August 13, 2008

On Editing Hymns

A sure-fire way to make a conservative Catholic with a deep love of classical music happy is to bring back some of the old hymns among the more contemporary songs heard today. There is a problem, though- many of them were written at earliest in the century before last, and there is some language that may cause confusion to your congregation.

Like Thee, Thou, Thy, and Thine.

Take, for example, the following hymn, written in the mid-1800s.

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, thy great Name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might;
Thy justice like mountains high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all life thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish, like leaves on the tree,
Then wither and perish; but naught changeth thee.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;
All laud we would render: O help us to see
'Tis only the splendor of light hideth thee.

The first three verses are easily enough edited to substitute you, your, and yours, but that last verse is tricky. So it gets changed to:

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Your angels adoring, all veiling their sight;
We too, God invisible, offer our praise;
O light inaccessible, Ancient of Days!

See what we did here? We couldn't think up anything to rhyme with see instead of thee, so we cut off the last half of the verse, rehashed and regurgitated the first verse, and tacked it on the end! Nevermind the climax of the poem, nevermind the expression of the immanence of God and that glorious revelation that nothing is between us and him.

Nevermind people whose favorite hymn phrases just might include 'Tis only the splendor of light hideth thee.

And now it's published in hymnals all over the nation, to be used in churches that say "Hallowed be THY name" out of sheer habit and then switch over to "For YOURS is the kingdom..."

Why not
All laud would we render: O teach us it's true
There's only a splendor of light hiding you.

Rather a vulgar combination of rhyme and contraction to fit the meter, but it's truer to the original than the "gracefully edited" one, and perhaps its clumsiness would make people question why it had to be changed in the first place...

One of these days I'm going to denounce and renounce the English language.

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Blogger Shakespeare's Cobbler said...

"One of these days I'm going to denounce and renounce the English language."
I'd have said that long ago, but alas the only other language I'm quite capable in is not exactly considered "real" by most people.

You know what though? It isn't hard to just teach people what a few words like thou and thee mean. What I want to know is, why do we bow to ignorance? Heck, for that matter, why is it that everything authorized or approved by the USCCB in the past generation is to Catholicism what babytalk is to language? And why can't they be excommunicated for that? Stupidity is a crime against true pastoring, even if not as great a crime as deliberate corruption (although often the end result is the same)!

Sorry for sounding like a radtrad. I'm not really. Radtrads think the NO must be repealed. I just think we ought to do the NO properly, which includes respecting English as a rooted language and not just something constantly made up by each new subgeneration -- I'll be glad when the new translation comes into common use.

August 13, 2008 9:10 PM  
Blogger Immortal Philosopher said...

Yeah, I can't get married until the new translation. ^_^

As for the bit about the English language - with you 100%

instead of it's you could use 'tis, and that would fit.

Why can't all our church music be like Dies Ire? I would totally love that.

Great post, Mar.

Incidentally, I went to Mass at St. Paul Cathedral in St. Louis, and they played this reminded me of you, as per my usual. XD

August 13, 2008 10:38 PM  
Blogger The Sojourner said...

We sing this hymn at our church. Guess what we do.


Did you guess? We happily substitute "you" and "yours" in blissful ignorance of the rhyming scheme.

It makes me cringe every time.

August 15, 2008 10:37 AM  

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