Saturday, 13 December 2008

The Audacity of 19th Century Hope

The following Christmas Hymn was written by EDMUND HAMILTON SEARS (1810-1876).

Sears was an Unitarian Minister.
He was born in Sandisfield, MA (not far from Pittsfield where I served (1984-2000).

He died in Weston, MA (not far from Cambridge where I served (2000 – 2006).

The hymn reflects the height of 19th Century “liberal optimism” about the perfectibility of human nature, with its hope that:

….. with the ever circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendours fling.


That optimism was shattered when the two top European and Christian Powers (the United Kingdom and Germany) engaged in the blood bath of the Great War (1914-1918) - a war which shaped the rest of Century 20.

But, ignoring history, we still sing Sears’ hymn.

The song has a well loved tune “Carol” by Willis which is always used in the United States.

The equally loved tune “Noel” by Sullivan is preferred in the United Kingdom.



In England we pronounce “Babel” (stanza 2) as it rhymes with the word “babe”.

In these United States we pronounce it as it rhymes with the word “babble”


Here is the lovely, but all too sentimental text.


________________________________________
It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold;
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From Heaven’s all gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever over its Babel sounds
The bless├Ęd angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet-bards foretold,
When with the ever circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendours fling,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

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