Monday, February 14, 2011

Beyond the Sunset's Radiant Glow

Praise for the Lord #73

Words: Josephine Pollard, 1871
Music: William O. Perkins, 1897

This is a pretty little hymn that has long suffered from a (somewhat unfair) comparison to Brock's "Beyond the sunset." This is the earlier of the two hymns, of course, and is evidence that the phrase "beyond the sunset" was around before the later song was written. There is no reason to doubt, of course, Brock's own account of his song's origin; and even if he did use a phrase from the common stock of gospel hymn language, he made a better song of it. Both the lyrics and music of the later song have more originality, springing as they did simultaneously from a feverish evening of creative work. Nonetheless, this earlier hymn has its own kind of quiet calm and reassurance, and is refreshingly unprepossessing.

Josephine Pollard (1834-1892) was a prolific author of children's literature. Her biographies of George Washington and Ulysses S. Grant "in words of one syllable," and her exciting tales of the Boston Tea Party or the voyages of Columbus, neither talked over the child's head nor down to it in tones of condescension. She also wrote simple introductions to the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the life of Christ, using the same "words of one syllable" approach. A Presbyterian herself, she worked for the Methodist Book Concern in her native New York City, and edited a Methodist journal for African Americans.(NYT) Interestingly, Pollard's children's books have enjoyed a renaissance in the Christian home-schooling movement, where their religious and patriotic themes, aimed at an early reader's level, are still appreciated.(Pfitzer)

The earliest instance of this text in Hymnary.org, and likely its first publication, is in The Amaranth, edited by A. G. Haygood and Rigdon M. McIntosh, published by the Southern Methodist Publishing House in Nashville, Tennessee, 1871.

Stanza 1:
Beyond the sunset's radiant glow
There is a brighter world, I know,
Where golden glories ever shine,--
Beyond the thought of day's decline.

The final line of this stanza taps into a theme common to all humanity, regardless of era, culture, or creed--"man goeth to his long home."(Ecclesiastes 12:5) There is no question that life's day is passing; the question is rather how we will respond to this fact. "So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom."(Psalm 90:12) When the sun sets on our lives, what will we have done with the time given us, and to what can we look forward? We all know the satisfaction of completing a hard day's work, and realizing that we have made good use of that day. May God help us to live so that we look back on our lives in the same fashion. As Paul said, knowing that he was near his death,
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing.(2 Timothy 4:7-8)
If we carry the hope of heaven in our hearts, though death unnerves us it will not undo us. 

Refrain:
Beyond the sunset's radiant glow
There is a brighter world, I know
Beyond the sunset I may spend
Delightful days that never end.

In the genealogical table of Genesis chapter 5 we read,
And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years . . . And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years . . . And all the days of Enos were nine hundred and five years . . . And all the days of Cainan were nine hundred and ten years . . . And all the days of Mahalaleel were eight hundred ninety and five years . . . And all the days of Jared were nine hundred sixty and two years . . . And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years . . . And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years . . .
But as remarkable as was the longevity of these worthies, it is more important to note that each of these verses (with the unique exception of Enoch!) ends in the same words: "and he died." No matter what the number of days allotted, "it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment."(Hebrews 9:27) Psalm 90 rightly says, "Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom."(v. 12)

Enoch, of course was the exception of that proved the rule: "Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him."(Genesis 5:24) And though we cannot expect to bypass death in this way, it is a charming reminder that those who walk faithfully with God have the same assurance that our existence on this earth will end, not in a period, but with a comma. "And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever."(1 John 2:17)

Stanza 2:
Beyond the sunset's purple rim,--
Beyond the twilight, deep and dim
Where clouds and darkness never come,
My soul shall find my heavenly home.

(Refrain)

"Home is the place," said Robert Frost, "where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." Some are blessed with a better relationship to home than that; some, of course, have no home at all. At the best of times, home is a transitory thing in this life--even if you stay put there your whole life, it will change around you, not always for the best. Much as we may love them, our homes in this world are not to be clung to as if we can keep them.

