Updated: Sep 16, 2020
Text: Virgil Prentiss Brock (1887-1978). Tune: Blanche Marie Kerr Brock (1888-1958)
1. Beyond the sunset. Oh, blissful morning, When with our Savior Heaven is begun. Earth's toiling ended, Oh, glorious dawning, Beyond the sunset When day is done. 2. Beyond the sunset, No clouds will gather, No storms will threaten, No fears annoy; Oh, day of gladness, Oh, day unending, Beyond the sunset, Eternal joy.
3. Beyond the sunset,
A hand will guide me,
To God the Father
Whom I adore;
His glorious presence,
His words of welcome,
Will be my portion
On that fair shore.
4. Beyond the sunset,
Oh, glad reunion With our dear loved ones Who've gone before; In that fair homeland. We'll know no parting-- Beyond the sunset Forevermore.
In the 1950s and a bit later, almost every funeral I knew about featured this hymn. While I did not go to many funerals, I did go to some. I would hear my mom and dad practicing this at home. They were a great team. He would preach the sermon, usually well critiqued by her, and he would accompany her fine mezzo on the piano. They added rather much to the small country church gatherings where they served. Whenever I hear a sweet mezzo soprano singing, I get lonesome for them.
The history of this hymn is a picture of American evangelistic song. It was written by a couple from Indiania, the Brocks. Virgil, after a conversion, became a pastor in the Christian Church. Blanche had attended the Indianapolis Conservatory of Music and the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. Married in 1914, she composed the music for his texts and played the piano for him. They were colleagues of Homer Rodeheaver (1880-1955), the compiler of gospel song collections that filled the small churches in America.
The story goes that they were gathered with others at the Rodeheaver School of Music at Winona Lake, Indiana, the summer of 1936, in the middle of the Depression and a bad year on the farms. The sunsets, however, were reported as being gorgeous, probably because of the dust. Someone commented that the sunset before them was among the most beautiful they had ever seen, it looked like the water had taken fire and above the colors, storm clouds were gathering. A cousin of Virgil, who was blind, commented that it was the most beautiful sunset he had ever seen. Surprised by this comment, they asked him how he could “see” it. He said, "I see through other people’s eyes. Sometime I think I see more, I think I see 'beyond the sunset.'”
Virgil began writing a text starting with “Beyond the sunset” and before long he had a stanza, then someone thought he should write a stanza including the storm clouds. Then another on how their blind relative always walked hand in hand with his wife, like our walk with God. And then before they left the table, a fourth was written.
From there they went to the piano to play the melody that Blanche was hearing. By the end of the evening they had a song. Rodeheaver published it in a book. And the rest is history.
Some time after that, Albert “Rosy” Rowswell, the announcer for the Pittsburgh Pirates wrote a poem, “Should you go First,” a poem to his wife if she would die first. It was frequently read between stanzas. Chickie Davie was the first to record it followed by Elton Britt. Then, in 1950, Hank Williams, Sr., the country western laureate heard it and recorded it using the pseudonym, Luke the Drifter. It was released as the B side to a single called “The Funeral.”
I never heard that part, but you can hear it on three of the links below. It is right out of Victorian sentimentality. Some of you will have never heard the song, or the poem. Some of you will hold it dear. Whether it is your cup of tea or not, you can be sure that a good number of your grandparents or other loved ones older than you, went to their eternal reward after a soloist like my mother in a small church in the country sang it. They may well have shed a few tears of loss hoping for the reunion they were expecting in that homeland where there would be no parting. It clearly still speaks to people--look at the millions who have listened to the various renditions of it on Youtube!
The hymn did not make it into main line hymnals, but was a constant in the Rodeheaver collections and other evangelical songbooks. Many
Gospel songs were often country western songs in style, so Hank Williams singing this is completely in order. I am a little suspicious of how fast the tune came. It sounds very much like the Danish song, “Den Lille Ole med paraplyen /The little sandman with his umbrella,” which Alice Babs and the Swe-Danes sang on one of their albums. The tunes are close. Listen and see what you think.
Bill and Gloria Gaither with the poem
The Cathedrals—with the poem
Hank Williams—with the poem
Alice Baba and the Swe-Danes/Den lille Ola med paraplyen