A New Advent Hymn in Worship IV – Text for Discussion
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,349
    Mary Louise Bringle’s “Now the Heavens Start to Whisper” is one of twelve Advent season hymns in Worship IV which were not in Worship III. (Five Advent hymns in Worship III are not included in Worship IV.)

    About this text Mel Bringle herself wrote in her 2006 hymn collection, In Wind and Wonder: “In the fall of 2005, Randy Sensmeier wrote me from GIA and asked if I would write an Advent text ‘with a Celtic flavor’ for the Welsh melody SUO GAN. To get into an appropriate frame of mind for the assignment, I went to the Brevard College library and checked out a few books on Celtic spirituality. I was very drawn to the notion of ‘thin places’ – places where earth and heaven, or secular and sacred, seem to be in closer touch with one another than elsewhere. Advent strikes me as a ‘thin’ – or at least a ‘thinning’ – time, an idea reflected in stanza one of the text. Other images (the ‘softening’ of hearts, Christ as the Sun of Justice, etc.) come from various Celtic prayers."

    Now the Heavens Start to Whisper

    Now the heavens start to whisper
    As the veil is growing thin.
    Earth from slumber wakes to listen
    To the stirring, faint within:
    Seed of promise, deeply planted,
    Christ to spring from Jesse’s stem!
    Like the soil beneath the frost-line,
    Hearts grow soft to welcome him.

    Heavy clouds that block the moonlight
    Now begin to drift away.
    Diamond brilliance through the darkness
    Shines the hope of coming day.
    Christ, the morning star of splendor,
    Gleams within a world grown dim.
    Heaven’s ember fans to fullness;
    Hearts grow warm to welcome him.

    Christ, eternal sun of justice,
    Christ, the rose of wisdom’s seed,
    Come to bless with fire and fragrance
    Hours of yearning, hurt, and need.
    In the lonely, in the stranger,
    In the outcast hid from view:
    Child who comes to grace the manger,
    Teach our hearts to welcome you.

    Text: Mary Louise Bringle, b. 1953, © 2006, GIA Publications, Inc.
    All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission of GIA Publications.
    Tune: SUO GAN, 8 7 8 7 D


    Besides being included in Worship IV, “Now the Heavens Start to Whisper,” published six years ago, has been included in the 2010 Celebrating Grace Hymnal (ecumenical but Baptist-leaning), set to the tune JEFFERSON, and will be included in the soon-to-be-published Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God, set again to the tune JEFFERSON.

  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,390
    in re: thinning

    Perhaps of interest.
    I just learned in our childbirth class that in preparing for birth, the cervix not only dilates (which is what you usually hear about), but also thins prior to that.
    In combination with the idea of veiling , the birth imagery here is very rich.

    I find the grammar a trifle immature in places, but I like the spark of ideas here.
    Thanked by 2Kathy Mike R
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,262
    I agree, there is vigor in this text.

    I have some quibbles as well, and will share them, but this text rings my "so what" bell.

    In a good way.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,262
    Adam says he finds
    the grammar a trifle immature in places,

    Well, Adam's grammar wears combat boots. (purple!)

    I don't know if this is what he means, but I'm not a fan of omitted articles in hymns. It should be the earth, a seed, a or the diamond brilliance.

    Some people are particular about meter, while I feel almost any two-syllabled foot can fall at the beginning of a line. Personally I am particular about this. It makes the text more vigorous and intelligible to include standard rules for articles. Verse 2, lines 3 and 4, are otherwise rather hard to read. Who says a hymn can't be pretty and grammatical at the same time?
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,262
    Heaven’s ember fans to fullness;

    I don't really follow this imagery. Embers don't fan. Bellows fan. Is it "Heaven's bellows fan to fullness?" Or "Heaven's ember burns in fullness?" I honestly don't know what is intended.

  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    by "Christ to spring from Jesse's stem."
    Hymn's a done deal, got it.

