Sunday, November 24, 2013

`A Glad or Joyous Nature'

On the radio I heard a marvelous old hymn, “Let us, with a gladsome mind,” though the announcer failed to identify the lyricist, his age at the time of composition or the scripture he was paraphrasing. John Milton wrote the words in 1623, when he was fifteen years old and a student at St. Paul’s School in London. Milton used as his model Psalm 136 (go here for the King James version). Milton’s first verse, as good an illustration as I know of the natural cadence of English, goes: 

“Let us with a gladsome mind
Praise the Lord, for He is kind:
For His mercies shall endure,
Ever faithful, ever sure.”

Gladsome is the only reason I remembered the hymn was Milton’s. The word sounds old-fashioned, almost archaic, folksy, as though it might be still be current in the rural South, and definitely overdue for revival. It dates in English from the fourteenth century. Chaucer uses it in the prologue to the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale”:Swich thyng is gladsom as it thynketh me / And of swich thyng were goodly for to telle.” We find it too in Caxton, Herbert and Pope. Even Hawthorne uses it memorably, in his American Notebooks: “The gladsome sunshine.” Milton’s hymn is cited for the third definition: “Having a glad or joyous nature or mood; filled with gladness. Also of birds.” Those final three words were puzzling until I looked more closely at Wordsworth’s citation: “We two had sung, like gladsome birds in May.” That’s from stanza XXVIII of “Guilt and Sorrow.”

[A friend suggests we go here and adds: "It's the name of one of the oldest Christian hymns, still sung at one of the central moments in every Orthodox vespers service."]

1 comment:

Brian said...

Did you mean troche as in the electrifying

"William Yeats is laid to rest
Earth receive an honoured guest"