Music for Pentecost 19 — Sunday October 16 2022

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart – Text: Irish c. 8th century; tr. Mary Byrne (1880-1931); versified Eleanor Hull (1860-1935) / Music: Melody Irish trad.; arr. Dan Forrest


View video here

An old Irish poem, dating from about the 8th century and beginning “Rob tu mo bhoile, a Comdi cride” was translated into English prose by Mary E. Byrne in 1905. In versifying this translation for her Poem Book of the Gael in 1912, Eleanor Henrietta Hull created Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart, one of the finest hymns of the 20th century. Byrne and Hull were both scholars of Irish language, art, and culture. As an expression of devotion to and love of God, the hymn has few equals. The focus is maintained throughout, and the climax arrives with “thou and thou only, first in my heart.”

Slane is an Irish traditional melody from Patrick Weston Joyce’s Old Irish Folk Music and Songs, where it is set to the ancient ballad, “With my love on the road.” The tune appeared in hymnals beginning about a hundred years ago, and since that time it has been closely associated with Be thou my vision. A singularly attractive melody, wide in compass and without any trace of repetition, it bears a remarkable affinity with the words. The tune takes its name from a hill of the same name about ten miles from Tara in County Meath, Ireland.

The text tends to be altered from one hymnal to another. The text sung in the rendition linked above, and shown below, differs somewhat from that in either of our hymn books. Enjoy this moving performance by a choir from Westlake Boys’ High School in Auckland, New Zealand, in an arrangement of the hymn by the American composer Dan Forrest.

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

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou my 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 heaven’s Sun,
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

Gerald Harder