Come Down, O Love Divine

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

Come Down, O Love Divine

Come down, O Love divine,
seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardour glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear,
and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn,
till earthly passions turns
to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
and let thy glorious light
shine ever on my sight,
and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

Let holy charity
mine outward vesture be,
and lowliness become mine inner clothing:
true lowliness of heart,
which takes the humbler part,
and o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

And so the yearning strong,
with which the soul will long,
shall far outpass the power of human telling;
for none can guess its grace,
till he become the place
wherein the Holy Spirit makes his dwelling.

Bianco Da Siena
tr. R F Littledale

Tune: Down Ampney
Music:  R Vaughan Williams

CCLI - 1073121







Hymn Commentary 

Some Italian words and music by another famous English composer this week! 

Regular readers of Holy Trinity’s hymn and anthem commentaries will know that I like to find a connection between Hymn for the Week and Anthem for the Week, hence Billy has started incorporating links from one to the other.  This week the connection is the word ‘comforter’ as found in the third lines of both the hymn Come down O love divine and the anthem If ye love me, for the focus is the pouring down of the Holy Spirit.

Discendi, Amor santo was an eight verse poem written by Biancco da Siena (c.1350- 1434).  He was born in Tuscany and spent the last part of his life in Venice, having been an apprentice in the wool trade and joining an order of mystics when he was seventeen.  It was the clergyman Richard Frederick Littledale (b. Dublin, 1833; d. London, 1890) who translated four of the verses into English and first published them in his People’s Hymnal in 1867.  He preserved Bianco da Siena’s allusion to the monastic life, especially as suggested by words of ‘holy charity’ and ‘lowliness become mine inner clothing’ in verse 3.

The hymn came into its own in 1906 when Ralph Vaughan Williams composed the hymn tune Down Ampney especially to go with the words when he was on the editorial team of the English Hymnal.  Down Ampney was the Gloucestershire village where he was born in 1872; he died suddenly (having enjoyed excellent health) at home in Central London in 1958.  His best hymn tunes have a memorability about them, an imaginative melody line and some unusual turns in the rhythm which, as the Assistant Organist will tell you, I have tripped over more than once when conducting!

So when you hear this tune, the memory should immediately take you to the words of Come down, o love divine (the tune has never been sung with any other words), a reminder of the first Pentecost and its influence on all of Christ’s followers ever since.


Charles Pavey - Organist & Choirmaster

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