HYMN 54 The Spring Has Clothed the Earth in Green
Swedish: En vänlig grönska rika dräkt
Text: Carl David af Wirsén (1842-1912) Tune: Gustav Waldemar Åhlen (1894-1982)
1. The spring has clothed the earth in green,
Each meadow, hill and valley.
The gentle breeze wafts fresh and clean
Above the fragrant lily.
The sun above
The leafy grove
The sigh of water flowing—
All tell of winter’s going.
2. The birds are singing in the light;
With joy they praise creation.
Their music rises clear and bright
In joyful celebration.
Their song goes up
In joy and hope
To praise the one who made them,
Whose life and love sustain them.
3. For you, O God, have made this all,
The earth, its joy and wonder.
Help me to hear you when you call
To hear your word and ponder:
All flesh is grass;
The good times pass;
Though doubt and death assail me,
God’s Word will never fail me.
4. All flesh will die and fade away.
The leaves of summer perish.
But you, my Lord, alone remain;
The Rock, my heart will cherish.
New life you give
So I may live.
Your word will never leave me,
Though summer winds deceive me.
5. We plant the seeds in earthly fields
To make a crop for harvest
But better yet a growth that yields
Its fruits in heaven’s garden.
So let the rain
Make plump the grain,
Their ears grow ripe and heavy
In hearts that live forever.
6. These summer blossoms all will die
Their fleeting beauties wither.
But I am his and he is mine
Our bonds cannot be severed.
God, holy, wise,
Will plant me safe and soundly
With life sweet and abounding.
Tr. Gracia Grindal 2011, 2020
"Spring can really hang you up the most," the American song goes, written with T. S. Eliot's line from The Wasteland, in mind: "April is the cruelest month." It treats the sadness of springtime when the robins start building nests and the flowers bloom, but things aren’t going right in your life. Its fleeting beauty contrasts cruelly with your mood. Spring is to be enjoyed with all the intensity it gives, but it can be a melancholy time sometimes. The violence of the northern spring--one day it is winter, the next day the snow melts away in rushing floods of water--can be almost unbearable. Many are rightly sad at this time this spring.
The Christian life is lived against the backdrop of both Golgatha, and the empty tomb, Easter morning. Springtime in the north is a good time for Easter with all the new life blooming. It seems right. But Easter in the southern hemisphere is when everything is dying. Then new life seems even more necessary.
The hymn for today is one of the all time favorites in Sweden. For good reason. Anyone who has spent spring and early summer in Scandinavia knows how powerful it is, how achingly beautiful, after the long, dark winter. No wonder Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden used it for her wedding ceremony in 2010. You will notice, however, they do not sing the last three stanzas, nor do any of the other performances here.
I can perfectly understand that. Spring is so fresh and evanescent, but this year it does not match our mood. The festivities of spring: commencement, weddings, anniversaries, are not happening. The contrasts make our feelings more intense. The writer of the text maybe has some comfort for us. He wants to be sure we understand that no matter what the weather, the time of year, or our own moods, God’s Word is where we meet the true springtime of life. New life comes from God. Our days, Moses says in Psalm 90, are like the grass of the fields, we flourish then die. Numbering our days gives us a heart of wisdom. And a deeper joy as we watch the tulips in their glories blossom and fade. We know spring flowers will end. What the hymn wants you to see is that in the beauties of the spring flowers there is more than a hint of what is coming.
Af Wirsén was a famous Swedish writer during his life time; he served on the Nobel Prize literature committee, but was no friend of the naturalistic writers of the day: Ibsen, Strindberg, even Selma Lagerlöf did not meet with his approval. People did not like that about him. But they did like his hymn text. It was included in the Hemlandssånger, a songbook published by Swedish Augustana Lutherans in 1892. That they knew about the text so soon after its appearance shows they were following closely what was going on in the homeland.
It may have been brought over by the distinguished and prolific Swedish- American composer, Gustav Stolpe (1833-1901). Stolpe had accompanied Jenny Lind on her American tour and left a good position at the conservatory in Stockholm to teach at Augustana College in Rock Island. Stolpe's tune for this text did not become a favorite. It was only when Åhlen wrote the new tune that it did. With a good marriage of text and tune a hymn has a good chance to become a favorite. Åhlen's tune did that for the text and now we have a classic. Åhlen played the organ at St. Jakob’s church in Stockholm from 1928 until his retirement. He composed music throughout his life. This is his greatest hit.
The Royal Wedding, Viktoria and Daniel 2010
Anders Widmark Jazz Trio
Adolf Fredriks boy choir