Hymns–Lost in Translation

My last few blogs have been about some favorite hymns and their history. A few more such tales shall be forthcoming, but first I wanted to take a look at some hymns that will not be found in today’s hymn books because, well, times and language change. What might have been sung in all seriousness at one time would have us either giggling or horrified today.

My first selection was written by Jame Rowe (1865-1933). Rowe wrote this hymn to encourage temperance and in 1920 the song was included in the hymnal, “New Perfect Praise for Sunday Schools, Singing-Schools, Revivals, Conventions, and General Use in Christian Work and Work.” (Number 80 if you have this book lying around).  The title of the hymn: “Good-bye, old Booze, Good-bye.” The first line: “We’ve closed your door for evermore.” And the refrain begins: “Good-bye, old Booze, good-bye, We’re glad to see you go.” Try singing that around a campfire some night with your youth group.

Before we leave Mr. Rowe, let me add that he wrote more than 9,000 hymns, poems, recitations, and other works. Probably his most famous and one still included in many hymn books is “Love Lifted Me” which Rowe based on the Biblical story of Peter stepping out of the boat and into thestormy waters.

E. M. Bartlett (1883-1941) also wrote many hymns, co-founded Hartford Music Company and was the founder of the Hartford Music Institute in 1921. One of his hymns only made it into two hymnals and will probably not be added to any in the twenty-first century. Titled: “If Men Go to Hell, Who Cares?” is a good example where punctuation and emphasis on certain words can make such a difference in meaning. The first line begins: “While the world rushes on in its folly and sin,” and the refrain begins, “Who cares, who cares?” Let us assume that Mr. Bartlett wanted to provoke people into caring about the destination of people’s souls, but I don’t think a refrain of “Who cares? Who cares?” would get that message across very well today.

Mr. Bartlett suffered a stroke in 1939 leaving him partially paralyzed and unable to do the traveling and singing he had been doing. It was during this time that he wrote a hymn that he is better remembered for and is still being sung today: “Victory in Jesus.” Mr. Bartlett was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in Nashville in 1973.

My final selection for hymns lost in translation is by the prolific writer Isaac Watts. Watts deserves a post or two to himself, but for now, it is the hymn, “Charity to the Poor” also known as “Pity to the Afflicted” (1719) which will be highlighted here. The title is harmless enough. It’s the first line which only made it into print for a couple of hymnals before it was changed: “Blest is the man whose bowels move.” For you readers of the King James, you will probably see nothing wrong with this as you are certainly familiar with Paul’s directive to put on “bowels of mercies” (Colossians 3:12). Others, however, (even a couple of hundred years ago) prefer singing about one’s heart rather than one’s bowels, and, consequently, this line was soon changed.

Though I’m enjoying exploring hymns from the past, I also love many of the songs that are written and sung every year. As Robert Morgan says in one of his books about hymn writers (Near to the Heart of God), “When the Bible tells us to sing ‘a new song’ to the Lord, it’s telling us that every generation needs to write its own music. If a time ever comes when the young generation isn’t writing praises to the Lord, Christianity is dead.”

Many times songs can be both old and new. How many versions have you heard of “Amazing Grace”? The lyrics never grow old even as the music may be changed or other verses added, as in “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone).”

I want to leave you with an old hymn which is new to me. Our choir sang it a few weeks ago and before that first practice, I don’t think I’d ever heard it before though it was written in 1890 by Samuel Trevor Francis and has been published in forty-six different hymnals.

On ReReading

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I’ve been doing some rereading this summer, something I haven’t done much of since I was a teen and read The Outsiders a countless number of times. I’ve seen the subject discussed on goodreads, and recently read another blog on the subject, so I thought I would share my own recent experiences in rereading, including the rereading I have been doing this summer. I would love to hear from others on what they reread and why. I know most of you readers are like me and feel that with “so many books to read, so little time”, how can anyone possibly justify rereading? Well, there are several reasons, but read on for mine.

First, let me mention a legitimate fear in rereading and that is the possibility of returning to a book you enjoyed at an earlier time, but when you reread it, you’re disappointed and wonder ‘what in the world did I see in that book?’ Obviously, we are different people at different times and usually a book will mean different things to us at different times. However,the well-written book will stand the test of time, even if it means something different to us upon rereading.

A series of books I recently reread was the Harry Potter books. I know; almost a cliche. I don’t know how many times my five kids have reread those books. I read them the first time as they came out; before they were a cult, a fad, a part of our culture. I bought the first one for my oldest son (now 23) and began reading it to him; though a few chapters in, he took it upon himself to read it alone. A couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to see the movies because I had only seen a couple of them, (having stayed home with “the babies” when the first ones came out, and my husband took the oldest ones to see them). Now, with the “baby” being 13, I told him I wanted to watch the movies with him, but only after I read the books. So, we would reread a book, then watch the movie together. So, I reread this series for two reasons. One: I wanted to see the movies, but not without returning to the books first (and in most cases, I don’t know how you know what’s going on without reading the book first). Two: to spend time with my son doing something we both enjoyed.

This summer I find myself rereading several books in different genres for different reasons, though they all boil down to the simple reason of: I want to. I am currently rereading Lord of the Rings. I have read this several times, but probably not all three in over 20 years. It was just time. I’m rereading Gap Creek by Robert Morgan. I read this several years ago and enjoyed it for his beautiful writing and because I know the characters lived a lifestyle shared by my own grandparents and great-grandparents, and I find this fascinating. I have wanted to reread it for awhile, but having bought Morgan’s sequel The Road fro Gap Creek, I decided this was the time.

Two other books I am rereading this summer are about as different from each other as possible. The first is Bill Bryson’s A Walk Through the Woods. One of the few books that my husband and I have both read. We agreed it would be good to reread this before the movie comes out. Two chapters in, I am already laughing and glad I found a used copy on AbeBooks.

The other book is Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. I first read this in college and have probably read it a couple of times since. My apologetic skills are weak, so I knew this deserved a reread before I tackled some new books in that area.

For another view on rereading, check out Kelly Jensen’s blog: http://www.stackedbooks.org/2015/07/on-becoming-re-reader.html

What about you? Are you doing any rereading this summer?