Abide with me

A hymn to sing along with…

Revd Henry Francis Lyte (1793–1847) was born in Kelso, Scotland. He was sent to school in Ulster; his father deserted the family and his mother died in London. The headmaster at his school, recognised Henry Lyte’s ability, paid the boy’s fees, and effectively adopted him. After studying at Trinity College, Dublin, Lyte was ordained in 1815.

He moved to the parish of Brixham, Devon in 1824, but by the 1840s he was spending more and more time in France and Italy, seeking respite in warmer climes from the respiratory diseases from which he had suffered for most of his life. He died in Nice.

He wrote many hymns, including God of mercy, God of grace and Praise, my soul, the King of heaven. But it is Abide with me that is familiar even to those who would not dream of attending a Cup Final. It was written during the last few months of his life.

The familiar tune Eventide was composed by William Henry Monk (1823-1889), an editor of Hymns Ancient and Modern. It is said that he composed the tune in 10 minutes; apparently discovering that there was no suitable tune available during an HA&M editorial committee meeting. He wrote many tunes including the one to Hark a thrilling voice is sounding, also in this collection.

He was not (as far as we know) related to pianist and composer Thelonious Monk (1917-1982). However, the latter included an instrumental version of Abide with me with his jazz septet as the first track of the 1957 album Monk’s Music.

Eventide

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.

The following verses (3-5) of the original hymn are not included in modern hymnals, but add poignancy as the words of a person aware that they are approaching the end of their earthly life.

Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word,
But as Thou dwell’st with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.

Come not in terror, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings;
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea.
Come, Friend of sinners, thus abide with me.

Thou on my head in early youth didst smile,
And though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee.
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.

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