April 29th, 2007


Well, well, well

This year is the 300th anniversary of Charles Wesley's birth. In honor of ol' Chuck, Asbury Theological Seminary is sponsoring a contest to solicit original compositions of new tunes for existing hymn texts by Charles Wesley. Entries are due by October.

Only Asbury students and alumni may enter. Which is why collinsmom plunked the flyer down in front of me. I've written some hymns in my day (though I'm usually better at fitting new words to old tunes than writing new tunes for old words).

So, I'm cogitating upon the possibilities, as you might say. I think I want to find a Charles Wesley hymn text that's fallen clean out of use -- something worth reviving. Then I'll have to start fooling around with guitar and piano and see if I can't get a melody fragment and/or chord structure going.
white horse

Today's poem

Nu we sculon herigean heofonrices Weard,
Meotodes meahte ond his modgeþanc,
weorc Wuldorfæder, swa he wundra gehwæs,
ece Drihten, or onstealde.
He ærest sceop eorðan bearnum
heofon to hrofe, halig Scyppend;
þa middangeard moncynnes Weard,
ece Drihten, æfter teode
firum foldan, Frea ælmihtig.
-- Cædmon of Whitby, A.D. 680

TR: Praise we the Fashioner now of Heaven's fabric,
The majesty of his might and his mind's wisdom,
Work of the world-warden, worker of all wonders,
How he the Lord of Glory everlasting,
Wrought first for the race of men Heaven as a rooftree,
Then made he Middle Earth to be their mansion.

Tom Shippey in his study of J.R.R. Tolkien's writings, The Road to Middle-Earth, refers at the end to Cædmon's poetry, which was well known to Tolkien.
His story begins near Whitby, near the year 680, when Cædmon, a North of England cowherd, went out to his byre to avoid having to sing at some festivity. There an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him what to sing. Fifty years later, his story was written down by the Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Bede wrote in Latin, and gave only a translation of a part of Cædmon's first English poem. But at a very early subsequent stage someone else, not content with this, added to Bede's Latin nine lines of Old English verse, in Old Northumbrian -- either remembering Cædmon's lines because they were famous, or else able to translate from Bede's Latin prose to poetry in his own dialect. The lines wandered all over Europe, as far as Russia . . . They were translated also into West Saxon . . . But then his translation too was forgotten for hundreds of years. . . . Cædmon's work itself has been totally lost, all but the nine lines written in by an early devotee, and maybe not even that. . . . At the end of it all, the [last] translator wrote, ac nænig hwæðre him þæt gelice don meahte: 'But just the same, none of them could do it like him.'
wayside cross


Tomorrow is the end of National Poetry Month. I set out to post a poem per day this month. It's been tough, and I've about exhausted the list of short poems I like which I could include. If I try to do something every day next year, I'll probably have to pick a really long piece and post it in sections or something.

Anyway, to close out this month's offerings, here is a poem by Charles Wesley, whose 300th birthday is this year: his very last. He dictated this verse on his deathbed, after penning over 6,000 hymns over his lifetime.
In age and feebleness extreme,
Who shall a helpless worm redeem?
Jesus, my only hope thou art,
Strength of my failing flesh and heart:
O could I catch one smile from thee,
And drop into eternity!