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Words: Eleanor Allen Schroll (b. ____, 1878; d. Jan. 8, 1966)
Music: James Henry Fillmore, Sr. (b. June 1, 1849; d. Feb. 8, 1936)
Note: The song was written in 1920 by Eleanor Schroll. The Cyber Hymnal has a picture of her, and lists one other song she wrote. Other than that we know nothing about her. As well as being a composer, James Fillmore was a pastor, a singing school teacher, and a sacred music publisher, working in the latter with his brothers.
Nonsense poems can be clever and memorable, even when we don’t understand them. Take Lewis Carroll’s poem about the slaying of the Jabberwocky, in Through the Looking Glass. It begins:
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
Nonsensical, but somehow fascinating.
Some poems and songs make us laugh simply because they’re silly, like the one about “the grand old Duke of York,” who marched his men up a hill.
And when they were up they were up.
And when they were down they were down.
And when they were only half way up,
They were neither up nor down.
It’s logical, but hardly profound.
Sentimental poems that are lacking in freshness and insight abound. “Roses are red, violets are blue.” Well, yes, they are. But that has become a stale cliché. Comparing people or relationships to flowers or gardens has been done before–many times. Three thousand years ago, Solomon described his betrothed as, “A garden enclosed” (S.S. 4:12). It was a poetic way of referring to the wonder of her chaste, pure love for him.
Isaac Watts (1674-1748) took that thought at applied it, meaningfully, to the church:
We are a garden walled around,
Chosen and made peculiar ground;
A little spot enclosed by grace
Out of the world’s wide wilderness.
That does make sense, biblically, as the Lord speaks of believers drawn to Himself as “His own special people” (I Pet. 2:9, “peculiar” is the word the old King James Version uses, not meaning odd, but unique).
In speaking of His future blessing of the nation of Israel, the Lord says: “Their souls [i.e. more precisely their lives] shall be like a well-watered garden, and they shall sorrow no more at all” (Jer. 31:12). It’s a picture of the freshness and vitality of daily life they can anticipate during the reign of their Messiah-King.
But the offering from Haldor Lillenas (1855-1959), called The Garden of My Heart, leaves these more profound applications and gets us close to sappy sentimentality. He describes times of prayer this way:
In the cool of the day He walks with me,
In the rose bordered way He talks with me;
In love’s holy union, and sacred communion,
In the garden of my heart.
Roses seemed to be a fascination, as well, for druggist turned gospel song writer Charles Austin Miles (1868-1946). In a still popular song from 1912 he writes:
I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses.
Miles is speaking of fellowship with the Lord. But what, or where the rose garden is he never tells us. It’s more flowery sentiment that is shallow, and rather corny.
This brings us to the present hymn, and yet another garden.
CH-1) There’s a garden where Jesus is waiting,
There’s a place that is wondrously fair,
For it glows with the light of His presence.
’Tis the beautiful garden of prayer.
Oh, the beautiful garden, the garden of prayer!
Oh, the beautiful garden of prayer!
There my Saviour awaits, and He opens the gates
To the beautiful garden of prayer.
A dozen times in this short song we hear about “the beautiful garden of prayer.” Why? Is the author saying that prayer is like a walk in a lovely garden? Then, say it and move on! Sometimes repetition in a gospel song emphasizes an important point. But speaking over and over about a make-believe garden comes too close to the “vain repetitions” of the heathen (Matt. 6:7). At the very least it’s a squishy sentiment that doesn’t enrich us much. The Lord isn’t waiting for us in a garden, He seated in glory at the Father’s right hand (Heb. 1:3), yet present with us always (Matt. 28:20).
Not every hymn we sing has to be a masterpiece of poetry, but we do well to seek out ways to express our faith and worship with words that are clearly biblical and richly meaningful. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord” (Ps. 19:14).
1) Can you think of other hymns or gospel songs that have shallow, trite poetry?
2) What important qualities do you hope to find in a hymn?