MRS. EDDY named her great discovery Christian Science, and in all she writes is seen not only the aspiration, spirituality, and love which long centuries have ascribed to devout Christianity, but also an absolutely correct statement of demonstrable Science. This unity of love and truth governs even her poetic writings, and must be understood before anything like a right estimate of them can be made. In religious poetry, for the most part, what may be termed the heart element has always predominated, and when poetry has sought to be metaphysical or theological it has usually ceased to be poetry. Thus for the critic Mrs. Eddy's achievement in poetry stands alone. Her poems speak straight to the heart with the simplicity of pure lyric art, or rouse fainting hope with a lofty clarion, yet they match her most careful prose in their exact statement of divine Principle.
To tell the beauty of these hymns is beyond the power of mere criticism. They are their own praise, their own proof of a supreme and unique literary achievement. Yet they were written in the midst of an enormous activity, during the years when she was declaring, teaching, and establishing Christian Science and its world-wide organization. Her poems and hymns were interludes, as it were, in these long labors. They are known and loved wherever the English language is known; and internal evidence hints that most of them were written under stress, to give comfort, warning, inspiration. It is indeed this expression of the actual need of the hour, either on her own part or that of her church, that gives Mrs. Eddy's hymns their wonderful vitality. They express herself,—aspiration, abnegation, struggle, victory, unselfish love; the sorrowing and triumphing Leader, the friend of humanity, the mother of her flock. They are such deep self-revealings as perhaps never were yet trusted to the pages of autobiography. Touching what may be read between these lines, the most reverent and tender words must fall silent.
"Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" is of course Mrs. Eddy's greatest book. Of her mere literary power, her command of the grand style, as critics love to name truly noble writings, her brilliant and forceful sententiousness, clean and clear, one could write at length. But there is one peculiar element of her style which may be touched on here, for it is especially characteristic of her poetry. Every word of hers is used for its exact and full value. No one can understand her writings who does not give to her simplest word or her most stately phrase its definite and also most forceful meaning. Even her poetry has no flowery hyperbole, no vaguely impassioned or cloudily metaphysical line. Direct, simple, with hardly a word of more than two syllables, her poems take the reader back to days when words meant what they said, and yea was yea. The spiritual realities made clear by English words in their best estate, not reduced to rags by heedless use,—these things are what the reader of Mrs. Eddy's hymns and poems must seek, as well as readers of her prose.
These hymns, then, written to say something that must be said, are before the world today. They are on the tongue and in the ears perhaps of more people more constantly than any other hymns in the language. It is probable that not even the words of "Nearer, my God, to Thee," are known verbatim to so many people as know the hymns of Mrs. Eddy. The great congregations of the Church of Christ, Scientist, the world over, could sing these hymns without book, with few voices faltering at any line. What does this mean, viewed from the angle of literary opinion?
It must mean emphatically that Mrs. Eddy has given real things voice. She has proved her place with the masters of literature because she, like them, wrote not with an eye to making literature, but to tell the people something she knew to be true, something which they in turn have seen to be true. The power of these hymns is in evidence that Mrs. Eddy lived what she wrote, and that it was a present reality to her, not a distant ideal. By the light of her great revelation, she set forth in her hymns, alike her own and the whole human plea for unity with divine, infinite Love, and her conviction of that unity. The self-restraint of her speech is like that of one looking directly upon that of which he speaks. There is no searching after fine phrases, because the direct vision supplies the definite image. This apparently stern sparing of words characterizes all of Mrs. Eddy's writing. This "well of English undefiled" is unstained by heady wines of poetic fervor. Like the directness of the English Bible, hers, too, follows from her knowledge that what she says is true. Beholding the truth, she knows that it needs no embroidered garment of praise.
One of the songs or hymns which especially shows Mrs. Eddy's power of declaring mighty things with few words, is the poem named "Laus Deo!" (Poems, p. 76), written for the laying of the corner-stone of The Mother Church, her church in Boston. Whittier's poem on hearing the bells ring for the passage of the constitutional amendment abolishing slavery, has the same title, and he uses at the beginning the same phrase, "It is done." Mrs. Eddy has elsewhere (Science and Health, pp. 224-227) compared her work with that of the abolition movement, in that the truth she declared has made obsolete a deeper form of slavery. With bells a-chime in her thought, she wrote:—
Laus Deo,—on this rock
(Heaven chiseled squarely good)
Stands His church,—
God is Love, and understood
By His flock.
Laus Deo, night star-lit
Slumbers not in God's embrace;
Like this stone, be in thy place:
Stand, not sit.
