November 17th, 2021

fudd tenor

A Song for Thanksgiving

Now Thank We All Our God is a 17th-Century Lutheran chorale (Nun danket alle Gott), famous as having been sung (reputedly) by the army of Frederick the Great after their underdog victory at the Battle of Leuthen. It was translated in the 19th Century from the German by Catherine Winkworth.

I learned this hymn in elementary school music classes. We regularly learned seasonal songs, and this one was associated with Thanksgiving. Some of the seasonal songs we sang were religious, such as "Now Thank We All Our God," but some were nonsense, such as "Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder," a politically incorrect romp we sang as St. Patrick's Day approached. As I both grew up in, and out of, the church, I didn't learn many hymns as a boy. Some of the religious songs I knew, therefore, I acquired in public school, though we did, usually, sing this one once a year in church.

It is a difficult tune for someone whose normal repertoire includes ballads, folk songs, pop songs, and (rather dull) hymns. Some of the intervals are quirky for an American ear, and the harmony is more Lutheran than old Martin himself. We were carefully drilled by Mrs. Dyer in the correct pitches and tempo. (She also drilled us in the Malotte arrangement of "The Lord's Prayer." She thought more of our abilities than we sometimes did, which is the mark of a good teacher.)

Now Thank We All Our God remains one of my favorite hymns, not only for its melody but for the depth of its text. In Winkworth's translation, it runs as follows.

Now thank we all our God,
with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done,
in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms
has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace,
and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills,
in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns
with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God,
whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.