The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him: yea, all such as call upon him faithfully.
V. My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord: and let all flesh give thanks unto his holy name.
V. Come, O Lord, and tarry not: forgive the misdeeds of thy people. AlleluiaGradual – Advent IVSarum Rite Anglican Missal
Today the last candle on the Advent wreath will be lit in churches around the world. By coincidence it is also the shortest day of the year when perhaps that extra light is appreciated.
Cecil Sharp was the driving force behind a revival of interest in folk melodies of the British Isles in the early years of the 20th century. He began collecting folk songs in 1903 on a visit to South Somerset. He extended his search for traditional lyrics, melodies and dances into other other regions of Britain and in 1916 as far afield as the Appalachian region of the United States.
|Sharp’s original transcription of This is the
Truth as sung to him by Seth Vandrell (aged 70)
and Samuel Bradley (aged 71) in October 1911.
It comes as no surprise that many of the songs he collected were carols including This is the Truth Sent from Above. Sharp collected the carol from Seth Vandrell and Samuel Bradley of Donninglon Wood in Shropshire in an eight stanza version – though in his notes he mentions that a longer version was known to exist in a local carol book. Sharp published it in 1911 as The Shropshire Carol in his English Folk-Carols.
Inspired by Sharp’s work Ralph Vaughan Williams collected folk melodies on his travels around Great Britain. In July of 1909 during a stay at King’s Pyon, Herefordshire he heard Emma Leather a local folk singer and collector sing a four stanza version with an entirely different melody which she had learned through oral tradition from a Mr Jenkins. It was initially wrongly attributed to Jenkins when Vaughan Williams had his transcription first published in the Folk-Song Society Journal however the credit was eventually given where due. In 1912 Vaughan Williams was to include the carol as the first melody in his Fantasia on Christmas Carols and the melody was later used by Gerald Finzi in a choral work in 1925.
Being in the oral tradition there are variations in the text but they all speak to the creation of Adam and Eve, their fall from grace and the promised redemption through Christ. One of the more amusing variations was the omission of several verses which leads to the second verse ending “Woman was made with man to dwell”, and the next verse starting “Thus we were heirs to endless woes”!
I was unable to find a version of the Sharp transcription as sung to him by Mr Vandrell and Mr Bradley as it seems that the Vaughan Williams version is the more popular. This lovely version is by the Men and Boys of St. Matthew’s Church, Ottawa, Canada” directed by Matthew Larkin. Treble soloist Andrew Robar..
This is the truth sent from above,
The truth of God, the God of love:
Therefore don’t turn me from your door,
But hearken all, both rich and poor.
The first thing which I do relate
Is that God did man create,
The next thing which to you I’ll tell,
Woman was made with man to dwell.
Then, after this, ’twas God’s own choice
To place them both in Paradise,
There to remain, from evil free,
Except they ate of such a tree.
But they did eat, which was a sin,
And thus their ruin did begin.
Ruined themselves, both you and me,
And all of their posterity.
Thus we were heirs to endless woes,
Till God the Lord did interpose,
And so a promise soon did run,
That he would redeem us by his Son.
For some reason many versions omit the last verse which seems to me to set it in the carol rather than liturgical mode:
God grant to all within this place
True saving faith, that special grace
Which to his people doth belong:
And thus I close my Christmas song.
And I find it a fitting wish as the season as Advent draws to a close.