bizarro hymnody

I have always been oddly fascinated by the hymn, “There is a fountain filled with blood.”

Such a bizarre image.

I grew up singing this hymn in the Church of God.

I couldn’t find an authentic sounding YouTube video of it. This comes close to the way I remember singing it.

It was written in the 18th Century by William Cowper. R. J. Watson has helped me understand this hymnist and poet better.


He refutes notions of the hymnist, Erik Routley, about it and explains it this way.

The language, although taken from various scriptural texts, is shocking because it exploits the metaphor (found, for example in Revelation 7:13-17, where those in heaven ‘have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’), pushing it towards the literal. The original metaphor of cleansing through blood is made more immediate, more vivid: the shock comes from being asked to contemplate a fountain of blood, with bodies immersed in it. It carries the pictorial representation of soteriological doctrine to an extreme, into a kind of evangelical baroque: and its justification is not, as Erik Routley would have us believe, that you need to be tough to be a ¬†Christian… but rather that it invites a fresh response even a shocked one, to the familiar ideas of salvation and communion….”

R. J. Watson, The English Hymn: A Critical and Historical Study p. 295

Cowper also wrote other famous widely sung hymns: “Sometimes a light surprises the Christian,” “O for a closer walk with God,” and “God moves in a mysterious way.”

These three are in the¬†Hymnal 1982 but not “There is a fountain.” It is however in Lift Every Voice and Sing II, the African American Episcopalian Hymnal.

I suggested to Eileen that this might mean that this tradition is a bit more visceral. I known that I am often drawn to the more earthy expressions found in this tradition of hymns and blues.


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