HYMN 104 When My Eyes, Grown Sick of Weeping,
Danish: Når mitt øje, trætt av møje
Norwegian: Når mitt øye, trett av møye
Text: Hans Adolph Brorson (1695-1764) Tune: Norwegian folk
1. When my eyes, grown sick of weeping
Wet and dark with raining tears,
Look with longing from their prison,
Up to glad Jerusalem.
Then my woes all pass away
Simply to look up and see!
2. I can hear them people singing
Every kind, the angel choirs,
Whom they’re lifting up with ardor
In the joy of God’s full praise.
Then how gladly says my soul,
To the world, farewell, farewell.
3. Yes, I see them, grapes of heaven
Paradise! The fruit of life.
And thy sweetest roses meeting
Me with all their fragrances
And the air we breathe each day
Smacking of eternity.
4. Then the Lamb’s own bridal party
I can see in Paradise!
See them flowing like a river
Of God’s sweet praise to the Lord.
Though we tread the narrow way
O what joy the end will be.
5. Lovely, dearest, sweetest Jesus
Who has won us heav’n so dear
See how all your yearning pains you
In the days of evening dusk.
Come, O sweetest bridegroom, come
Take me with you, take me home.
Tr. Gracia Grindal
A glorious cool late summer evening in Oslo. We were at the Freia Chocolate company auditorium. The Oslo Chamber Choir put on its last concert under the leadership of Grete Pedersen. As the light faded slowly we were transported into Brorson's hymns. The settings were ravishing and fit the evening.
The hymn, one of the more popular hymns in Norway, has been mocked by people who do not like pietism. Once when I told a Norwegian pastor that I counted myself a pietist, she was horrified and quoted the first lines, “When my eyes, grown sick of weeping!” What an awful picture of this world! Pietists deny the joys of this world and long only for heaven.
Back then, when she said it, and I was younger, and long before the virus and riots, it was a bit harder to defend. Now it speaks more powerfully to me. Brorson lived in a time when disease could ravage families and lives overnight. When he wrote it, he was in grief. It was 1741, his wife had just died and he had begun his work as Bishop of Ribe. His oldest son, probably schizophrenic and disabled, had to be locked in a room in the bishop’s mansion to keep him and the family safe. The story goes that a woman once criticized him for not knowing much about the woes of life. He reportedly took her to his son’s room, opened the door, and pointed at his son thrashing about. She reportedly took back her accusations.
He had just finished writing a collection of hymns he called A Rare Treasury of Faith/Troens Rare Klenodie, hymns for the church year and the topics of the faith. His work as bishop kept him too busy to write any hymns, at least for publication. But he did keep writing them for his own personal use, like this one, which would be published by one of his sons the year after his death in 1765. Some think he wrote most of them the year he was dying. They were known as his Swan Songs/Svane=Sanger.
Scholars think that he was freer in these hymns than he would have been if he had been planning to publish them. He seems to be in another place from his earlier hymns. The raptures in the imagery and tight rhymes of these poems are significantly richer than in his earlier hymns.
They appeal to people who are struggling with difficulties. Sometimes this world can get you down, despite its obvious pleasures. In one's tears,"then my woes all pass away/simply to look up and see." For me, now old, and nervous about the future, these rapturous images draw me upward, toward a place where there is unimaginable beauty, where all nations are in one accord singing before the Throne of God, and where one’s deepest hungers and desires are fed with the most delicious repasts. It sounds pretty good from here. “Thy sweetest roses meeting/Me with all their fragrances/And the air we breathe each day/Smacking of eternity.” To think of that makes life bearable here today as well. So much to look forward to! And so much beauty to taste in the good things around us that point us heavenward.
The hymn was found in a small collection in Brorson’s effects after his death, among them this and Behold a Host, plus several of his most beloved hymns. His son published them, but they were not used in hymnals much until Wilhelm A. Wexels, the pastor at the Oslo Cathedral included them in his hymnal of 1840. It then became part of the treasury of songs that were obligatory. Ludvig Lindemann set all of the songs in the collection to tunes and published them in a handsome book.
Because of issues with the translation, which defeated me to some extent, the Concordia, loving the tune, put a Christmas text to it, “Precious Child so Sweetly Sleeping.” It became a favorite, but the text is not nearly so compelling as the original. Since Landstad in 1869, it has been obligatory in the Norwegian hymnal. The hymn has also become a popular choral anthem. Even the announcers on our local public radio station have learned to say the title of the choral setting they play frequently as it is so ravishingly beautiful.
Listen to them.
Oslo Chamber Choir with Sondre Bratland
Urianienberg Vokal ensemble, Elisabeth Holte
Oslo Chamber Choir, Ole Paus, etc
Danish tune and singer