Hymn: a song of praise to God. It seems simple, but have you ever read the stories behind the beloved lyrics of your favorite classic hymns?
Each month in 2022 we are sharing the story behind one of our favorite classic hymns. We hope these stories will encourage you and help you worship, just like the hymnist, amid hurt, hope, fear, thanksgiving, joy, or loss.
This month we’re sharing the story behind All things bright and beautiful.
This text, by Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander, was first published in her Hymns for Little Children (1848). It is one of several hymns which she wrote to interpret phrases of the Apostles’mCreed in language that children could understand. This text was written to explain the meaning of the phrase “Maker of heaven and earth,” and is based upon Genesis 1:31.
As a small girl, Cecil Frances Humphries (b. Redcross, County Wicklow, Ireland, 1818; Londonderry, Ireland, 1895) wrote poetry in her school’s journal. In 1850 she married Rev. William Alexander, who later became the Anglican primate (chief bishop) of Ireland. She showed her concern for disadvantaged people by traveling many miles each day to visit the sick and the poor, providing food, warm clothes, and medical supplies. She and her sister also founded a school for the deaf. Alexander was strongly influenced by the Oxford Movement and by John Keble’s Christian Year. Her first book of poetry, Verses for Seasons, was a “Christian Year” for children.
The original version had several stanzas on four lines each. In the present version, four of the original seven stanzas are combined into two eight-line stanzas.
This hymn was first published by Southern Baptists in 1926, when it appeared in two hymnals, the New Baptist Hymnal (Nashville, No. 400, with the SPOHR tune) and The Modern Hymnal (Nashville, No. 64, with the GREYSTONE tune).
SPOHR was adapted from a solo in Louis Spohr’s oratorio Des Heilands letze Stunden, first performed in Kassel on Good Friday in 1835. In the English version, prepared by Edward Taylor, there is a solo, “Though all thy friends prove faithless,” sung by Mary, the melody of this solo was arranged by James Simpson setting the text “As pants of the hart.” The popularity of this anthem led to the further adaptation of the opening section as a hymn tune which has carried, among it several tune names, the name of the original composer.
All things bright and beautiful,
all creatures great and small,
all things wise and wonderful,
the Lord God made them all.
1 Each little flow’r that opens,
each little bird that sings,
God made their glowing colors,
God made their tiny wings. [Refrain]
2 The purple-headed mountain,
the river running by,
the sunset, and the morning
that brightens up the sky; [Refrain]
3 The cold wind in the winter,
the pleasant summer sun,
the ripe fruits in the garden,
God made them, ev’ry one. [Refrain]
4 God gave us eyes to see them,
and lips that we might tell
how great is God Almighty,
who has made all things well. [Refrain]
This story was included in Handbook to The Baptist Hymnal.