Hymn of the Week: March 13, 2022
by Ed Hanson, Music Director
Calvary Episcopal Church, Columbia
Creator of the Earth and Skies
Hymnal 1982 is full of interesting hymns that marry the text from one era and the tune from a completely different one. Such a hymn is “Creator of the Earth and Skies”, H148. The words were written by British Methodist minister and sometime poet Donald Hughes (1911-1967). (Hymnal 1982 lists his name as “David” rather than Donald.) The hymn was first published in 1964, and according to Hymnary.org, it is now published in sixteen different hymnals. Not much can be found in the way of personal information about Mr. Hughes; this hymn is the only one of his found in Hymnal 1982.
The text, like many written in the 20th century, has a prophetic tone to it. Verse 2 begins, “We have not known you.” And verse 3, “We have not loved you.” The hymn takes on a dark, foreboding tone, and yet, as we reach the final verse, the words speak of our desire to “know and love you, Lord”. Redemption is possible by changing our focus from the follies of the world and shifting our thoughts to God.
The composer of the hymn tune, however, was quite the character! Jeremiah Clarke (1674-1707) was an English Baroque composer who lived three centuries before Mr. Hughes. He is possibly best known for his “Trumpet Voluntary”, used in many weddings as the recessional music for the bridal party. He was a pupil of John Blow’s, and he served as organist at Winchester College and later at St. Paul’s Cathedral. He committed suicide over the love of a pupil of his who spurned him!
His hymn tune UFFINGHAM carries a meter of 188.8.131.52; in other words, there are eight syllables to each phrase. The tune is in E minor, and there is a certain heaviness to it. In this sense, it’s the perfect match for the poetry of Mr. Hughes. Each line of the poem contains eight syllables, and there are four lines per verse. Because the poetry also carries a lot of weight, the two seem to go together effortlessly.
Here is the text:
Creator of the earth and skies,
To whom the words of life belong,
Grant us your truth to make us wise,
Grant us your power to make us strong.
We have not known you: to the skies
Our monuments of folly soar,
And all our self-wrought miseries
Have made us trust ourselves the more.
We have not known you: far and wide
The wreckage of our hatred spreads,
And evils wrought by human pride
Recoil on unrepentant heads.
For this, our foolish confidence,
Our pride of knowledge and our sin,
We come too you in penitence.
In us the work of grace begin.
Teach us to know and love you, Lord,
And humbly follow in your way.
Speak to our souls the quickening word,
And turn our darkness into day.
Unlike many older Lenten hymns, this one, with its modern text and Baroque tune, packs a real punch. I hope you’ll try it with your congregations!
Here’s a YouTube link to hear the tune on the organ: