The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.

Dorothy Gurney Border Sundials

This is the fourth verse of the hymn God’s Garden, by Dorothy Gurney.

THE Lord God planted a garden
In the first white days of the world,
And He set there an angel warden
In a garment of light unfurled.

So near to the peace of Heaven,
That the hawk might nest with the wren,
For there in the cool of the even
God walked with the first of men.

And I dream that these garden closes
With their shade and their sun-flecked sod
And their lilies and bowers of roses,
Were laid by the hand of God.

The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth, –
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.

For He broke it for us in a garden
Under the olive-trees
Where the angel of strength was the warden
And the soul of the world found ease.

******

Dorothy Gurney Border Sundials

Considering how well quoted this verse has been over the years, remarkably little is know of the author Dorothy Frances Blomfield Gurney.

Dorothy was born in 1858 in Finsbury Circus, London England into a devoutly religious, academic family. She was the granddaughter of Charles James Blomfield, Bishop of London from 1828 to 1856, niece to the Alfred Blomfield, Bishop of Colchester from 1882 to 1894 and the daughter of Frederick Blomfield, Rector of St Andrew Undershaft in the City of London. Other uncles included architect Sir Arthur Blomfield and geologist/paleontologist Francis Arthur Bather. Given her family and upbringing it is not surprising that Dorothy went on to marry a Anglican priest Gerald Gurney in 1897. However, what is unusual and has no recorded explanation is that in 1919 both Dorothy and her husband joined the Roman Catholic church.

A verdigris armillary with Gurney’s words at Chelsea Flower Show 2015. Four star trade stand award winners

Dorothy wrote hymns and poetry, her most famous hymn is possibly ‘O perfect love’, which she wrote for her sisters wedding. According to Gurney, relating the story afterwards, it happened like this:

“It was Sunday evening and we were enjoying a time of hymn singing. A song that was particularly enjoyed by us all was O Strength And Stay. As we finished someone remarked, ‘What a pity the words of this beautiful song are not suitable for a wedding!’

My sister turned to me and challenged, ‘What’s the use of a sister who composed poetry if she cannot write new words to a favourite tune? I would like to use this tune at my wedding.’

‘I picked up a hymn book and said, “If no one will disturb me, I’ll go into the library and see what I can do.” Within fifteen minutes I was back with the group and reading the words I had jotted down. The writing of them was no effort after the initial idea came to me. I feel God helped me to write this song.’

O perfect Love, all human thought transcending,

Lowly we kneel in prayer before Thy throne,
That theirs may be the love that has no ending,
Whom Thou forevermore dost join in one.
O perfect Life, be Thou their full assurance
Of tender charity and steadfast faith,
Of patient hope, and quiet, brave endurance,
With childlike trust that fears nor pain nor death.
Grant them the joy which brightens earthly sorrow;
Grant them the peace which calms all earthly strife,
And to life’s day the glorious, unknown morrow
That dawns upon eternal love and life.
Hear us, O Father, gracious and forgiving,
Through Jesus Christ, Thy coeternal Word,
Who, with the Holy Ghost, by all things living
Now and to endless ages art adored.

The hymn found its way into the hymnal ‘Hymns, Ancient and Modern and probably because of this became extremely popular, especially in London where it was used at many fashionable weddings including those of royalty.

At her death in 1932 the London Times printed a tribute to her stating, ‘Thousands of people at thousands of weddings must have sung, or heard, O perfect love, without ever knowing that Mrs Gurney was the writer.’ It is hard to establish from printed records if this was because Dorothy was a shy and reclusive character or because of the lack of voice that women commanded at this time. It remains a great shame we do not know more about this talented poet.

****

The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.

References

https://hymnary.org/person/Gurney_DF

https://jnvlieland.blogspot.com/2013/01/dorothy-frances-blomfield-gurney.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Gurney#cite_note-explore.bl.uk-3