Monday, March 4, 2013

Bid my anxious fears subside

Sean Curnyn has just discovered one of the greatest of great hymns:
.... It is a song from Wales. The lyric is by a great 18th century Welsh writer named William Williams, also known as Williams Pantycelyn (there being so many “Williamses” in Wales that it is necessary to give them nicknames in order to be sure that everyone receives the appropriate royalties). The song became what it is today, however, sometime around 1904/05, when the English version of the lyric was wedded to a recently-composed tune by yet another great Welshman named John Hughes, i.e. the tune titled “Cwm Rhondda,” after the Welsh valley of the same name. This was during what is known as a Great Awakening or religious revival in Wales, and one that spread (not unlike the tune) to many other quarters.

This marriage of words and music was one made in heaven, apparently, as the song became very quickly and deeply beloved of the Welsh. It has ultimately come to be known as the unofficial national anthem of Wales, and can be heard sung ceremonially at important sporting events (i.e. rugby matches).

In Wales itself, it is generally known either as “Bread of Heaven” (a line from the first verse) or as “Cwm Rhondda,” the name of the melody. ....

It is a hymn which derives its imagery and narrative directly from the story of the Israelites, led from slavery in Egypt and guided to the Promised Land, as in the Bible from Exodus through Joshua. Key touchstones from that story are invoked to convey the prayer of just one poor sinner, wishing for God’s guidance, trusting in His grace, and offering humble praise. .... [more]
When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death, and hell’s destruction
Land me safe on Canaan’s side:
Songs and praises, songs and praises,
I will ever give to thee;
I will ever give to thee.

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