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Nearer, my God, to Thee -- Sarah Flower Adams

Guest poem sent in by Suresh Ramasubramanian
(Poem #806) Nearer, my God, to Thee
 Nearer, my God, to Thee,
    Nearer to Thee!
 E'en though it be a cross
    That raiseth me;
 Still all my song would be,
 Nearer, my God, to Thee,
    Nearer to Thee!

 Though like the wanderer,
    The sun gone down,
 Darkness be over me,
    My rest alone.
 Yet in my dreams I'd be
 Nearer, my God, to Thee,
    Nearer to Thee!

 There let the way appear
    Steps unto heav'n;
 All that Thou sendest me
    In mercy giv'n;
 Angels to beckon me
 Nearer, my God, to Thee,
    Nearer to Thee!

    Bright with Thy praise,
 Out of my stony griefs
    Bethel I'll raise;
 So by my woes to be
 Nearer, my God, to Thee,
    Nearer to Thee!

 Or if on joyful wing,
    Cleaving the sky,
 Sun, moon, and stars forgot,
    Upwards I fly,
 Still all my song shall be,
 Nearer, my God, to Thee,
    Nearer to Thee!
-- Sarah Flower Adams
            (1841)

Sarah Flower was born in Harlow, Essex, was an actress (playing Lady
Macbeth in the 1837), a dramatic poet (who wrote "Vivia Perpetua" - about a
Christian martyr - in 1841).  More to the point, she was a Unitarian hymn
writer.

She was one of the earliest feminists.  When she married William Bridges
Adams in 1834, she insisted on a "no housekeeping" pact with him.

She was a close friend of Shelley, and continued with the increasingly
unfashionable ideals of romantic poetry (especially as this was the era when
gritty realism, as seen in Dickens and Carlyle, was becoming more popular)

She was particularly associated the influential but eccentric, and eventually
forgotten school of poets satirized by William Aytoun as "Spasmodics".

The first poem I thought of when I read this hymn was William Ernest Henley's
"Invictus".  And then Dylan Thomas' "Do not go gentle into that good night".
Sheer guts in Invictus, bitter and dogged resistance in "Do not go gentle
...", compared with absolute faith in God in this hymn.

"Do not go gentle..." in particular, stands out in stark contrast to this
poem, with its last, angry stanza -

        And you, my father, there on the sad height,
        Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
        Do not go gentle into that good night
        Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Now for a little more, rather interesting, trivia :)

"Nearer, my God, to Thee" is supposed to have been the hymn the band on the
RMS Titanic played when it sank after hitting an iceberg on 14 April 1912.

Wallace Hartley, the bandleader of the Titanic, an employee of the White Star
Line, who, like all the musicians on board, went down with the ship, was
reportedly particularly fond of this hymn, and wished it to be performed at
his funeral.

There is, however, a controversy about whether "Nearer, my God ..." was even
played on the Titanic that night.  The other contenders for "last song" are
Songe d'Automne (a waltz by Archibald Joyce) and the episcopalian hymn Autumn.

Even among the adherents to the "Nearer, my God .." theory, there's another
(national and denominational) schism.  Protestant Americans are familiar with
the tune (known as "Bethany" written by Lowell Mason, and this is the tune
played both in James Cameron's recent turkey er...umm... hit movie, and the
1953 Eugene Negulesco movie "Titanic", which was the first Hollywood movie on
the Titanic.

However, Wallace Hartley was an Englishman, and would doubtless have
preferred (and been much more familiar with) the British tune (called
"Horbury"), which was composed by the venerable John B Dykes, an Episcopalian
clergyman.  For what it's worth, British director Roy Baker's 1958 Titanic
movie, "A Night to Remember" plays Horbury :)

The Methodists prefer another tune altogether, "Propior Deo", written by Sir
Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan).  I doubt if any movie has been
made featuring this tune though :)  However, shipboard services were
nominally Church of England, and Hartley, the bandleader, was brought up a
methodist (and this was the tune his father, a choirmaster, used at church
for over thirty years).  So "Propior Deo" is just as likely as the other two.

Confusion worse confounded, Sir Arthur Sullivan has _another_ tune for this
grand hymn, which apparently goes under the name "St.Edmund".

A lot of this has been filched from several pages, but mostly summarized
from the excellent article at [broken link] http://www.beanpaste.com/bsg/nearer.html which
includes links to MIDI files of all the contenders to the Titanic's swan
song.

        -suresh

Biography:

 Sarah Flower was born in Harlow, Essex, and married William Bridges Adams
 in 1834. Harold William Stephenson wrote a biography of this actress--Lady
 Macbeth, 1837--dramatic poet (Vivia Perpetua, 1841) and Unitarian hymn
 writer in The Author of Nearer my God to Thee in 1922. "Nearer my God to
 Thee" was one of thirteen hymns published by William Johnson Fox
 (1786-1864) in his Hymns and Anthems in 1841. They were originally sung
 in services at his South Place Chapel.
        -- http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/authors/adamssf.html#notes

18 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Luis Rebolledo Salazar said...

Hi:

I write from Chile. My name is Luis.
I think that "Nearer, my God, to Thee" is a very beautifull Hymn.
Magnificent and intense.
We sings this hymn in our Church.

I need that somebody do me a favor: I need the words of other hymn: He
(That sings Elvis Presley in the album Peace in the Valley).

Sorry for my bad english.

Bye,

Luis Rebolledo Salazar
Inform?tica Dpto.

Valerie said...

For Luis:
He can turn the tide
And calm the angry sea
He alone decides
Who writes a symphony
He lights every star
That makes our darkness bright
He keeps watch all through
Each long and lonely night

He still finds a way
To hear a child's first prayer
Saint or sinner calls
And always finds him there
Though it makes him sad
To see the way we live
He'll always say - I forgive

He still finds a way
To hear a child's first prayer
Saint or sinner calls
And always finds him there
Though it makes him sad
To see the way we live
He'll always say - I forgive

He can grant a wish
Or make a dream come true
He can paint the clouds
And turn the grey to blue
He alone knows where
To find the rainbows end
He alone can see
What lies beyond the bend

He can touch a tree
And turn the leaves to gold
He knows every lie
That you and I have told
Though it makes him sad
To see the way we live
He'll always say - I forgive

Marilyn Kimbrow said...

Hey, I'm trying to find out who wrote "He". My husband is looking for the piano sheet music. MK

Firstparkay1 said...

So touching. . God is our everything

Mary Ann Thompson

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