History of Hymns: "Now the Green Blade Riseth"
By C. Michael Hawn
"Now the Green Blade Riseth"
J. M. C. Crum
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 311
C. Michael Hawn
Now the green blade riseth, from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.
What a metaphor for Jesus' resurrection!
John MacLeod Campbell (J.M.C.) Crum (1872-1958) wrote this text to be paired with the popular French carol melody NOËL NOUVELET, sometimes referred to by the name FRENCH CAROL. This tune was also used by the famous French organ composer Marcel Dupré for his Variations on a Noel, Opus 20 (1922).
Crum was born at Mere Old Hall, Cheshire, England, and died at Farnham, Surrey, England. During his life, Crum was highly active in the Church of England. After his education at Eton and New College in Oxford (BA 1895, MA 1901), he took Holy Orders (Deacon 1897, priest, 1900). The various positions Crum held included chaplain to the Bishop of Oxford, Francis Paget (1901-1910), assistant curate at Windsore, vicar of Mentmore at Ledburn (1910-1921), and finally canon at Canterbury (1928-1943).
Crum married Edith Frideswide Paget in 1908. She died in 1910 at age 21, perhaps related to the birth of their only son, William Frances. Her father was Bishop Francis Paget for whom Crum served as Chaplain at Oxford. His service in this capacity appears to have ended with the death of his wife and the Bishop's daughter. He prepared a memoir of Francis Paget with Stephen Paget. Crum remained close to the Pagets and was included in the Bishop's will. Crum married Emily C. Bale in 1913 and had five additional children by his second wife.
While serving the church, Crum worked in a variety of theological areas and wrote on biblical and architectural topics, as well as studying historical works, and writing children's books. His works include Road Mending on the Sacred Way (1924), What Mean Ye by These Stones? (1926), The Original Jerusalem Gospel (1927) and St Mark's Gospel, Two Stages of its Making (1936).
Crum's hymn output ranged from translation of Latin hymns by the fourth-century poet Aurelius Clemens Prudentius to children's hymns. He published Songs of Praise for Boys and Girls (1929). Other children's works include a play, The Play of St. George (1911), and a pageant, Children's Missionary Pageant (1910, 1913) with musical score.
This hymn text first appeared in the 1928 edition of the Oxford Book of Carols. It was first printed in the United States in the 1966 edition of The Methodist Hymnal. Interestingly, though the current text has been changed to incorporate more inclusive language, archaic language was maintained. Other recent hymnals have updated archaisms as well.
The text exhibits Crum's ability to capture one's imagination, perhaps an extension of his children's writings. For those in the northern hemisphere who live in areas where springtime usually coincides with Easter, the image of growing plants and vegetation speaks clearly.
The nature imagery of one of his children's hymns provides insight into his writing style and the images of the natural world found in "Now the green blade riseth."
To God who makes all lovely things
How happy must our praises be;
Each day a new surprise He brings
To make us glad His world to see.
The vivid imagery of the hymn is biblically based: John 12:23-24: "And Jesus answered them, saying, the hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." (KJV) In addition, 1 Corinthians 15:37-38 connects the image with the resurrection: "And that which sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body." (KJV)
The connection of the Easter event - the rising of Jesus -- is unmistakable. The simple phrase "Now the green blade riseth" reminds us that Jesus is risen today just as he rose on that first Easter morning. In the third line, we find "Love" being used as a metaphor for Jesus. We are now reminded why Jesus came to the earth in the first place: "For God so loved the world…" (John 3:16). After speaking directly about Jesus' death and resurrection, Crum turns to our lifetime struggles. In the fourth stanza, Crum emphasizes that no matter what we are going through, "Jesus' touch can call us back to life again."
Dr. Hawn is distinguished professor of church music at Perkins School of Theology. He is also director of the seminary's sacred music program.
Sara VanBeek is a graduate of the master of sacred music program, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University