    But I like the assignation fully realized in verse four, while even in three it could have been reserved.s
    In 1 I would enjoy knowing if "God's own Son" had ever been considered, thus not dealing with "Christ" as title, as opposed to Logos or Emmanuel, and a possible misinderstanding of "springing" (verb or allegorical reference.)
    I also would have considered delaying the annointing of Him as Christ by using the formal pronoun "He" in verse three.
    Otherwise I'm on the page with Adam and Kathy.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,262
    In the lonely, in the stranger,
    In the outcast hid from view:
    Child who comes to grace the manger,
    Teach our hearts to welcome you.


    I mentioned in another thread that I really like Christopher Idle's Wake, O Wake, and Sleep No Longer. One of the reasons that it's filled with slant rhymes. At very carefully chosen places, there are full rhymes. It's a tension-building ploy and quite creative and effective.

    In Bringle's text, only the last four lines are fully rhymed, f g f g. None of the other quatrains are. I wonder if she might be "pulling an Idle" here, and emphasizing the message of the last four lines, which is quite different from the tone of the rest of the hymn, with a different kind of ending. And/or I wonder if the anomalous rhyme scheme had been noticed during the writing and editing.

    In any case the ending leaves me rather disappointed. It seems a bit preachy to me. I realize that technically these lines are a prayer addressed to Christ, but they actually seem a little like those prayers of the faithful that have the form of a prayer, but a kind of moral message for the congregation. You know what I mean, "That we may all be generous in giving to the Bishop's annual appeal, we pray to the Lord..." These last lines strike me as giving instructions in a fairly heavy way, within a text that is otherwise quite gentle and searching.

    None of this detracts from the strength of the first two verses, which, despite small issues, seem quite well crafted indeed.
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,349
    Some good comments, all.

    Kathy, to one of your points, Bringle really knows what she is doing with her rhymes. I did not work with her on this collection, In Wind and Wonder, but I had hundreds of e-mail discussions with her about her 50 or so Spanish-to-English translations she did for the upcoming Oramos Cantando / We Pray in Song hymnal.

    At times Bringle wants to avoid feminine rhymes, especially perfect ones, not because she is incapable of achieving them, but because she thinks they often produce a sing-song effect. She'd rather have slant rhymes or no rhyme at all, resorting instead to another poetic device, such as assonance or alliteration. I feel fairly confident in saying that this is what she is doing in lines 1 and 3, and 5 and 7 (except 5 and 7 in stanza 3).

    A question I have is how this text would sing to JEFFERSON, instead of SUO GAN. The latter tune has a musical pause after each fourth syllable, which I think works wonderfully with this rather meditative text. At first I had reservations about the several "to" prepositions falling on these musical pauses, but I soon got used to them. I'm not sure JEFFERSON provides the space for thoughtful reflection on the text.

    SUO GAN is not very well known; Bryn Terfel's rendition has done much to popularize it. GIA did not have to be concerned about introducing a new tune for this text. The text is not one of the "hymns for the gospel," which the editors had determined would have well-known tunes.

  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,382
    I don't know what grammar flaw Adam's noticing, but in the last quatrain, "Child who comes" ought to be "Child who come".

    [Explanation for anyone who is puzzled: The verb inside a relative clause should agree with the antecedent of the clause. (Examples: "I who am", "You who are", "He who is".) Since the sentence is addressed to "Child", that noun is in the second person and the verb should take a second-person form.]

    But apart from that I rather like the last quatrain, in itself.
    Thanked by 1Kathy
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,262
    Fr. Krisman,

    I probably wasn't clear. The funny thing here is that Bringle changed her own pattern, just in the last four lines. Generally that's not done. You pick one pattern and stick to it.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,382
    Would it help, then, to break the rhyme by rearranging things:
    In the outcast, in the lonely,
    In the stranger hid from view:
    Child who come to grace the manger,
    Teach our hearts to welcome you.
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,349
    No, Kathy, you were very clear. And I understood you. I meant to address that concern, but overlooked it.

    I think that, as you mentioned in your previous post, Bringle did purposely want to change the pattern in the the last four lines of the final stanza. Perhaps she thought that would bring a greater sense of completion. I cannot say. All I know is that she would not have introduced the perfect rhyme of stranger/manger because she somehow overlooked the pattern she followed everywhere else.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,262
    I've never seen this done before. Idle's text is unusual for this reason, but that's a pattern of patterns. This is just like pattern, pattern, not-pattern.
  • Might it be helpful if someone were to contact Mel Bringle and ask her to respond to some of these questions about the text and its construction?
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,349
    Kathy,

    I just checked Christopher Idle's "Wake, O Wake, and Sleep No Longer" (no. 371 in Worship III). As far as I can determine, Idle has no perfect end rhymes anywhere in his text, except perhaps for "come/home" and "throne/One" about two-third of the way through the text. Many people would not consider those as "aurally" perfect rhymes.

