BYLES, MATHER (1707–1788). Congregational minister, sermonizer,
and poet, Mather Byles was the grandson of Increase Mather. Among his
publications are two notable volumes, Poems on Several Occasions (1744)
and Poems. The Conflagration . . . The God of Tempest and Earthquake
(1755). The first collection includes his major piece, “Hymn at Sea,” which
was set to music by William Billings and published in the New England
Psalm-Singer (1770). Addressed to the “Great God, thy Works our Wonders
raise,” the hymn is in five numbered tetrameter quatrains dealing with such
matters as day, night, tempest, calm—as the mariner follows his compass.
“The Conflagration,” which also appears in the first volume, is an early
version of “The God of Tempest,” appearing in the second. Byles’ frequent
sea imagery is particularly connected with storms at sea and relates these
dark natural occurrences to the hand of God, signifying his wrath and judgment or, with their dissipation, signifying his benevolence. Two significant
examples are “Old Ocean with presaging Horror rores” (“The Conflagration”) and “Th’attending Sea thy Will performs” (“The God of Tempest”).