For what remains of January and for February, the carillon will play the hymn “Abide with Me.” The text was written by Henry Francis Lyte, an Anglican priest from Scotland, probably in 1847, just a few weeks before his death from tuberculosis. Some say that Lyte wrote it a full twenty-seven years earlier after attending to a dying friend and parishioner. We may never know the truth, but in both cases the inspiration is the awareness of mortality, which was much greater in the early 19th century than it is today. Lyte wrote his own tune with the text, but most often it is sung to a tune composed especially for the text called “Eventide” by William Henry Monk in 1861. At least five other tunes have been used; the great British contralto Dame Clara Butt sang a version by Samuel Liddle.
The Christian references in the text are both from the Christian Testament. The first lines paraphrase Luke 24:29 which reads (in the King James Version, the English translation that would have been known to Henry Lyte), “Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” This is spoken by the disciples to Jesus after he has risen from the dead, probably only a day or two after Easter, and is a commonly used scripture passage in the Easter season. J.S. Bach’s cantata for the day after Easter “Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden” uses the same text for its opening chorus. The other reference is to 1 Corinthians 15:55 which reads “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” Handel famously set this and the following verse as a duet in Part III of Messiah, and Brahms gave it an incredibly dramatic treatment in the sixth movement of his German Requiem.
Lyte’s text has eight verses. Usually only four or five are sung: 1, sometimes 2, 6, 7, and 8, and these are the ones printed in most hymnals. The complete text follows:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
Although frequently sung at funerals, the hymn is appropriate for any evening service. Many survivors of the Titanic report the band playing it as the ship was going down, though this is debated by scholars and there is no hard evidence to support it. It was sung at Richard Nixon’s funeral, it is usually sung on Anzac Day (a day of military remembrance) in Oceana, as well as at similar commemorations in India. Somewhat more prosaically, it is usually sung before final match between Cardiff City and Arsenal, and at the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final at Wembley Stadium