    What Idle does have, and the only place in the text where he matches the rhyme scheme of the original German text, is the internal rhyme toward the end of each of the three stanzas: The lamps will shine with love divine / The fight is won, the feast begun / Amen be sung by ev'ry tongue

    So I don't consider this as being similar to the Bringle text.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,262
    Yes, exactly. And then at the very end , rejoicing/King. It's a majestic device.

    I mean the comparison as a compliment. I'm trying to find a good reason for the irregularity in Bringle's text.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,262
    I'm not faulting Bringle, by the way. These things happen; it is very hard to edit one's own work.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,390
    I find the grammar a trifle immature in places


    I take it back.

    It struck me on a first quick reading as being a succession of non-sentence poetic phrases. Upon having time to come back and read it, I see that is not the case at all.

    In fact, if I had to fault it for anything related to grammar, it's that it is too complicated. (But not really.)
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,349
    I'm trying to find a good reason for the irregularity in Bringle's text.


    Kathy, I asked Mel Bringle about it. I was confident that she was well aware that she was breaking her own pattern of rhymes. She wrote me: "Advent is a season of yearning that our hopes for the creation will be fulfilled. The move from an ABCB to an ABAB rhyme scheme in the final quatrain of 'Now the Heavens' is a faint nod toward the perfection/completion which we await in the coming of the Christ."

    I hope this is helpful.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,390
    I always wonder if those sorts of things are justifications after the fact.

    Maybe I'm suspicious because I would never use an imperfect rhyme if I could find a way not to. Of all the things I'm not particularly dogmatic about, I take rhyming very seriously. Probably too seriously.
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,349
    I don't know what grammar flaw Adam's noticing, but in the last quatrain, "Child who comes" ought to be "Child who come."


    Chonak, this is an area of grammar which is changing or has, in fact, already changed for many English-speakers.

    I think the text editors for Worship IV usually took the more traditional approach to this question and used second person verb forms in relative clauses following a vocative, but they left alone newer texts that followed the newer approach and used third person.
    Thanked by 2Adam Wood Gavin
  • MarkThompson
    Posts: 768
    I think this is really a very nice hymn. Any solid contribution to Advent repertoire is always very welcome. I'll just throw out a few points:

    NOW: The word "now" is, I think, grossly overused in hymns. Typically it seems to be used to fill up a syllable in the meter, or else as a sort of throat-clearing that provides a vague sense of immediacy. But to me, "The heavens starts to whisper" is actually more immediate than "Now the heavens start to whisper." Starting a sentence with "Well, ahem, so anyway..." always blunts the impact.


    LIKE THE SOIL BENEATH THE FROST-LINE: What a wonderful phrase. I really like that it concretely sets the action within winter, without falling back on overused imagery like snow.


    DIAMOND BRILLIANCE THROUGH THE DARKNESS: If I had one major quibble with the hymn, it would be this line, which I think moves too far, too fast. Heretofore we've had images of whispers, veiling, clouds; now it sounds like the world is flooded with brilliant light. Perhaps the idea intended was one of the glint of a small diamond beaming through a world that is otherwise still slumbering in the dark. If so, I would have written something like "As a diamond in the darkness / Gleams the hope of coming day." (I realize "gleams" is used two lines later.)

    Then again, let's look at three consecutive pairs of couplets here: "Diamond brilliance," "the morning star," "heaven's ember." We may not have here a true case of mixed metaphor, but what we do have, I think, are too many unrelated and competing metaphors piled one on top of the next. I would have picked the best ("heaven's ember"; best because it is original and conjures thoughts of a toasty fire in the ingle that work well with the winter imagery that has gone before) and run with it, or at least dropped the worst ("diamond brilliance"; worst because diamonds are cold, not warm, and also because they reflect light but do not emit their own). (As to "the morning star" -- which is Venus, by the way -- it is solid and nicely reminiscent of the O Antiphons, but let's not forget that only four lines later, in another conflicting metaphor, Christ becomes the "sun of justice").


