Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Turn Back, O Man

When I attended a prep school during my junior and senior years of high school, the headmaster's favorite hymn was by Clifford Bax: Turn Back Oh Man.
Turn back, O man, forswear thy foolish ways.
old now is earth, and none may count her days.
yet thou, her child, whose head is crowned with flame,
still wilt not hear thine inner God proclaim,
"Turn back, O man, forswear thy foolish ways."

Earth might be fair and all men glad and wise.
age after age their tragic empires rise,
built while they dream, and in that dreaming weep:
would man but wake from out his haunted sleep,
earth might be fair and all men glad and wise.

Earth shall be fair, and all her people one:
nor till that hour shall God's whole will be done.
Now, even now, once more from earth to sky,
peals forth in joy man's old undaunted cry:
"Earth shall be fair and all her folk be one!"

I really liked that hymn. I was reminded of it today when I was looking in the library for works dealing with sacred rivers. I found a book called "Earth Might be Fair." It's rather heavy reading about religion and environmental issues edited by Ian G. Barbour - published in 1972!

Here's another; this one from William Wordsworth:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.


  1. Proteus was who Homer called the Old Man of the Sea. He was a god of the sea. When Wordsworth says "I'd rather be...." is he discussing his dissatisfaction with his religion and faith? "We have given our hearts away," he says. Is he calling for, rather, a spiritual connection to the Earth?

  2. Mon Man thanks for putting 'Turn back o man' on your blog. I have often thought about this hymn we sang in school (45 years ago) but never come across it again, not being religious or a church goer. In sixth form I was just awaking politically, with the Vietnam war and visions for a better world. Re-reading the words they are as beautiful and relevant as I remember.


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