As you may have noted in my linkage post yesterday, Celtic spirituality is a subject of interest for me at present, so my selection of hymns for this week’s edition of my series “Then Sings My Soul: The Hymns of My Youth” is no accident. In my youth, I had no idea of the history of this hymn. It somehow sounds more contemporary than many of the hymns that we sang and which I’ve included in my list, and yet… Be Thou My Vision dates back to well before the 8th century in Ireland. It is striking to think that the sentiments expressed by the hymn have been held by the church for more than 1,200 years.
The hymn is based on an Irish poem as old as Beowulf, “Rob tu mo bhoile, a Comdi cride” and is often attributed to Dallan Forgaill, who was martyred at the end of the 6th century, so it could in fact be older. The poem was translated from old Irish by Mary E. Byrne in 1905 and set in verses by Eleanor Hull in 1912. The lyrics are fittingly set to the traditional Irish melody “Slane,” which is probably just as old, and is named for The Hill of Slane, where St. Patrick supposedly lit the Easter Eve fire in defiance of King Loigaire in 433. We’re talking history — the roots of this hymn predate even Gregorian chant by, what, 800 years? Staggering.
The original lyrics to the poem may not make sense, but I’ve duplicated them so you can read along as you listen to them sung, if you like.
Rop tú mo baile (Be thou my vision)
Rop tú mo baile,
a Choimdiu cride:
ní ní nech aile
acht Rí secht nime.
Rop tú mo scrútain
i l-ló ‘s i n-aidche;
rop tú ad-chëar
im chotlud caidche.
Rop tú mo labra,
rop tú mo thuicsiu;
rop tussu dam-sa,
rob misse duit-siu.
Rop tussu m’athair,
rob mé do mac-su;
rop tussu lem-sa,
rob misse lat-su.
Rop tú mo chathscíath,
rop tú mo chlaideb;
rop tussu m’ordan,
rop tussu m’airer.
Rop tú mo dítiu,
rop tú mo daingen;
rop tú nom-thocba
i n-áentaid n-aingel.
Rop tú cech maithius
dom churp, dom anmain;
rop tú mo flaithius
i n-nim ‘s i talmain.
Rop tussu t’ áenur
sainserc mo chride;
ní rop nech aile
acht Airdrí nime.
Co talla forum,
ré n-dul it láma,
mo chuit, mo chotlud,
ar méit do gráda.
Rop tussu t’ áenur
m’ urrann úais amra:
ní chuinngim daíne
ná maíne marba.
Rop amlaid dínsiur
cech sel, cech sáegul,
mar marb oc brénad,
ar t’ fégad t’ áenur.
Do serc im anmain,
do grád im chride,
tabair dam amlaid,
a Rí secht nime.
Tabair dam amlaid,
a Rí secht nime,
do serc im anmain,
do grád im chride.
Go Ríg na n-uile
rís íar m-búaid léire;
ro béo i flaith nime
i n-gile gréine
A Athair inmain,
cluinte mo núall-sa:
lasin trúagán trúag-sa.
A Chríst mo chride,
cip ed dom-aire,
a Flaith na n-uile,
rop tú mo baile.
If you have the urge to hear it in Gaelic, it is sung by Maire Brennan (Moya Brennan of Clannad, a sister of Enya) and set to some odd images.
You can start the embedded video below for the tune and sing it yourself, old Irish above or English below — your pick — but when you join in to sing the hymn, imagine you’re joining a song that has been going on for 1,200 years…. because you are.
Be Thou My Vision
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, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine 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.
By the way, since I’m getting a bit of a collection here and sometimes find myself wondering if I’ve done a particular hymn yet, I’ve created an index to the hymns in the series, which will also be of use to anyone wanting to look back to one of the previous entries in the series.
Definitely one of the richest hymns lyrically that I have ever known, and one of my favorites, too.
I covered this hymn on my ‘Tis So Sweet CD, as well as many of the hymns that you have mentioned in this series. I love playing many of these old songs.
This was always one of my very favorites. When I discovered its roots a couple of years ago, I was overcome. I love to listen and sing it.
Audio Adrenaline did a fine cover of BTMV a few years ago too, btw. I usually don’t particularly care for rock versions of hymns, being sort of an old fuddy duddy when it comes to music. But this one is pretty good.
This one is hands down my all-time favorite!
BTW, Phil Keaggy does an interesting version of this one on Hymnsongs – not my favorite, but interesting.
Only became aware of this hymn when I started frequenting an Anglican parish, in spite of attending RC masses throughout my youth & early adult life. Overwhelmed me! However, probably no relationship to any genetic link with the bit of Irish blood I have. As direct center-point of pray life, it’s ausgezeichnet. If I make it that far faith-wise, will be making it the center point of my funeral service. By the way, great playing.
It is my favorite Hymn and it is a prayer.
I sing it to my son every night and he always asks me to sing “his song” even though one would think he is getting too old to want a bedtime song. When he was less than two he would shout out Victowee!! when I got to that word in the last version.
This is a hymn and thought in which to immerse oneself. Baptizing your whole household is not just about water it is also an immersion in the goodness and centrality of Christ.
Not be all else too me — Is a powerful antidote for the idolatry of everything.
“Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, still be my vision, O Ruler of all.”
That says it all for me. Ever since meeting Him, He has been embedded in my heart. This has been a favourite hymn in my family for a long time and was sung at the funerals of both my parents.