Be Thou my Vision

During this time whilst we can’t sing together in worship we are aiming to post a different hymn each week.  For some Sundays it will be the obvious hymn in Common Praise for a particular Sunday and a brief commentary – partly with reference to The Penguin Book of Hymns edited by Ian Bradley – will be published with our hymn choice for the week.  The words of the hymn will be provided alongside a recording of the hymn, courtesy of Lucy Colbourne at home whilst Lancaster University is in lockdown.  This will have been recorded by Billy Colbourne (Assistant Organist) and includes use of his Hauptwerk organ also at home, with the sounds of Salisbury Cathedral’s organ.

Charles Pavey – Organist & Choirmaster

Be Thou my Vision

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
be all else but naught to me, save that thou art;
be thou my best thought in the day and the night,
both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, be thou my true word,
be thou ever with me, and I with thee, Lord;
be thou my great Father, and I thy true son;
be thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.

Be thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight;
be thou my whole armour, be thou my true might;
be thou my soul’s shelter, be thou my strong tower:
O raise thou me heavenward, great Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise:
be thou mine inheritance now and always;
be thou and thou only the first in my heart;
O Sovereign of heaven, my treasure thou art.

High King of heaven, thou heaven’s bright sun,
O grant me its joys after vict’ry is won;
great Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be thou my vision, O Ruler of all.

Irish, 8th century, tr. Mary Byrne
versified Eleanor Hull

Tune: Slane
Music:  Irish trad. Melody, harmonised by Erik Routley

CCLI - 1073121







Hymn Commentary 

Last week’s Hymn for the Week was old; this week’s, Be Thou my Vision, is even older!  It derives from an eighth century Irish poem Rob tu mo bhiole, a Comdi cride. It was translated from the original Gaelic into English prose by Mary Byrne (1880-1931), an Irish linguist, author and journalist in 1905.  Seven years later it was versified back into poetry by Eleanor Hull (1860-1935).  First published in her Poem Book of the Gael, it was first published as a hymn in 1919.  Although Eleanor Hull was born and died in England she was educated in Dublin.  The version of words printed in Holy Trinity’s hymnal, Common Praise, is the alternative version.  The original version is printed below this commentary.  But beware, the alternative version fits the tune (more of which next) well; but the original version doesn’t as notes have to be left out to make the tune fit – but hopefully, if you do come across it in another hymnbook, the tune would have been printed so that words and music go together. 

Slane is the tune that is sung to Be Thou my Vision as well as two or three other hymns, notably Lord of all Hopefulness.  It is an anonymous old Irish folk tune which became associated with the ballad With my Love on the Road when published in Patrick W. Joyce's Old Irish Folk Music and Songs in 1909.   Slane is a village in County Meath, Ireland, approximately 40 kms north of Dublin and nearby is the hill of Tara where St. Patrick's lighting of an Easter fire – an act of defiance against the pagan King Loegaire (fifth century) – led to his unlimited freedom to preach the gospel in Ireland.  However, despite its name, there seems to be no connection between the tune and the place itself.  Over the years various arrangements of the hymn tune have been published, including one that can be sung with the original version of Eleanor Hull’s setting of the words.  The adaption to be heard here (and sing along to if you wish), as printed in Common Praise, is by Erik Routley (1917-1982), an English Congregational minister, composer and musicologist.

The words are very much a personal prayer to God asking for God himself to be the whole encompassing influence on our vision, wisdom and purpose in life.  If you have already referred to Holy Trinity’s very gentle anthem for the week, you will know that the subject is also a personal prayer.  It is perhaps therefore worth finishing with the much more dynamic message of the hymn as the final verse asks that, when life is done, our vision is of Heaven itself.    

Charles Pavey - Organist & Choirmaster


Original English version by Eleanor Hull

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul's Shelter, Thou my high Tow’r:
Raise Thou me heav’nward, O Pow’r of my pow’r.

Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven's joys, O bright Heav’n's Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

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