Tuesday, February 03, 2009

'I Climb the Rainbow Through the Rain'. George Matheson -XV

It may come as a surprise to those familiar with 'O Love the Wilt Not Let me Go' that George Matheson never took himself seriously as a hymn-writer. At least one of his hymns, namely this most famous, appears in the majority of modern hymnals, and his hymn 'Make me a Captive, Lord' has also found wide acceptance. But Matheson wrote more than these two hymns that have found their place in the worship of the Church. He wrote (or rather dictated, being blind) poetry as a sort of intellectual diversion. A volume of his poems, Sacred Songs, was published in 1904, and quickly ran to a third edition. Of course they are of uneven quality, even the best hymn-writers are not always at their best, and Matheson is not one of that first rank, although his two great hymns are. The over 170 pages of Sacred Songs contain poems on subjects from 'Life in Death' to 'The Nativity'. What is striking, but not really surprising, about the book is how many of the poems in it are suited to the more melancholy moods of the Christian. The impression that the book leaves is that we are reading the thoughts of a man who knew what it was to suffer physically, mentally and spiritually. Few of them are actually suited to public worship, as Matheson did not write them with it in mind, but they are all from the heart.
There is a spot beside the sea
Where I often long to go,
For there my God first met with me
When the sands of life were low.
I have had since more joy than pain,
And I've basked in fortune's smile;
But I never ceased to love the rain
That fell in Patmos' Isle.

It was indeed a tearful time
For my sun had set too soon;
The winter fell upon my prime
And the snows were thick in June;
And I thought my Father's face to be
Remote by many a mile,
In a place where there was no more sea
Unlike to Patmos Isle.

But in the deepest winter night
In the darkest nightly hour,
There came a gleam of golden light
Unknown to the summer flower.
The paths of God that brighter days
Had not stayed to reconcile
Were blended fast in rainbow blaze
Above lone Patmos isle.

I saw the clouds that earth reveals
Made chariots of the King;
The vials of wrath and judgement seals
Were the shadows of love's wing;
And when I knew by clouds he came,
I was glad to rest awhile
In the dark wherein was wrapt the flame
Of glorious Patmos isle.

And now the very dust of life
To my soul becomes most dear,
For by the path of human strife
Is His way emerging clear;
And when I see His track effaced,
Still my heart shall not resile,
Since the milestones of His march are traced
Through struggling Patmos Isle.

The use of the Apostle's imagery is not of course strictly in accordance with the Revelation, but that is not the point. The point is that God works through our sufferings and our trials. It is the individual and the experimental that predominates in Matheson's poetry. The image of the rainbow is one that recurs often, as in his most famous hymn, and as in the above 'Patmos', which was selected at random. It is the symbol of God's promise to him, and it is also a symbol of diversity in unity, as a description of God and His ways.

God willing, we shall continue our look at Dr. Matheson's poetry next time.



Post a Comment

<< Home