picture via spiritofjoy.net
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Be Thou My Vision (Old Irish: Rop tú mo baile or Rob tú mo bhoile)
by Dallán Forgaill (translated by Mary Elizabeth Byrne, made into verse by Eleanor Hull)
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 Tow’r:
Raise Thou me heav’nward, 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.
Original Old Irish Text
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:
mithig (mo-núarán!) lasin trúagán trúag-sa.
A Chríst[note 1] mo chride, cip ed dom-aire,
a Flaith na n-uile, rop tú mo baile.
“Be Thou My Vision” (Old Irish: Rop tú mo baile or Rob tú mo bhoile) is a traditional Christian hymn of Irish origin. The words are based on a Middle Irish poem that has traditionally been attributed to Dallán Forgaill.
The best-known English version, with some minor variations, was translated in 1905 by Mary Elizabeth Byrne in 1905, then made into verse by Eleanor Hull and published in 1912. Since 1919 it has been commonly sung to an Irish folk tune, noted as “Slane” in church hymnals, and is one of the most popular hymns in the United Kingdom.
The original Old Irish text, “Rop tú mo Baile”, is often attributed to Saint Dallán Forgaill in the 6th century. However, scholars believe it was written later than that. Some date it to the 8th century; others putting it as late as the 10th or 11th century. A 14th-century manuscript attributed to Adhamh Ó Cianáin contains a handwritten copy of the poem in Middle Irish, and is held at the National Library of Ireland. A second manuscript is at the Royal Irish Academy, dating from about the 10th or 11th century.
The text of “Rop tú mo Baile”/”Be Thou My Vision” reflects aspects of life in Early Christian Ireland (c.400-800 AD). The prayer belongs to a type known as a lorica, a prayer for protection. The symbolic use of a battle-shield and a sword to invoke the power and protection of God draws on Saint Paul‘s Epistle to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:16–17), which refers to “the shield of faith” and “the sword of the Spirit”. Such military symbolism was common in the poetry and hymnnology of Christian monasteries of the period due to the prevalence of clan warfare across Ireland. The poem makes reference to God as “King of the Seven Heavens” and the “High King of Heaven”. This depiction of the Christian God as a chieftain or High King (Irish: Ard Rí) is a traditional representation in Irish literature; medieval Irish poetry typically used heroic imagery to cast God as a clan protector.
In 1905, “Rop tú mo Baile” was translated from Old Irish into English by Mary Elizabeth Byrne in Ériu, the journal of the School of Irish Learning. The English text was first versified in 1912 by Eleanor Hull, president of the Irish Literary Society, and this is now the most common text used.
The hymn is sung to the melody noted as “Slane” in hymnals, an Irish folk tune in 3
4 time, first published as “With My Love on the Road” in Patrick Joyce’s Old Irish Folk Music and Songs in 1909. The tune is a more elemental distillation of earlier forms, such as “The Hielan’s o’ Scotland’ and “By the Banks of the Bann,” also compiled in Joyce (1909). The words of “Be Thou My Vision” were first combined with this tune in 1919 (harmonised by Leopold L Dix, 1861-1935), and in a new version harmonised by David Evans in 1927. A further version was harmonised by Erik Routley for the English Hymnal.
It was common practice to attribute hymn tune names to the place where they were collected by folk song collectors, such as Vaughan Williams who co-edited The English Hymnal, published in 1906. Slane is a village in Ireland.
Three more 20th century hymns have been set to the same tune. The first was “Lord of All Hopefulness” written by Jan Struther around 1931. The second was “Lord of Creation, to Thee be All Praise” written by J. C. Winslow and first published in 1961. The third was a popular wedding hymn, “God, In the Planning and Purpose of Life”, written by John L. Bell and Graham Maule and first appearing in publication in 1989.
Gå inte förbi (“Don’t Walk Past”) is a duet-single set to the tune, recorded by Swedish singer Peter Jöback and Norwegian singer Sissel Kyrkjebø and written by Ulf Schagerman. Jöback sings the lyrics in Swedish while Sissel sings in Norwegian. It was released as a single in 2003 and at an extended reissue of Jöback’s Christmas album Jag kommer hem igen till jul. It was a hit in Norway and Sweden in the Christmas time of 2003 and a music video directed by Mikadelica was made in Denmark. Norwegian newspaper VG gave it 4 out of 6.
Who is Dallán Forgaill?
Eochaid mac Colla (c. 560 – 640), better known as Saint Dallán or Dallán Forgaill (Old Irish: Dallán Forchella; Latin: Dallanus Forcellius; Primitive Irish: Dallagnas Worgēllas), was an early Christian Irish poet and saint known as the writer of the “Amra Coluim Chille” (“Elegy of Saint Columba”) and, traditionally, “Rop Tú Mo Baile” (“Be Thou My Vision“).
Saint Dallan’s given name was Eochaidh (Old Irish: Eochaid); his father was Colla, a descendant of the legendary High King Colla Uais, and his mother was Forgall (Old Irish: Forchella). His nickname, Dallán (“little blind one”), was earned after he lost his sight, reputedly as a result of studying intensively.
He was born in Maigen (now Ballyconnell), at the eastern edge of the territory of the Masraige of Magh Slécht in the north-west of modern County Cavan. He was not a member of the Masraige but belonged to a branch of the Airgíalla called the Fir Lurg, who were in the process of spreading southwards into modern-day County Fermanagh and County Cavan. (The Barony of Lurg in the north of County Fermanagh was named after them.) He was a first cousin of Saint Mogue. (The Life of Máedóc of Ferns says in ch. 72 that Dallán and Máedóc were sons of two brothers and he lived in Kildallan townland.) He was also a fourth cousin of Tigernach of Clones.
The Amhra Coluim Cille, a panegyric on Columba, written shortly after Columba’s death in 597, is his best known work and considered “one of the most important poems we have from the early medieval Gaelic world”. It is reported that after completing the work, Dallan regained his sight. It was claimed that those who recited the praises of Columba from memory would receive the gift of a happy death, a custom that was widely abused by those who attempted to rely on their memory rather than a virtuous life. The “Amhra Coluim Cille” became a popular text for students in Irish monasteries.
The “Amra Senáin“, a funeral oration in praise of Senán mac Geirrcinn (Senán of Iniscattery), was said to preserve from blindness those who recited it with devotion.
In c.640 Dallan was visiting his friend Saint Conall Cael at his monastery on Inishkeel when pirates raided the island monastery. Dallan was reportedly beheaded, and it is said that God reattached his head to his body after he was martyred. He was buried on Iniskeel; his friend Canall Cael was later laid to rest in the same grave.
He was acclaimed a saint in the early 11th century, during the reign of the High King of Ireland Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill but was already listed as a saint in the earlier 9th century martyrologies compiled by Óengus of Tallaght. A medieval poem entitled “On the breaking up of a School” composed by Tadhg Og O Huiginn, c.1400, refers to the death of Dallán which caused his school to break up and the students to disperse as they would accept no other master. In a list of ancient Irish authors contained in the Book of Ballymote, Dallán is called “grandson of testimony”.
Below I have imbedded a rendition of the song, sung in English by Nathan Pacheco.