Few are thy days, and full of woe,
O man, of woman born!
Thy doom is written, ‘Dust thou art,
and shalt to dust return.’
Behold the emblem of thy state
in flow’rs that bloom and die,
Or in the shadow’s fleeting form,
that mocks the gazer’s eye.
Guilty and frail, how shalt thou stand
before thy sov’reign Lord?
Can troubled and polluted springs
a hallowed stream afford?
Determined are the days that fly
successive o’er thy head;
The numbered hour is on the wing
that lays thee with the dead.
Great God! afflict not in thy wrath
the short allotted span
That bounds the few and weary days
of pilgrimage to man.
All nature dies, and lives again:
the flow’r that paints the field,
The trees that crown the mountain’s brow,
and boughs and blossoms yield,
Resign the honours of their form
at Winter’s stormy blast,
And leave the naked leafless plain
a desolated waste.
Yet soon reviving plants and flow’rs
anew shall deck the plain;
The woods shall hear the voice of Spring,
and flourish green again.
But man forsakes this earthly scene,
ah! never to return:
Shall any foll’wing spring revive
the ashes of the urn?
The mighty flood that rolls along
its torrents to the main,
Can ne’er recall its waters lost
from that abyss again.
So days, and years, and ages past,
descending down to night,
Can henceforth never more return
back to the gates of light;
And man, when laid in lonesome grave,
shall sleep in Death’s dark gloom,
Until th’ eternal morning wake
the slumbers of the tomb,
O may the grave become to me
the bed of peaceful rest,
Whence I shall gladly rise at length,
and mingle with the blest!
Cheered by this hope, with patient mind,
I’ll wait Heav’n’s high decree,
Till the appointed period come,
when death shall set me free.
Few are thy days and full of woe. M. Bruce. [The Resurrection.] From evidence elsewhere produced l we believe the original of this hymn to have been written by M. Bruce about 1764; that the same was handed by Bruce's father to John Logan a short time after Bruce's death (in 1767), and that it was published by J. Logan in his Poems, 1781, p. 95, No. 2, as his own. The nearest approach to the original text now attainable is given in Dr. Mackelvie's edition of Bruce's Works with Life, 1837,pp. 254-57; and Dr. Grosart's Works of M. Bruce, 1865, pp. 127-130. In the same year that Logan's Poems were published, the new and revised edition of the Scottish Translations and Paraphrases was issued, and therein, as No. viii., was given a paraphrase of Job xiv. 1-15, in which six of the fourteen stanzas are almost entirely from this hymn, and the remaining eight are but the amplification of the thoughts which are found in the remaining stanzas of the original. This version, which has been in use in the Church of Scotland for more than 100 years, should therefore be designated "Michael Bruce altered by John Logan."
In addition to abbreviations of the text which begin with stanza i., the following centos are in common use:—
1. All nature dies and lives again. This cento in Dabney's Psalms & Hymns 1821, and later editions and other collections, is composed of stanzas vi.-viii., xii.-xiv.
2. The mighty flood that rolls. Composed of stanzas x.-iv. altered to S.M. in the American Prayer Book Psalms & Hymns, 1826, and later editions, and others.
3. The winter past, reviving flower. Composed of stanzas viii., ix. altered, with three additional stanzas from another source. This is No. 306 in the American German Reformed Psalms & Hymns, 1834, and later editions.
--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)