Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Feast of St Patrick

And to celebrate the occasion (a day late, but better late than never), my favourite hymn (the one I sometimes sing when the hymn provided in the Shorter Morning and Evening Prayer is unknown to me - which, for morning prayer at least, is most of the time).

The lyrics were produced a hundred years ago, as an English translation of an ancient Irish hymn attributed to Dallan Forgaill. The tune is "Slane", which gives the pretext for posting it: Slane Hill is where St Patrick reputedly lit a fire to celebrate the Easter vigil, in defiance of the pagan custom which dictated that, it also being the night of a pagan festival, no fire be kindled until the king had been seen to light his on nearby Tara Hill.

The final verse of the hymn suddenly brings to mind the envoi to Hilaire Belloc's Ballade of Illegal Ornaments:

The controversy was ended by His Lordship, who wrote to the Incumbent ordering him to remove from the Church all Illegal Ornaments at once, and especially a Female Figure with a Child.

When that the Eternal deigned to look
On us poor folk to make us free
He chose a Maiden, whom He took
From Nazareth in Galilee;
Since when the Islands of the Sea,
The Field, the City, and the Wild
Proclaim aloud triumphantly
A Female Figure with a Child.

These Mysteries profoundly shook
The Reverend Doctor Leigh, D.D.,
Who therefore stuck into a Nook
(Or Niche) of his Incumbency
An Image filled with majesty
To represent the Undefiled,
The Universal Mother — She —
A Female Figure with a Child.

His Bishop, having read a book
Which proved as plain as plain could be
That all the Mutts had been mistook
Who talked about a Trinity
Wrote off at once to Doctor Leigh
In manner very far from mild,
And said: "Remove them instantly!
A Female Figure with a Child!"

Prince Jesus, in mine Agony,
Permit me, broken and defiled,
Through blurred and glazing eyes to see
A Female Figure with a Child.

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