This page was created by Donal Hegarty.  The last update was by Alisa Clapp-Itnyre .

Sounding Childhood

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide

A very popular Victorian hymn in general which was premiered—together with its memorable tune by William H. Monk—in Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861) was Henry Francis Lyte’s “Abide with me; fast falls the eventide.”   It was based on Luke 24:29, where the disciples ask the risen Christ to stay with them as the day ends: “Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.”   Lyte uses the verse to reflect upon the death of a friend but makes the invocation personal and individually focused: “Abide with me.”   Coming to light shortly before Lyte’s own death in 1847, the hymn, with its line about “the eventide,” quickly became associated with death.  In fact, it became a powerful inspiration to those on their deathbeds and for use at funerals in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, bells tolling it at President Howard Taft’s funeral (McCutchan, Our Hymnody 502-3). Syntax is complex: the repeated last lines of “abide with me” are used as a chiasmus of “with me abide” (v.1); the clever inverted concepts of “help of the helpless” and “Change and decay in all around I see/ O thou who changest not” (v.2).  All this suggests the hymn to be for adults, yet it was selected by hymnbook-editors as appropriate for children throughout the century.  A more probable explanation is the music, its tune greatly contributing to the hymn’s popularity (Watson, An Annotated 275). “Eventide” was written by William Henry Monk specifically for Lyte’s text as he wrestled himself with personal grief. Use of non-choral tones and minor chords within a homophonic structure, “Eventide” is haunting. Overall, its poignant beauty has lasted through two centuries, enjoyed by young and old alike. In fact, children singing this hymn for a youth production of Anne of Green Gables I directed selected it as their favorite song of the show among many other, "lighter" songs of the era.

More discussion of this hymn can be found in Chapter 3, British Hymn Books for Children.

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