1000 Songs/O Zion Haste (Mary Ann Thomson)
O Zion haste thy mission high fulfilling (Mary Ann Thomson)
Text[edit | edit source]
Author[edit | edit source]
Mary Ann Thomson was born in London in 1834, but lived in Philadelphia in 1868 when she began writing this missionary hymn.
Translations/Challenges[edit | edit source]
Since the text was originally written in English, there are no great challenges with translation. However, there is a textual challenge for contemporary editors. Recent generations often do not understand the meaning of the word "Zion" in the first line. The hymn personifies the mountain upon which Jerusalem was built, and applies it as the people of God (Isaiah 40:9). But (especially in light of the Zionist movement over the last century or so), the poetic device of addressing the church as "Zion" can be misleading. Given the challenge, what is an editor to do, when the second word of the first line begins with the letter Z? Most modern hymnals continue to print the song in its traditional form, but Word publishing, in The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration (1986) and The Celebration Hymnal (1999) place an asterisk before the word "Zion" in the text, and include a footnote explaining, "*Isaiah 40:9. By extension the word refers to the people of God." Other hymnal publishers, such as Hope publishing's Hymns for the Living Church (1974), The Singing Church (1985), and The Worshiping Church (1990) have replaced the word "Zion" with the word "Christian" or "Christians," which conveys the meaning more clearly. However, replacing the second word of a first line creates an interesting challenge to find the hymn up in an alphabetical listing of first lines! In such cases, a line in the index shows "O Zion Haste" but in some way sends the reader to "O Christian(s) haste."
Another editorial challenge, one that is hastily dismissed, is the archaic use of "thy" rather than "your" throughout the text. As with many Bible translations, the old conventions are replaced with more contemporary practices. While that works in a prose setting, hymnal editors should certainly give second thought to changing "thy mission high" with "your mission high," which sacrifices internal rhyme for ease of understanding. Besides the beauty of the vowel sounds, the poem itself is written in rather formal, profound language. If the inverted word order were fixed, all dated pronouns changed, and seldom-used vocabulary were replaced with familiar ones, the meaning of the text might be the same, but the power of the poetry would be severely compromised. Hence, the Editor's choice is to retain the original text.
Editor's Choice[edit | edit source]
See the full text here.
Music[edit | edit source]
Tune[edit | edit source]
Mary Ann Thomson wrote the words for "O Zion haste" to match a different tune than the one to which it is so often attached today. Her favorite tune was PILGRIMS, a new tune recently composed by Henry Smart, which was matched with a hymn, "Hark, hark my soul, angelic songs are swelling" by Frederick Faber. Mary wanted to write words to go with that delightful music, and this was her grand attempt.
Ironically, just a few years later, in 1875, a musician named James Walch, who was a student of Henry Smart, was working on a new tune to go with his favorite text, "Hark hark my soul angelic songs are swelling." He completed his music in 1875, happy that he had fulfilled his ambition to write a suitable tune for that delightful text.
As history would have it, Mary's favorite tune and James' favorite text would both fall into obscurity, while his new tune and her new text would be wedded for generations to come. And so James Walch's tune is sometimes named TIDINGS, due to its marriage with this text he had never seen.
Arrangements[edit | edit source]
The music is somewhat march-like in quality, with a rather high tessitura for modern congregations. It is also a rather florid, lengthy tune, not unlike florid Methodist tunes of its day (such as SAGINA by Thomas Campbell, often set with the text of "And Can It Be").
Editor's Choice[edit | edit source]
Background[edit | edit source]
Author biography[edit | edit source]
Mary Ann Thomson was Anglican from birth, Episcopalian by virtue of moving to the United States.
Author's circumstances[edit | edit source]
The hymnwriter's young son was seriously ill with typhoid fever, when from his sick-bed he declared that he should like to become a missionary, if he recovered. The statement was doubly moving to the young mother, Mary, who realized that she would, in a sense, be losing her child. If he did not die as a child from this illness, he would be leaving for the cause of Christ. Out of this deep reflection, Mary Ann Thomson wrote as she stayed vigil by her son's bedside that night.