Take him, earth, for cherishing

Charles Cowling

Tony Piper, a very good friend of the GFG, whose wise and gentle counsel we value incredibly highly, sang these words the other night at a concert London. 

As he did so he wondered “What would be the most moving and powerful words of committal we could find, courtesy the GFG blog?”

The words are from a 4th-century poem by Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, translated by Helen Waddell. The music is by Herbert Howells. The piece commemorates Howells’ dead son. 

Have you got anything to rival this? 

Take him, earth, for cherishing,
to thy tender breast receive him.
Body of a man I bring thee,
noble even in its ruin.

Once was this a spirit’s dwelling,
by the breath of God created.
High the heart that here was beating,
Christ the prince of all its living.

Guard him well, the dead I give thee,
not unmindful of his creature
shall he ask it: he who made it
symbol of his mystery.

Comes the hour God hath appointed
to fulfil the hope of men,
then must thou, in very fashion,
what I give, return again.

Not though ancient time decaying
wear away these bones to sand,
ashes that a man might measure
in the hollow of his hand:

Not though wandering winds and idle,
drifting through the empty sky,
scatter dust was nerve and sinew,
is it given to man to die.

Once again the shining road
leads to ample Paradise;
open are the woods again,
that the serpent lost for men

Take, O take him, mighty leader,
take again thy servant’s soul.
Grave his name, and pour the fragrant
balm upon the icy stone.

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