It’s a Hymn by Hymn miracle!
Today is September 1st, and the hymn today mentions September! The hymnal is right on schedule, pretending it hasn’t had me sing Christmas songs in spring and summer songs in winter and Easter songs at General Assembly. I hardly know what to make of it.
What I do know is that every time I start to sing this hymn, all my memories go to the first time I sang it in a small group and how baffled we were to find the phrasing so it didn’t sound automated. The key, we discovered, was realizing that while the bar lines have us singing four beats, then three, then four, etc., it’s best thought of in a 7/4 phrasing, which we decided feels like the tides as sung by Gregorian monks.
So here’s the funny thing, though. We have sung this before, as In the Lonely Midnight. But it’ written there in 7/8 and has a very different feel. This 7/4 is more flowing, less sprightly, and oddly, easier to sing that the 7/8 setting. For me, anyway.
But on to the words – from a piece by 20th century Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (and translated by our very own Mark Belletini – is there anything that guy can’t do?) – this is a lush text. It is haunting and wistful and hopeful.
All my memories of love hang upon high stars.
All the souls I’ve lost to tears now the autumn jars;
and the air around me here thickens with their song;
sing again their nameless tunes, sing again, and strong.
Willows in September touch the water clear,
set among the rushes tall of the flowing year.
Rising up from sunlit past comes the shadowed sigh
running toward me silently, love to fortify.
Many are the graceful hearts hung upon this tree.
And it seems there’s room for mine on these branches free;
and the sky above the tree, whether wet or bright,
is my ease and comforting, my good news and light.
A fitting hymn for a memorial service, or an All Souls day service, or a gorgeous vespers set around memory and remembrance.
It’s not the easiest piece we have in our hymnal, but it is simply gorgeous.
Photo by Alain /Papylin