Be Thou My Vision
Words: Ancient Irish; traditionally: Mary E. Byrne (1880-1931); versified: Eleanor H. Hull (1860-1935)
Music: Traditional Irish melody; harmonies: David Evans (1874-1948)
#60, ’91 Baptist Hymnal
History Behind the Hymn
This eigth century hymn, written by an anonymous Irish Christian, in many ways owes its existence to the revered St. Patrick, a prevalent evangelist in the fourth century A.D. When he was 16, Scottish-born Patrick was captured by raiders and sold into slavery in Ireland; there he somehow found the Lord and was saved.
Years later he returned home, but despite his family’s pleading, Patrick had a vision that led him to once again travel to Ireland with nothing but a Latin Bible and begin evangelizing the countryside. The Druids there were violently against Patrick’s preaching and sought to kill him, but his efforts proved extremely effective; by the end of his ministry, Patrick had planted about 200 churches and baptized over 100,000 people.
This one evangelist sparked a spiritual revolution in Ireland, and for centuries Irish Christians continued producing songs, hymns, and prayers. One such hymn was “Be Thou My Vision”, which was translated from Irish into English in 1905 by Dublin scholar Mary Elizabeth Byrne and drafted into meter and rhyme by Manchester scholar Eleanor Hull. One of the oldest hymns we have today, this song was set to the old Irish folktune “Slane”, named for an area of Ireland where St. Patrick famously clashed with the Druids.
Morgan, R. J. (2011). Then Sings My Soul (1st ed., Vol. 1). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
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 my fight;
be thou my dignity, thou my delight,
thou my soul’s shelter, thou my high tow’r:
raise thou me heav’n-ward, O Pow’r of my pow’r.
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 heav’n’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, O Ruler of all.