Abraham understood this, and,
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose Designer and Builder is God.(Hebrews 11:8-10)
The above passage also says a good deal, by implication, about the faith of Sarah!  The Psalmists, too, had an innate sense of the impermanence of earthly homes, and a longing for the one to come:
How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in Your house, ever singing Your praise!(Psalm 84:1-4)
If you find yourself without a home, or with a home that does not seem like a home, take heart; many godly persons felt the same. Jesus himself said, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."(Luke 9:58)

Paul expanded on this idea in Second Corinthians. He had given up a home and a promising future in Jerusalem to become practically a vagabond. But he still could say,
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. . . . Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him.(5:1,8-9)
There is a practical approach to the matter, to make the best of whatever home this life gives us, by keeping our focus on a much better and more certain home to come.

Stanza 3:
Beyond this desert, dark and drear,
The golden city will appear;
And morning's lovely beams arise
Upon my mansion in the skies.

(Refrain)

No matter where you live, the emptiness and futility of earthly life can make it seem a desert; "I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind."(Ecclesiastes 1:14) But God has always brought great things from the desert experiences of His people. Moses was shepherding his father-in-law's flocks in, as the King James Version so picturesquely puts it, "the backside of the desert"(Exodus 3:1) when He heard the voice of God from the burning bush. The desert experience of the Israelites was foundational to their understanding of who they were: "[God] found [Israel] in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He kept him as the apple of His eye."(Deuteronomy 32:10) Elijah lived often in the wilderness, and his New Testament counterpart John did the same.

If this life is often a barren desert, it is a desert we must cross to get to the other side. Remember, the same Jesus who had no home of His own promises us,
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.(John 14:1-3)
About the music:

William Oscar Perkins (1831-1902) was the oldest sibling in a rather prominent family of New England musicians. His brother, Henry Southwick Perkins, was also a composer, conductor, and music editor, but his most lasting work was as co-founder of the Music Teacher's National Association.("H.S. Perkins," Cyberhymnal) A younger brother, Jules Edson Perkins, was the most promising operatic bass to hail from the U.S. up to that time; he sang at La Scala in Milan, and was a regular with the Royal Opera in London, before his premature death at the age of 30.(Rust, 182)

W. O. Perkins followed the path of many an American composer of the 19th century, pursuing conservatory studies abroad in London and Italy afer his initial education in Boston. He then returned to Boston and spent his most productive years there, publishing no fewer than 33 hymnals, glee books, and other collections.("W.O. Perkins," Cyberhymnal) His best known hymn tune is for "Did you think to pray?" (PFTL#124), which Hymnary.org shows to be included in 108 different hymnals, as opposed to 16 for "Beyond the sunset's radiant glow." (The hymnal index at Hymnary.org is of course far from complete, but is the best such resource available, and shows at least the trends in relative popularity.) He is also frequently attributed the music for "Here we are but straying pilgrims" (PFTL #247), a fine gospel song that is still popular among the Churches of Christ in the U.S.

Though 1897 is usually given as the date for this music, I have discovered that the first publication of the hymn--in The Amaranth, 1871, mentioned above--set the lyrics to this same tune. I owe a huge thanks in this to Melissa at the James P. Boyce Centennial Library, of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. She confirmed my suspicion by comparing "Beyond the sunset" in their copy of The Amaranth to the version in Praise for the Lord. The 1871 original has the same tune, but the harmonization is apparently for keyboard, rather than for SATB voices. Perhaps 1897 refers instead to the date of the arrangement of the music for congregational singing.

References:

Obituary of Josephine Pollard. New York Times. 16 August 1892. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=FA0712FD395C17738DDDAF0994D0405B8285F0D3

Pfitzer, Gregory M. "'History repeating itself': the republication phenomenon and Josephine Pollard's monosyllabic histories for children." 125th annual meeting of the American Historical Society (Boston, 6-9 Jan 2011). Abstract: http://aha.confex.com/aha/2011/webprogram/Paper5975.html

"Henry Southwick Perkins." Cyberhymnal. http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/p/e/r/perkins_hs.htm

Rust, Albert Dexter. Record of the Rust Family. Waco, Tex.: pub. by the author, 1891. http://books.google.com/books?id=QrZOAAAAMAAJ

"William Oscar Perkins." Cyberhymnal. http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/p/e/r/perkins_wo.htm

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