Eleanor Farjeon used a word in one of her lyrics, a word that always catches my eye. She is not a one-hit wonder. She’s a two-hit wonder, and her hits are hymns. Farjeon’s contribution was lyrics rather than music. While these hymns were actually a peripheral part of her output– as a famous children’s author– nowadays it’s the hymns that are her chief claim to fame.
The first one is the advent hymn “People Look East”, written in 1928, when Farjeon was in her mid-40s, known in a setting with a wonderful old French tune.
Does it sound old? I suppose the original tune is much older than the 1920s.
Her other hit is not just a famous hymn, but also a pop song that managed to make it to #1 on the adult contemporary charts back in 1972. Okay, so in that sense hmm yes she really is a one-hit wonder. If you’re a regular church-goer and were asked to name the hymn that also made it to #1, you could probably identify it easily. I’m speaking of “Morning Has Broken”, Cat Stevens’ hit vocal with Rick Wakeman’s brilliant keyboard work. But it had been published –admittedly minus Wakeman’s clever tinkling ivories—in a 1931 hymn collection.
The single word is in Farjeon’s hit hymn, always catching my eye in the last line of the song. I’ve always assumed it’s just me, that the phrase is only problematic in my head. Here’s Farjeon’s last verse:
Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day
That word “recreation” stops me every time. I think it’s meant to be understood as creating again, or a “re-creation”, something God does with every new day, and pronounced with a pair of long e’s . But I can’t help simultaneously reading it as the fun “recreation” that has a first syllable rhyming with “wreck” rather than “reek”, meaning the thing we do for fun in order to re-build and re-create ourselves. It’s an ambiguous word, whether we’re talking about the fun we have or the fun of a supreme being. I read that line as though God himself has his own down time, a moment to re-create himself. And before you accuse me of sacrilege or disrespect, I point you to the surprising passage in Genesis, when we’re told that, after working six days on his new creation: that God rested. God needed a rest!?? Or God stopped and so, because he wasn’t working was described to be resting. But wait, don’t mistake me for a fundamentalist. Those passages at the beginning of Genesis are among the ones I read very loosely, understanding them in a more mythic than literal sense.
In any case, the days are getting longer, and with the extra sunshine, my thoughts are turning to re-creating myself in recreation. Whichever way you read it, I’m taking a break from blogging, vacating for a vacation. I may not be far away, actually, but it doesn’t matter. Is there even a “here” to vacate? Notice that Cat Stevens, aka Yusuf Islam actually pronounces recreation with the first syllable rhyming with “wreck” rather than “reek”.
Hm maybe it’s not just me.