This tune is apparently a magnet for messed up rhymes.
Now to John Holmes’ credit, his lyrics generally rhyme in a comfortable ABAB structure, but goodness, we got off to a rocky start, as ‘tablecloth’ does not rhyme with ‘truth’ … and while we’re at it, the tune does not support the correct pronunciation of the word ‘harvest’ instead making us sing ‘har-VEST’ which is just silly.
But let’s get into the hymn itself – these lyrics from John Holmes, whose words I adore in O God of Stars and Sunlight.
As a song, I don’t like them. This is one of those cases where the metaphors and narrative imagery require time and connection; singing them in this Gregorian-like chant disguises the poem’s ebb and flow. While I like this tune in other settings, I think it’s a bad pairing here.
I mean, who doesn’t want to sit with that second verse – ‘careless noon, the houses lighted late’… ‘the doorways worn at sill’… wow. The images are lush as Holmes describes the peace we can know right now… the peace and restorative, emotional and spiritual coziness the Danes call ‘hygge.’
The peace not past our understanding falls
like light upon the soft white tablecloth
at winter supper warm between four walls,
a thing too simple to be tried as truth.
Not scholar’s calm, nor gift of church or state,
nor everlasting date of death’s release;
but careless noon, the houses lighted late,
harvest and holiday: the people’s peace.
Days into years, the doorways worn at sill,
years into lives, the plans for long increase
come true at last for those of God’s good will:
these are the things we mean by saying, Peace.
This is a terrific lyric, awkward rhyme notwithstanding. It captures something ineffable about our everyday lives that matters in how we live with and for each other. But I say read it – or find a more lush, graceful, expansive tune.