Music Notes for Sixth Sunday After Pentecost — June 30, 2024

Jesu, the very thought of thee

Text: Latin (Jesu dulcis memoria, 12th cent.); tr. Edward Caswall (1814-1878) / Music: Gordon Archbold Slater (1896-1979), arr. Paul Halley (b. 1952)

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For many years it had been assumed that Bernard of Clairvaux was the author of the Latin poem of 42 stanzas beginning ‘Jesu dulcis memoria’. However, though it is in keeping with his spirit and mediaeval piety, there is no proof that he wrote it. The consensus among hymnologists now is that it was written by a member of the Cistercian order in England around the end of the 12th century. In one translation or another the hymn has been very popular in the church; it appeared in over 80 hymnals in English in the 20th century alone. One of the best translations is that of Edward Caswall, from which both Common Praise and The New English Hymnal have taken this cento. Caswall was a priest in the Church of England who later in life took up orders in the church of Rome. He was the translator of about 200 Latin hymns, and published them in a succession of books beginning with Lyra Catholica.

The variable accentual pattern in the successive stanzas has made it difficult for music editors to choose a suitable tune for the hymn. No fewer than 28 different tunes have been associated with the text in the past century. “St Botolph”, the tune selected for this hymn in both of our hymnals, was written by Gordon Slater, Organist & Choirmaster at Lincoln Cathedral from 1930 until 1966. Paul Halley, who held the position of music director at both the University of King’s College and All Saints Cathedral in Halifax from 2007 to 2021, has created an arrangement of Slater’s melody which is lush and lyrical, a beautiful watercolour of vocal harmonies and organ line.

Jesu, the very thought of thee
With sweetness fills my breast;
But sweeter far thy face to see,
And in thy presence rest.

Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame,
Nor can the memory find,
A sweeter sound than thy blest name,
O Saviour of mankind!

O hope of every contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
To those who fall, how kind thou art!
How good to those who seek!

But what to those who find? Ah, this
Nor tongue nor pen can show;
The love of Jesus, what it is
None but his loved ones know.

Jesu, our only joy be thou,
As thou our prize wilt be;
Jesus, be thou our glory now,
And through eternity.

Gerald Harder