July 1, 2013

Lead, Kindly Light

The Night is Dark and I Am Far From Home

Lead, Kindly Light was written by John Henry Newman (1801-1890) in 1833. Throughout the first half of that year, Newman accompanied fellow Anglican Priest and early member of the Oxford Movement, Hurrell Froude on a tour of the Mediterranean. While visiting Sicily, Newman became seriously ill and was bedridden for a number of weeks. After recovering he was overcome with a great desire to return to England and continue his work for the Church. On route to Marseille, his sailing ship was delayed by a week of calm weather in the Strait of Bonifacio. It was there, at sea that Newman composed the words to Lead, Kindly Light. The poem was subsequently published in a number of different collections. In 1868 it was included in the popular Church of England hymnal: Hymns Ancient and Modern, and has since become best known as a hymn. When later asked about his hymn's popularity, Newman attributed it to the tune of Lux Benigna, written in 1865 by John B. Dykes (1823-1876) that his verses had been set to. Over the years, it's words of consolation have inspired many musical settings and pairings, both for congregational and choral use. One of the best known is the 1860 tune, Sandon (see 2nd video) by Charles H. Purday (1799-1885). One particular story that relates the deep affection that people have for this hymn involves the Stanley Pit Mine Disaster of 1909. Escaping from poisonous and combustible gas, 34 miners sought refuge in a seam where there was a pocket of air. Huddled in the darkness and fearing the worst, the miners began to sing Lead, Kindly Light. Some of the men later died from the effects of the gas, but most of the them were rescued. In 2010, Lead, Kindly Light was sung at Benedict XVI's Hyde Park Vigil during the Pontiff's tour of the UK in which he celebrated the Beatification of Cardinal Newman. In the Liturgy of the Hours, it is sung or recited at Night Prayer (Compline).

Tune: Lux Benigna

LEAD, KINDLY LIGHT by John Henry Newman, 1833 (Public Domain)

Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home—
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor pray'd that Thou
Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on,
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

Tune: Sandon

Contemporary version by Audrey Assad

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