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Cemetery

Take them, earth, for cherishing,
To thy tender breast receive them.
Bodies of men and women we bring thee,
Noble even in their ruin.

Once were these a spirit’s dwelling
By the breath of God created.
High the heart that here was beating,
Christ the Prince of all their living.

Guard them well, the dead we give thee,
Not unmindful of God’s creature
Shall God ask it, God who made it
Symbol of God’s mystery.

Take them, earth, for cherishing.  .  .
Comes the hour God hath appointed
To fulfill the hope of all:
Then, must thou, in a very fashion,
What I give, return again.

Take them, earth, for cherishing.  .  .
Not though ancient time decaying
Wear away these bones to sand,
Ashes that we might measure
In the hollow of a hand.

Not, though wandering winds and idle
Drifting through the empty sky,
Scatter dust was nerve and sinew,
Is it given to us to die.

Once again the shining road
Leads to ample Paradise;
Open are the woods again,
That the serpent lost for men

Take, oh take them, mighty Leader
Take again thy servants’ souls
Grave their name and pour the fragrant
Balm upon the icy stone.

Take them, earth, for cherishing,
To thy tender breast receive them,
Bodies of men and women we bring thee,
Noble even in their ruin.

By the breath of god created
Christ the Prince of all their living.
Take them, earth, for cherishing.

~~Adaptation of “Take Him Earth For Cherishing”
By Prudentius (348-413) Christian Roman Poet
Translated by  Helen Waddell.
Adapted by Sarah Buxton-Smith, November 2001
(at that time Chaplain, House of Bishops Spouses)

This poem was set to music in the 1960s by Herbert Howells for a dual American-Canadian memorial service, held in Washington, to mark the first anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s death.  It’s been very popular in churches and concerts since.  Howells’s commission specified he could choose the text, and this is the poem he chose (in its original translated form “Take Him Earth for Cherishing”).  Howells had been aware of this poem at least since the death of his own (Howells’) son in the 1930s.  You can hear it here: Take Them Earth for Cherishing