These stanzas are cited because they bear such plain marks of Mrs. Eddy's individualistic style. Others of her poems have a more graceful versification, but not less this quality of pouring into every word its full measure of thought. The poem "Love" (Poems, p. 6) asks to be freed "from human strife," and in affirming that "Love alone is Life" it summarizes her teaching.
"Mother's Evening Prayer" (Poems, p. 4) is perhaps the most complete poetic expression alike of Mrs. Eddy's religious teachings and of her own human experience and hope. Here we find her asking for protection for her fledgling idea, and in affirming her assurance of protection, she says: "His arm encircles me, and mine, and all."
Here is no David calling for vengeance on foes. She includes all the world m the mantle of tenderness. And she defines, too, the right of each to individual place in the "me, and mine." "All" is not for her a vague infinity, but a unity of definite ideas, "sons and daughters of God" (Science and Health, p. 503) .
But for all its simple, prayer-like feeling, this poem really sounds the whole gamut of human aspiration after God, with the triumphant assurance of Him as all power. He "owns each waiting hour." He possesses us and all, even while His coming seems delayed. Pelion on Ossa piled, of mere verbal splendor, has never yet lifted such a beacon as sentences like the following, from this hymn:—
O make me glad for every scalding tear,
For hope deferred, ingratitude, disdain!
Wait, and love more for every hate, and fear
No ill,—since God is good, and loss is gain.
These lines have power because they are filled with what Mrs. Eddy actually was, in aspiration and endeavor. She lived these things before she wrote them.
In the next stanza she writes:—
Seeking and finding, with the angels sing:
"Lo, I am with you alway,"—watch and pray.
After the triumphant assurance of God's presence comes the warning word. This also is characteristic of her writing everywhere. In the loftiest flight of her inspiration, she never forgets one tiniest waymark that shall blaze the trail for those who would follow.
Sometimes Mrs. Eddy's words are searched for faults, as in the line "How to gather, how to sow," the much sung words of "Feed My Sheep" (Poems, p. 14). Does not the sowing come first? Yet the line says just what Mrs. Eddy means. We cannot sow till we have gathered.
The line "Tear or triumph harms" is another example of how much meaning the writer packs into few words. Triumph harms as often as defeat, yet few that strive and ask for consolation remember to ask for protection in their victorious hour.
The "Communion Hymn" (Poems, p. 75) begins:—
Saw ye my Saviour? Heard ye the glad sound?
Felt ye the power of the Word?
What more trenchant words could be spoken at this hour? What can be added or taken away? Later its "friend of the friendless" is a characteristic touch of her universal human tenderness.
In the hymn "Christmas Morn" (Poems, p. 29), again we note her vivid power in the use of concrete images. To the Christ
No cradle song,
No natal hour and mother's tear
belong. This same clear-cut imagery is seen in the hymn "Christ My Refuge" (Poems, p. 12). It begins with the "waiting harpstrings" o'er which sweeps the strain that binds "the power of pain." Then come the awakening angel thoughts, "illumed by faith and breathed in raptured song." Then the vision of "His unveiled, sweet mercies" shows "burdens light." A significant change was made by Mrs. Eddy in this hymn when the collection of her poems was published in 1910. The hymn was long printed, "Wait to know a world more bright." The volume of poems prints the phrase, "Wake to know a world more bright." This is, of course, in keeping with the change in the last line of "Mother's Evening Prayer." Here the words "finds her home and far-off rest" were changed to "finds her home and heavenly rest." That the great love of God, the Love that is God, is ever present, not merely to be awaited in some far-off place, is the triumphant message which she brought to the world, "with signs following."
The words of her "Communion Hymn" follow here, as perhaps of most universal appeal among the hymns sung in the Christian Science churches:—
COMMUNION HYMN Copyright, 1914, by The Christian Science Publishing Society
Saw ye my Saviour? Heard ye the glad sound?
Felt ye the power of the Word?
'Twas the Truth that made us free,
And was found by you and me
In the life and the love of our Lord.
Mourner, it calls you,—"Come to my bosom,
Love wipes your tears all away,
And will lift the shade of gloom,
And for you make radiant room
Midst the glories of one endless day."
Sinner, it calls you,—"Come to this fountain,
Cleanse the foul senses within;
'Tis the Spirit that makes pure,
That exalts thee, and will cure
All thy sorrow and sickness and sin."
Strongest deliverer, friend of the friendless.
Life of all being divine:
Thou the Christ, and not the creed;
Thou the Truth in thought and deed;
Thou the water, the bread, and the wine.
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