Folliet S. Pierpoint (1835-1917), from Bath, England, was a classics teacher at Somersetshire College. While on a walk one fine spring day, he was inspired to pen the words we now know as “FOR THE BEAUTY OF THE EARTH.”
Originally titled “The Sacrifice of Praise,” it was intended as a communion song. Later, changes were made to broaden both its theology and its use in worship as a hymn of deep gratitude and praise.
In this hymn, Pierpoint celebrates a haphazard list of the roses of life. He is almost giddy in his random recounting of soul-necessities — from the sun, moon, and stars to gentle thoughts and friends. Grateful for all of it, he even thanks God for being God.
Jesus understood that, to thrive, we must satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst. He spoke of “living water, and, quoting Moses, reminded his followers that we do not live “by bread alone.”
Bodies need tending; so do souls. We need books, gardens, and art. We need music, poetry, storytelling, and theater, flowers, caresses and kind words, laughter, quiet time to daydream, pray, meditate, rest, time to play, explore, exercise ….
BREAD AND ROSES
In 1912, textile workers, mostly immigrant women, went on strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts. They demanded not only better working conditions (bread), but soul-nourishing time (roses) as well. “Bread and Roses” became their rallying cry.
The phrase is usually credited to Rose Schneiderman, an early 20th century labor and women’s suffrage activist. In a speech she said:
What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist — the right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, and the sun and music and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too. Help, you women of privilege, give her the ballot to fight with.
“Bread and Roses” was also the title of a poem by James Oppenheim. It has been set to music by at least three composers and used as a labor anthem.
BEAUTY IS ESSENTIAL
When resources are scarce, we sometimes forget that the roses of life are essential. People facing extreme deprivation don’t forget.
Prisoners in solitary confinement are known to befriend cockroaches or fashion dolls from pieces of scrap paper. Poetry, music, and art are popular forms of expression in prisons around the world.
Clandestine flower gardens appear in detention centers and war zones.
Teenaged Anne Frank, stir-crazy in her room-refuge in the secret annex, pasted magazine photos of movie stars on her wall. Impoverished children make toys of sticks. Discarded oil barrels become steel drums. Strings and seeds become jewelry.
As we seek to meet the basic survival needs of our lives — to keep the lights on and the rent paid — this hymn reminds us to address the rest of the equation. Yes! to bread. And yes to roses, roses, roses!
TO GO DEEPER
Story of the hymn on “Discipleship Ministries” website, by C. Michael Hawn
Music by John Rutter, Saint Paul Cathedral Choir
Flute & harp duet
Music by Phillip Stopford, Acapella Choir 2014
Bread and Roses” Performed by RnA (Rochelle & Amber Lockridge)
Words by James Oppenhiem, Music by Mimi Fariña