03 April 2012

Poems for Lent (39): ‘All in an April Evening,’ by Katharine Tynan

‘All in the April morning, / April airs were abroad; / The sheep with their little lambs / Pass’d me by on the road’ … an April scene in a field near Julianstown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

My choice of a Poem for Lent this morning is ‘All in an April Evening,’ by the Dublin-born Katharine Tynan Hinkinson (1861-1931). Despite its opening line, the title of this poem is taken from the last stanza, drawing attention to the real subject matter, which is not the beauty of pastoral scenes in the countryside at Spring time, but the Crucifixion and death of Christ on the evening of Good Friday.

TS Eliot opens ‘The Waste Land’ with the words:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

But Katherine Tynan has a very different impression of April days. Her poem become popular and well-known after it was set to music by Sir Hugh Roberton (1874-1952), who gave it a tender and light but reverent setting for two-part chorus and piano accompaniment. Based on a wonderful poem by Katharine Tynan, this memorable song is steeped with pastoral imagery and natural energy.

On these days in Lent, as we move on from the lambing season, it has been a pleasure to watch the lambs in the fields growing, yet still dependent on their mothers for guidance, protection and safety. The lambs in the fields are a reminder that God’s Creation is at its best and most beautiful when it is nurtured in unconditional love.

Now in this Holy Week we are preparing for one of the ironies or paradoxes of our faith, in which the Good Shepherd becomes the Lamb of God.

Throughout the Liturgy we refer to Christ as the Lamb of God – in the Gloria, when we say: “Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world”; Prayer 2 in Holy Communion 2 in The Book of Common Prayer refers to Christ at Passiontide, Holy Week and Easter Week as “the true passover Lamb”; and in Agnus Dei, when we proclaim: “Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God, who has taken away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.”

The Lamb of God is the title given to Christ at his Baptism in the Jordan by Saint John the Baptist, declaring: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1: 29), and exclaiming: “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” (John 1: 36). Christ is the True Lamb who takes the place of the sacrificial Paschal Lamb of the Passover (see Mark 14: 12).

In the Prophetic literature, the word “Lamb” means both servant and lamb. Christ is the Suffering Servant who is spoken of by the Prophets, and who sacrifices himself for his brothers and sisters.

To understand this a little more we read Isaiah where the Prophet speaks of The Suffering Servant:

He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53: 3-4)

In Acts 8: 32-33, the Apostle Philip explains this passage about the Suffering Servant to the Ethiopian courtier: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”

The Lamb that was slain in order that we may enter more deeply into the Mystery of Christ’s saving act of Redemption, and we still meet him in the Eucharist, in the Word proclaimed, and in service to one another and to the world.

‘The lambs were weary, and crying / With a weak human cry, / I thought on the Lamb of God’ … a farm outside Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, a few weeks ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

All in an April Evening by Katharine Tynan

All in the April morning,
April airs were abroad;
The sheep with their little lambs
Pass’d me by on the road.

The sheep with their little lambs
Pass’d me by on the road;
All in an April evening
I thought on the Lamb of God.

The lambs were weary, and crying
With a weak human cry,
I thought on the Lamb of God
Going meekly to die.

Up in the blue, blue mountains
Dewy pastures are sweet:
Rest for the little bodies,
Rest for the little feet.

But for the Lamb of God
Up on the hill-top green,
Only a cross of shame
Two stark crosses between.

All in the April evening,
April airs were abroad;
I saw the sheep with their lambs,
And thought on the Lamb of God.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin.


Pamela Fox said...

Thank you for this beautiful post.
I learnt this poem many years ago in primary school in Co Kerry. I had forgotten it,but you have brought it all back in so much more splendour than I understood in my childhood.
Thank you.

Jack Swain said...

I sung this poem to the music by Hugh Roberton in the early 50's. Our mother took my brother and I to sing in the choir at the Wesleyan Chapel in Queensferry, North Wales. As Roberton says on his Glasgow Orpheus Choir record, the words and music match each other. It is my favourite song and brings tears to my eyes.

Dr. Colin Lang said...

I have a god daughter going to marry a second time on April 5th in the evening and on hearing her invitation, the words and music of the poem came back to mind and sought the text at this site, and found it to my delight.She was married in an Anglican parish in Grahamstown twenty five years ago and had two fine offspring, now adult, but a wayward husband led to a drift apart and divorce, to my sadness.I am praying that they will let the Lamb of God be the go-between in their new bond of love.

Unknown said...

Powerful and appropriate words to help us in our Easter meditations. Thank you.

Unknown said...

Really beautiful and inspiring.you really got the poem and sentiments and tied it to the real message of Easter.
I don't know if it's an urban myth or true but in my younger life in Dublin when we still had horse drawn traffic, there were drinking troughs around the city and I was told many of them were paid for by Katherine from the royalties of the poem and the Robertson record. I think I saw a dedication plate to Katharine on one of them near Kingsbridge/Houston Station.
If true ,it shows how close Katharine was to God and His creatures by her care for these magnificent hard working animals.
God bless her and you

Anonymous said...

This beautiful poem is also a reminder of my childhood attending church with my parents in our parish of Christ Church Lisburn NI and am so pleased to finally learn more about it thank you.

Anonymous said...

This poem always reminds me of my sister, she learnt it at school in the fifties. Sadly she died in '89. 💔

Anonymous said...

I learned this as a song when a member of the Glee Club at Mother McCauley High School in Chicago, IL, in 1971. You have made this a beautiful Easter memory and celebration. Thank you