be Wonder in our tune.

I love this lyric – it’s grounding for me and harkens to something deep and primordial, something wholly of creation. I will sing it to a different tune, and I will sing “thee” – as Longfellow intended.

And thus endeth the quibbling.

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