The Lone Wild Bird

“The Lone Wild Bird”

 

The lone, wild bird in lofty flight
Is still with Thee, nor leaves Thy sight.
And I am thine! I rest in Thee.
Great Spirit, come, and rest in me.

Each secret thought is known to Thee,
My whole life’s path, whate’er it be;
My days, my deeds, my hopes, my fears,
My deepest joys, my silent tears.

The ends of earth are in Thy hand,
The sea’s dark deep and far-off land.
And I am thine! I rest in Thee.
Great Spirit, come, and rest in me.

 

When I was just learning to read music and find the notes on the piano, I found a song I had never sung before in a book sitting on our piano.  The title intrigued me, so I picked it out, slow note by note, and found a hymn I have loved ever since. It was “The Lone Wild Bird.”

I love the way the image of the bird is mirrored by the image of the Holy Spirit in the opening stanza. I feel a thrill at the exclamation mark when I sing, “And I am thine!” then exhale into “I rest in Thee.” It brings a rush of associations reminding me of Psalm 139 and Matthew 10:29 and Gerard Manley Hopkins’ line about the Holy Ghost brooding over the bent world with ah! bright wings.

The Presbyterian Hymnal Companion records that “The Lone Wild Bird” was written by Henry Richard McFadyen on a quiet Sunday afternoon in 1925 and sent away to a national hymn-writing contest at The Homiletic and Pastoral Review. McFadyen forgot about it until he was notified that he had won third prize.  David N. Johnson set McFadyen’s poem to the tune of Prospect (by Graham) from the Sacred Harp and published it in Twelve Folksongs and Spirituals (1968)–a fantastic book which, sadly, is now out of print.

It was difficult for me to find a good version of this hymn to share.  Everybody seemed to want to trick it up with extra notes or showy harmonies. Some folks modernize the language and change the poetry.  What I most wanted was for you to hear that haunting Sacred Harp melody.

So here’s a link to an instrumental version that pretty well captures Johnson’s intent (sorry I can’t embed the video),

and here’s a beautiful acapella version of the modern words.

 

A good hymn to carry around in your head for times of need.

 

3 comments

  1. Chuck Treadwell says:

    Alice,

    This is a lovely post. It brought back a beautiful memory. Dr Michael Hawn sang this at my father, the Rev Bill Treadwell’s funeral. Michael has a beautiful counter tenor voice and was only accompanied by his own classical guitar. A week later on a sunny May morning we interred my father in South Carolina. As we finished the prayer and were holding one another in the silence of that moment we heard the cry of The Lone Wild Bird, a red tail hawk flying high above us circling our family like the enfolding arms of God.

    Thank you.

  2. Bob says:

    Right On! Just what I needed!

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