They fly, forgotten

by Elouise

…as a dream dies at the close of day.

This line from Isaac Watts’ well-known hymn popped into my head when I saw the prompt for today.

When I looked up all stanzas of “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past,” I was surprised to see several that aren’t included in most hymnals today. Without them, Watts’ meaning is changed ever so slightly.

To illustrate, here’s a lightening-quick look at one of the omitted stanzas, sandwiched between the last two familiar stanzas of the hymn.  First, a familiar stanza.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

I hear this as primarily a reference to those who serve gallantly and die in loyal service to their countries, daughters as well as sons.

Yet the very next [now omitted] stanza catches my eye. Watts had something bigger on his mind. Imagine singing this in your church or other place of meeting.

Like flowery fields the nations stand
Pleased with the morning light;
The flowers beneath the mower’s hand
Lie withering ere ‘tis night.

I hear an invitation to check false national pride at the door. False pride that believes my/our nation is intrinsically superior to other nations and thus more enduring. Some call this exceptionalism.

Isaac Watts reminds us that all nations, like human beings, are flowers of the field that wither and die. Sooner, rather than later. Hence, the comforting and sobering truth of the last familiar stanza:

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.


As for us, our life is like grass,
We grow and flourish like a wild flower;
then the wind blows on it, and it is gone –
No one sees it again.
Psalm 103:16 (The Good News Translation)

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 December 2016
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Vanish