Saturday, January 27, 2007

Fast falls the eventide

This is one of my father's favorite hymns. When I was a child he would take me regulary to the "Beating the Retreat" ceremony, held three days after Republic Day, on January 29. The ceremony always concluded with the bands playing "Abide With Me."

He is nearing the end of his earthly life. I always knew I would sing this to him on his deathbed.
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 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.


Richard said...

My favorite hymn as well. I am praying for your father and family every day at Mass.

assiniboine said...

From the commentary on this hymn in the companion to The Australian Hymn Book (Anglican, Methodist, Congregational, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and Lutheran):

"This famous hymn [written in 1847] ... survives unharmed by all attempts at secularization and vulgarization or by frequent misreading. The 'eventide' is not that of the natural day and the cross in v.5, 1.1 is not an actual crucifix held before the eyes of the dying; the whole poem should be read at the appropriate level of figurativeness set by the use to which Lyte puts the words of Luke 24:29; cf also James 1:17; Ps 27:1, 9, Rom 16:20, 1 Cor 15:55, 2 Peter 1:19. The hymn deals with the transition from earthly life's 'little day' to the 'morning' of eternal life, and is thus especially suited to the Easter season. [Henry Francis] Lyte himself revised some readings of his original text: v.1, 1.2 'the darkens thickens'; v.2, 1.1, 'Swift from my grasp ebbs'; v.5, 1.1, 'Hold then,' 1.2, 'Speak through.' Three of the original eight stanzas are now customarily omitted. The hymn has been associated with innumerable great and solemn occasions, but what it has meant to Christians in general is perhaps suggested by the remark of Edith Cavell a few hours before she was shot in 1915, when, after repeating the hymn with the British chaplain, she said in farewelling him, 'We shall meet again: "Heaven's morn shall break, and earth's vain shadows flee."'

"Eventide is a better tune than over-familiarity often allows people to recognize. It was written for these words and appeared with them in [Hymns Ancient and Modern], 1861. According to one account, the composer [William Henry Monk] left the house with Sir Henry Baker after a committee meeting when they were preparing [Hymns Ancient and Modern], and recollected that there was no tune for Lyte's hymn. He returned to the house and in ten minutes despite the sound of a music lesson going on in a nearby room, finished the tune. This might seem more in accord with the way in which hymn books are put together than the statement by Monk's widow: that she and her husband, as was their custom, were standing together hand in hand watching the beauty of a sunset, on this occasion at a time of great sorrow; he then wrote the tune as twilight fell. The stories are, however, reconcilable; Baker often visited Monk's home, and the writing of the music might have prompted by a discussion (as it were, at a 'committee meeting') during one of his visits. Vaughan Williams composed a Hymn Tune Prelude (no.1) on the melody, one of many composers who have used it as a theme for such works. Do not drag it along at a mercilessly slow pace: try M 112."

(Wesley Milgate, Songs of the People of God: A companion to The Australian Hymn Book (London: Collins, 1982), p.184.)