Hymn for the day graphic

31 Whence is that goodly fragrance flowing – Warson

Allen Beville Ramsay (1872-1955), from Anonymous French

©Magdalene College, Cambridge
Reproduced by permission of the Master and Fellows of Magdalene College Cambridge.

Gillian Warson

The last few months have been difficult for all of us for many reasons and we have had to find our comfort where we can. I have spent many hours exploring the lanes of Oxfordshire by bike and have even invested in a road bike, the better to speed me on my way. I have always loved cycling and indeed, before I had a bike of my own, always chose friends who had a sister willing to lend me hers! Oh it was such fun! Exploring out-and-about with no reason to go home until our stomachs told us otherwise. One of the things that I have noticed in my recaptured enthusiasm is how quiet the roads have become. In fact, for a brief spell, they were back to the car-free roads I remember as a child. However, the most significant thing that I noticed as I cycled is that one can smell the scents of the countryside around – something that has not been possible for many years with the increase of traffic. One morning, as the perfume of cow parsley and elder flower filled my nostrils, I caught myself singing Whence is that goodly fragrance flowing. Strange, you may say, as it is a Christmas hymn – yet we learn that shepherds were keeping watch amidst “the flow’ry fields of may”, exactly when I was cycling through the unspoilt countryside.

I love this hymn, and have done since I was a young chorister. Learning it was one of my first introductions to hymn singing, something that has remained a passion for over fifty years. What makes this hymn so special is that it awakes all of our senses, starting with the fragrance of the first verse. Take a minute to concentrate on the smells around you and see if you can be transported to calmness for a blissful few moments. The sense of smell is the most evocative and even a tiny whiff of something familiar will transport you anywhere. The second verse bids us look up at the light as the dawn breaks. Being used to celebrating Christmas in mid-winter, of course the dark presses in around us, but in the long days of spring, we have ample opportunity to enjoy not only long evenings, but early mornings too when the sky is broken by the “day star”. So much action in the third verse can only fill us with delight. It has been difficult recently to find anything to be “eager” about, but the urgency of this verse reminds us of the reward we will find, if, like the shepherds, we are prepared to go looking.

Of course we are not able to sing together at the moment, but that does not stop me singing while out on my bike. As an aside singing and cycling do not always go together, and often I have had to change to that great spiritual classic, There was an old lady who swallowed a fly! Nevertheless, I have found comfort in being able to recall my days as a chorister singing Whence is that goodly fragrance flowing? The YouTube recording I have chosen is of a solo child singer. It was recorded in 1967 only a few years before I fell in love with the hymn. I consider myself blessed that I am able to recall those happy days in these recent months of doubt and, possibly, despair.

Prayer:
Dear God of all comfort, bring relief to us in our time of trouble. We know that there is no circumstance beyond your power and no person beyond your love. Fill us with the fragrance of your Holy Spirit that we may move towards your light. We ask that we may know your peace as we acknowledge the world around us. Use us, Lord, to comfort others as you comfort us. May your peace overflow as we eagerly seek to find you in our lives. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.

  1. Whence is that goodly fragrance flowing,
    Stealing our senses all away,
    Never the like did come a-blowing,
    Shepherds, in flow’ry fields of may,
    Whence is that goodly fragrance flowing,
    Stealing our senses all away.

  2. What is that light so brilliant, breaking
    Here in the night across our eyes.
    Never so bright, the day-star waking,
    Started to climb the morning skies!
    What is that light so brilliant, breaking,
    Here in the night across our eyes.

  3. Bethlehem! there in manger lying,
    Find your Redeemer, haste away,
    Run ye with eager footsteps hieing!
    Worship the Saviour born today.
    Bethlehem! there in manger lying,
    Find your Redeemer, haste away.

Quelle est cette odeur agréable, translated by Allen B. Ramsay (1872-1955)
©Magdalene College, Cambridge
Reproduced by permission of the Master and Fellows of Magdalene College Cambridge.

Have you considered becoming a member of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland? We are accepting membership through PayPal or Bank Transfer. Please click the button to be taken to our registration page.
Register to become a member