Poems: New & Selected "The Voice That Breathed O'er Eden"

Marianne Boruch

"The Voice That Breathed O'er Eden"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: John Keble was an Anglican clergyman and poet who initiated the Oxford Movement, a reform movement within the Church of England whose aim was a return of the Church to a purer and more fundamental religious outlook. A number of factors contributed to a need for reform: schisms within the Church; proliferation of other sects; political conditions; and the romantic influence on literature and popular thinking exerted by Sir Walter Scott, whose works glorified medieval life and religion. In 1833 Keble preached a sermon in which he accused the Whigs of attempting to do away with the sovereignty of God and the Church. The Oxford Movement, thus begun, gained impetus with a series of tracts written by its leaders. John Henry Newman became the movement's principal figure. The tracts crusaded for Church reform, advocating a return to ceremony, dignity, scholarship, and more basic theology. The movement also sought to revive much of the ritual and ornamentation that the Reformation had abolished. These efforts had a profound and lasting influence on the Reformed Churches. Keble's literary output, in addition to sermons and several of the tracts, consisted for the most part of poetry and hymns. His major work is The Christian Year, a series of poetical compositions and thoughts in verse pertaining to each of the sundays and annual Holy Days. It was intended to be a guide and companion to the Book of Common Prayer. Published in 1827, it expresses in poetry the outlook that led to the Oxford Movement. In it many of the more familiar and cherished passages of Scripture are expanded and illuminated. Characterized by simple piety and a love of nature, it contains a number of hymns which have since become favorites. The same religious sentiment is found in Keble's other poetry; in Holy Matrimony he expresses the deep sanctity of marriage and asks the blessing of God upon it:

The voice that breath'd o'er Eden,
That earliest wedding-day,
The primal marriage blessing,
It hath not pass'd away.
Still in the pure espousal
Of Christian man and maid,
The holy Three are with us,
The threefold grace is said.
. . .
Be present, Holiest Spirit,
To bless them as they kneel, As thou for Christ, the Bridegroom,
The heavenly Spouse dost seal.
Oh spread thy pure wing o'er them,
Let no ill power find place,
When onward to thine altar
The hallow'd path they trace,
To cast their crowns before thee
In perfect sacrifice,
Till to the home of gladness
With Christ's own Bride they rise. AMEN.