Tuesday, 19 December 2017

My Mother's Carols

It is twenty years since my mother died. Needless to say, I still miss her, and particularly at Christmas. The way we celebrate Christmas (and Advent, too) is very much according to her design.

Here are some verses she wrote as Christmas carols.  The first is sung to the tune of Let all mortal flesh keep silence, but without the repeat of the first line of melody.  That apparently is how it was originally written (a Picardy carol tune) and the hymnologist Erik Routley commissioned my mother to write a lyric that honoured that. (In the book, Routley notes: The association of this tune with a solemn eucharistic hymn in English hymn books should not prejudice its interpretation here: it is a French peasant carol and should be sung simply and more or less in speech rhythm).  

For myself, I find it almost impossible to sing the tune without the repeated first line.

Anyway, here is my mother's lyric: 

God in highest heaven seeing 
All man's bitter grief and shame
Laid aside his power, his majesty, his bliss, 
To the rescue swiftly came.

God the Son, the Word eternal
Made himself a man on earth,
Entering a world that he himself had made
Through the lowly gate of birth.

There the baby lay in a manger
For his mother had no bed
Thirty years went by, and still the Son of God
Had no place to lay his head.

Yet he did not rest till, testing
Every depth of utter loss,
He, the Lord, was hanging, nailed through hands and feet
Stripped and dead upon a cross.

Jesus, Master, King of glory, 
Teach us loving you alone,
With a joyous will to follow you in peace
By the road that you have shown.

--

Here is another of my mother's carols.  This was also written at the request of Erik Routley for the University Carol Book. It is sung to an Irish Carol tune, whose name I don't recall (and I can't remember what other words I have sung to it, though I know that I have. It begins Doh Doh Mi Doh Mi So with syncopation on the mi-so [ie the mi is half a beat] Do any of my learned readers know the name of the tune?)

1. Come, ye thankful people, and welcome Christ to earth
With songs of joy and gladness at this amazing birth.
For now within the manger the new-born Baby lies;
For him the angels' music is ringing through the skies,
They hail with adoration the one eternal Word
That has to earth descended to be by all men heard.
They hail with adoration the one eternal Word
That has to earth descended to be by all men heard.

2. A maiden and a baby, a stable cold and bare,
Yet never was there palace that could with this compare,
For here the Queen of angels her son and God adores
While he his heavenly Father for all mankind implores.
He comes from highest heaven to end our woe and strife,
That we may live for ever with his celestial life.
He comes from highest heaven to end our woe and strife,
That we may live for ever with his celestial life.

3. "Holy, Holy, Holy" the glorious angels cry,
And "Holy, Holy, Holy" let Christians now reply.
Gold and myrrh and incense are gifts from Eastern kings,
But prayer and adoration the poorest of us brings,
As singing with the angels "Nowell, nowell, nowell",
We worship the manger our Lord, Emmanuel.
As singing with the angels "Nowell, nowell, nowell",
We worship the manger our Lord, Emmanuel.


All of which reminds me... My father met Erik for the first time at breakfast at Magdalen College. Erik was studying theology (he went on to be a United Reformed minister) and was being ragged by some juvenile undergraduates. He was getting heated, and one of his tormentors jibed: 'I thought you Christians were meant to suffer fools gladly.' Erik replied: 'Fools, yes. Congenital bloody idiots, no!' My father instantly recognised him as a soul-mate, and they were firm friends until my father's death in 1978. Erik married my father's sister, Margaret, who was a fine violinist.

All four of them (my father, mother, and Uncle Erik and Aunt Margaret) are now dead; so please say a prayer for them.

Requiescant in pace.

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