Hymn History: Be Thou My Vision November 2, 2022

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Be Thou My Vision

“But mine eyes are unto thee, O GOD the Lord: in thee is my trust; leave not my soul destitute.” – Psalm 141:8

Eochaid is not a name you hear every day. However, that is the given name of the ancient follower of the Lord Jesus. In the late 6th and early 7th century, poetry and education were gaining huge importance in Ireland. Eochaid was better known as Dallan Furgail, a nickname derived from his place of birth and the fact that he was a blind man. 

Born into a noble family, Furgail “was early [recognized] as the royal poet and greatest scholar in Ireland” (A Dictionary of Christian Biography, Literature, 1877). He distinguished himself in spite of one huge hurdle – he was blind. Not only did he survive, he excelled in the study of poetry, literature, and theology. Reflect on this – a  blind man penned the poem/prayer that would ultimately become Be Thou My Vision. Further, when you consider the power and wealth he enjoyed, you cannot help but stop and ponder this stanza: 

Riches I heed not, nor vain empty praise;
thou mine inheritance, now and always.
Thou and thou only, first in my heart,
Ruler of heaven, my treasure thou art.

Truly, his words were from the overflow of his heart (Matthew 12:34). Dallan allowed the Lord to use his “limitations” in ways far beyond reason.

Now, let us move forward 1,300 years. Enter, Mary E. Byrd. Mary was a college student at the National University in Ireland. During her studies, she came across this piece. In 1904, she entered her English translation of this moving poem into a work being published by her university (Eriu). Although her translation was not perfect, it brought to the surface the profound words from over a millennia prior. (The full, translated poem can be found here). 

One of those who discovered this rich poem was Eleanor Hull. Hull was a notable researcher, historian, and linguist in that day. She recognized the enormous impact that this prayer could make in the hearts and lives of others. So, in 1913, when Hull released a massive work of versified poetry, “A Prayer” was included. This version presents the prayer as most hymnals have it today. 

The song was set to the new Irish ballad tune, Slade (in honor of St. Patrick). Thus, Be Thou My Vision was first seen in the Irish Church Hymnal in 1919. Since then, millions have received help and stirring from this wonderful hymn. Let it not escape us how marvelously God worked to bring us this great hymn of the faith. He indeed is the High King of Heaven. May He always be our vision, our “best thought, by day or by night.” 

Be Thou My Vision

1. 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.

2. Be thou my wisdom, be thou my true word;
I ever with thee, and thou with me, Lord.
Born of thy love, thy child may I be,
thou in me dwelling and I one with thee.

3. Be thou my buckler, my sword for the fight.
Be thou my dignity, thou my delight,
thou my soul’s shelter, thou my high tow’r.
Raise thou me heav’nward, O Pow’r of my pow’r.

4. Riches I heed not, nor vain empty praise;
thou mine inheritance, now and always.
Thou and thou only, first in my heart,
Ruler of heaven, my treasure thou art.

5. High King of heaven, when vict’ry is won
may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heav’n’s Sun!
Heart of my heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

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1 Comment

  1. Kirk Wilson on November 3, 2022 at 1:51 AM

    In 1995, my family and I walked into St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland and were just transported by hearing someone playing this hymn on the pipe organ! Truly one of those moments in life that was unforgettable…

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