Lyrics don’t have to rhyme. Lyrics don’t have to rhyme. Lyrics don’t have to rhyme.
This is the mantra I’ve been repeating to myself between singing this song and getting settled at the computer. I know…I KNOW lyrics don’t have to rhyme. But WOW a song sits weirdly on my ear when they don’t. There isn’t even approximate rhyming, like you hear in a lot of pop songs (where words sound vaguely like rhymes, or where the last words of the verse rhyme). I think what makes it notable in a lot of hymns is that they are, relatively speaking, square and short – meaning you’re not lost in an intense verse for a while that offers a rhyming chorus to release the tension. Rather, you’re in and out quickly on a hymn like this, and so you notice.
Or at least I do.
I know, I go on and on about lyric structure a lot. And I am sure if you’re a regular reader, you’re rolling your eyes at me about now and saying “c’mon, Debus, get on with it!” Okay, okay, just don’t blame me when you sing it and long for a rhyme.
So yeah. The tune, Sursum Corda, has been used before, in Now Light Is Less and The Peace Not Passing Understanding… two hymns which I grouse about rhyme. What is it about this tune that attracts awkward rhymes? Sorry, y’all, but it’s a thing.
Now these lyrics – poetic free verse from Rabindranath Tagore – are beautiful, but I’m not sure when I would ever use it. My hesitation may be contextual – I serve a congregation whose average age is over 70, and who has been told by others that they’re old and dying, both as a congregation and as individuals. So having them sing of coming death makes me – and them – squirmy. Yet I’m sure there are good uses for this hymn, in those services about simple joys, connecting with nature, perhaps even mother’s day.
Now I recall my childhood when the sun
burst to my bedside with the day’s surprise;
faith in the marvelous bloomed anew each dawn,
flowers bursting fresh within my heart each day.
Then looking on the world with simple joy,
on insects, birds, and beasts, and common weeds,
the grass and clouds had fullest wealth of awe;
my mother’s voice gave meaning to the stars.
Now when I turn to think of coming death,
I find life’s song in starsongs of the night,
in rise of curtains and new morning light,
in life reborn in fresh surprise of love.
But I don’t know. I think there are beautiful phrases and imagery, and “my mother’s voice gave meaning to the stars” makes me cry as I miss my own mother. And yet, when it comes to songs that out and out inspire me, this isn’t it. And I may be alone in this feeling.
(I am chuckling, because a few days ago, on Facebook, I invited friends to ‘sound like me’ and one totally captured my “it doesn’t work for me but it may work for you” thing that I do perhaps a little too often. And yeah, I don’t always have a positive connection to a hymn, but I am always willing for it to work for someone else, in a setting and perspective that is different from mine.)
This one just doesn’t compel me, and not just because it doesn’t rhyme.
Que sera, sera.