Thursday, January 17, 2008

"We Lay Our Garments By"

The JS manual's chapter 2 contains a cute little story that the Prophet’s brother William recalled:

“My father’s religious habits were strictly pious and moral. … I was called upon to listen to prayers both night and morning. … My parents, father and mother, poured out their souls to God, the donor of all blessings, to keep and guard their children and keep them from sin and from all evil works. Such was the strict piety of my parents.” William also said: “We always had family prayers since I can remember. I well remember father used to carry his spectacles in his vest pocket, … and when us boys saw him feel for his specs, we knew that was a signal to get ready for prayer, and if we did not notice it mother would say, ‘William,’ or whoever was the negligent one, ‘get ready for prayer.’ After the prayer we had a song we would sing; I remember part of it yet: ‘Another day has passed and gone, We lay our garments by.’ (in JS Manual, Lesson #2)

This hymn sounded so interesting to me that I did a little search on it. It was written by Baptist pastor John Leland (1754-1841) of Virginia, a well-known champion of religious freedom. The Dictionary of American Hymnology (DAH) of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada shows that Leland’s hymns were widely known. One of Leland’s hymns encouraged new Christians being baptized in an icy pond or river in winter with the lines, “Christians, if your hearts are warm / Ice and snow can do no harm.” It was published 42 times from 1794 to 1961. Much more widely used than this special occasion hymn were two other hymns by Leland. Leland’s evening hymn “The Day Is Past and Gone,” published 493 times from 1793 to 1946 according to the DAH, emphasizes the transitory nature of life on earth and the certainty of death:
The day is past and gone
The evening shades appear;
O may we all remember well,
The night of death is near.

We lay our garments by,
While we retire to rest;
So death will soon disrobe us all,
Of what we here possess.

The hymn eventually made it to the 1835 LDS hymnal. Of course, it is not surprising that this hymn has not survived in our current canon of hymns. It has a dark, moody feel to it. I don't think Latter-day Saints like to recall that death will soon disrobe us of all we possess. We'd rather "Work while the sun shines." The hymn does resolve itself in the final verses to something more like a Mormon "press on" exhortation, especially in verse 4:

Lord, keep us safe this night
Secure from all our fears:
May angels guard us while we sleep,
Till morning light appears.

And when we early rise,
And view th' unwearied sun,
May we set out to win the prize,
And after glory run.

And when our days are past,
And we from time remove,
O may we in thy kingdom rest,
Where all is peace and love.

I loved finding this little gem and imagining the Smith family all gathered around in their cabin singing as they got ready for bed. And I like to think they sang "may angels guard us while we sleep" as they retired on the evening of 21 September 1823!


Ardis Parshall said...

Cool! This made my day. Thanks.

David said...

Thanks BiV for tracking this down. This is great stuff.

Anonymous said...

Do you have the music too?

Just Katy said...

I want the music too. What a great song. I think we could use a little more Memento Mori in our lives, it's a much need perspective in our consumer driven culture.

woundedhart said...

What a lovely hymn. I'm pretty sure I already know it, because I have a melody now rattling in my head, but this was such a sweet post on a lovely hymn.

Actually, I have a friend in SL who has written new tunes for all of the texts in Emma Smith's first hymnbook, so that might be where I know it from.

Others might not be aware that the first hymnbooks were published without tunes. The congregation would be familiar with many different tunes, and the person leading the music would instruct them on which tune they would use with the text. So there would be several tunes that would fit the meter of this particular hymn.

Bored in Vernal said...

This hymn was most likely sung to the tune called "Evening Shade" by the early Latter-day Saints. You can hear it here.
Here's another version of the song I discovered while poking around:

The day has passed and gone, the evening shades appear
Oh, may we all remember well, the night of death draws near.

Now we'll lay our garments by, down on our beds to rest
But death may soon disrobe us all of what we now possess.

Lord, keep us safe this night, secure from all our fears
And angels guide us while we sleep 'til morning light appears.

But when we early rise and view the weary sun
May we set out to win the prize and after glory run.

But when our days are past and we from time removed
Oh, may we in the bosom rest, the bosom of our Lord.

AND...the words have been sung to the same tune as "Amazing Grace!" (but I find it doesn't fit so well...)

Joy said...

Hi, I found your blog by doing the same thing - poking around for more info on this song - as I am teaching this lesson in Vermont on Sunday... I just thought I would share a site that claims to have the "likely" tune to which the 1835 hymns were sung. Enjoy!

vashti4ever said...

So amazed to be reading and wondered about this hymn mentioned by William Smith. And there was the answer inyour blog. Thank you so much.Kathy Saunders in Clatskanie Oregon

vashti4ever said...

So amazed to be reading and wondered about this hymn mentioned by William Smith. And there was the answer inyour blog. Thank you so much.Kathy Saunders in Clatskanie Oregon