    FANS TO FULLNESS: Unlike a commenter above, I do not have a problem with the use of the active voice in place of the passive. This is not at all uncommon in English, especially in more colloquial usages: "This soup eats easily," "These negatives will enlarge nicely." I'm no philologist, but as I understand it this sort of use is close to the middle voice that exists in other languages like Greek. It is more agentive than strictly passive. Here, we don't want to say that "heaven's ember" fans itself to fullness; nor do we quite want to imagine that the Ember is a completely passive subject and somebody else is doing the fanning.


    SUN OF JUSTICE: Another nice phrase, but I'm not sure how the concept of "justice" connects to anything else in the hymn. If it is supposed to relate to the "social justice" theme that is touched upon in the final four lines, I think the connection falls flat, since "sun of justice" evokes more of a judgment-seat, return-in-glory-to-judge-the-living-and-the-dead kind of justice.


    HOURS OF YEARNING, HURT, AND NEED: I think I see what the author was trying to do here, but "hours" just sounds too brief to do it. "Years" or "ages" would sound right. The idea that Christ is coming to heal four or five hours of need or hurt just doesn't strike me as exactly what Ms. Bringle was trying to convey.


    All in all, though, really a nice hymn. The above are quibbles, mostly.
    Thanked by 2Adam Wood ronkrisman
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,476
    A question I have is how this text would sing to JEFFERSON, instead of SUO GAN.

    I'm not that familiar with the tune SUO GAN j(I don't "hear" the text to that tune), and I do have reservations as to whether the tune JEFFERSON is a suitable fit for this hymn.

    In reading through the text of the hymn, I've come to the stage where I hear it to my own tune CORDE NATUS (originally composed for the text "Of the Father's Love begotten" which is available at CPDL. I've recently added a second descant to CORDE NATUS and will shortly update "Of the Father's ..." and other works set to this tune.

    The PDF score for the updated CORDE NATUS is attached here, together with an MP3 sound file (introduction, 1st stanza SATB & organ, 2nd stanza adds the new descant 2, 3rd stanza with descant 1, 4th stanza with both descants).
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,169
    Christ, the morning star of splendor,
    Gleams within a world grown dim.
    Heaven’s ember fans to fullness;
    Hearts grow warm to welcome him.


    Kathy, isn't this just a problem of punctuation? SUO GAN encourages me read it as "Christ...fans", but maybe hearts do welcome embers.

  • MHIMHI
    Posts: 324
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  • MHIMHI
    Posts: 324
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  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,262
    Richard, that is possible. Do you mean, "Christ fans heaven's ember"?
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,390
    re: Thin place.

    This language seems very trendy right now, and also lacking in Christian precedent.
    I don't know that it is bad or heretical or anything else inherently. But I have a feeling that in a decade or two it will seem very dated.

    Also, if it leads to a further exploration on the part of some into neo-pagan/new-age spirituality, I would think that would be distressing.

    I should note: I don't have any problem with Christians learning from other traditions and cultures. Besides the general good of knowing other people better (which promotes peace and understanding), there are worthwhile things scattered around the honest spiritual strivings of various people.

    But neo-pagansim is hardly a legitimate and ancient spiritual tradition. It an amorphous blob of silliness, founded on a series of gross misunderstandings of actual pagan culture, mutated to fit the needs of the anti-Christian moderns who first championed it, and simplified so that it could be more easily sold in paperback form at Chataquas and (for reasons that confound my sense of tautology) Renaissance festivals.

    Neo-paganism is a wasteland of selfishness and vague spirituality. If it's effects on modern Christianity weren't so horrifying and insidious, it would be worthy only of laughter and ridicule.
  • MHIMHI
    Posts: 324
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    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,262
    MHI,

    If you haven't already, please write hymns.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen MHI
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Yes, quite impressive. That said, did it frighten anyone else? Seemed a bit "World War Z"
    Thanked by 2MHI Kathy
  • MHIMHI
    Posts: 324
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    Thanked by 1melofluent