Abide with me
It used to be believed that this hymn, so often sung at funerals, was written when its author Revd. Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847) was on his deathbed. It now seems, though, that its composition was prompted by the death of one of Lyte’s friends, Augustus le Hunte, when Lyte was 27. The dying man kept repeating the phrase “abide with me” when Lyte visited him, and Lyte turned this phrase into a hymn. Lyte was the vicar of the parish of Lower Brixham, a thriving Devon fishing village. He was also a prolific hymn writer. “Abide with me” wasn’t published until after his death, however. He seems to have given the manuscript to a relative just before he left Brixham for Italy, where he died just two months later from consumption, giving rise to the deathbed legend.
The original tune, composed by Lyte himself, was supplanted by “Monks”, the tune which is always used now, when Hymns Ancient and Modern was first compiled in 1861. William Henry Monk (1823-89), organist at Stoke Newington was asked to compose a new tune for it. According to legend he only took ten minutes to write it, following a committee meeting of the compilers, while strolling in the evening sunshine with his wife.
The hymn, to Monk’s tune, became very popular, and was much sung (and parodied) during WW1. It is said that Edith Cavell sung it on the eve of her execution with the British Chaplain who had been allowed to visit her in prison in German-occupied Belgium. It has also been sung at the beginning of the FA cup final since 1927. No one seems entirely sure why it was this hymn which was chosen, but it may be that those who had once sung it in the trenches found that it was a good way of remembering those friends who might once have stood on the terraces with them, but hadn’t made it home.
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
Earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
- · What hymn has helped you through hard times?