‘Abide with Me’: What are the lyrics and story behind the British anthem?

January 31, 2022, 5:38 PM | Updated: January 31, 2022, 5:53 PM

Abide with me can be heard in churches and stadiums.

Photo: Aliyah

From stadiums to ceremonies, moving renditions of this traditional anthem can be heard across the world.

“Abide with Me” is a Christian hymn originating in Scotland and England.

The 19th century artwork had multiple uses and was adored by kings and politicians.

Considered a favorite of King George V, the music was played at his funeral and was later sung at the wedding of his daughter, Queen Elizabeth II.

The piece can also be heard on football pitches and rugby stadiums, with the song being sung every FA Cup Final since 1927, and before the kick off of every Rugby League Challenge Cup final since 1929.

Further afield in India, the song also featured in India’s annual military Beating Retreat ceremony from 1950 to 2021 when it was replaced by the Indian patriotic anthem, ‘Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon’.

Read more: Why Britain’s ‘Abide with Me’ anthem was dropped from key Indian ceremony

Who wrote the lyrics to “Abide with Me”?

The lyrics to “Abide with Me” were written by Scottish minister and poet Henry Francis Lyte in 1847.

According to the traditional story, Lyte wrote the hymn just after leading his last church service in September 1847; Lyte was then suffering from tuberculosis, an infection from which he would die two months later.

Another story however, told in the newspaper, The viewerOctober 3, 1925, reports that the anthem was actually written 27 years earlier than originally planned.

The story goes that Lyte wrote the hymn in 1820 after visiting his ailing friend, William Augustus Le Hunte. As his friend lay on his deathbed, he repeatedly repeated the phrase “Stay with me”. After Le Hunte’s death, Lyte wrote the hymn based on this phrase and gave the lyrics to the family of the deceased.

No matter when or why the hymn was written, the lyrics are based on phrases from the Bible.

The opening of the hymn is based on Luke 24:29, “Stay with us, for it is towards evening, and the day is already past”. Meanwhile, the penultimate verse is inspired by 1 Corinthians 15:55, “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?”.

Who composed the melody of ‘Abide with Me’?

While Lyte wrote music to accompany its lyrics – which his biographer described as “boring melody” – the melody most associated with the anthem was actually written 14 years after the lyrics.

This tune was written by English organist, church musician and music publisher, William Henry Monk, and was originally titled, Eventide. Monk’s three-year-old daughter had just died when he wrote the tune, and is said to have been his inspiration for the tune.

Eventide was put on Lyte’s lyrics after Monk was named Music Editor of Ancient and modern hymnsa collection of 273 hymns published in the 1860s. The volume containing the new “Abide with Me” became one of the best-selling hymnbooks ever produced.

stay with me

Stay with me.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

What are the lyrics to “Abide with Me”?

Stay with me, fall quickly in the evening
The darkness is deepening Lord, stay with me
When other aids fail and comfort flees
Help of the helpless, oh, stay with me

Fast to its end, the small day of life passes
Earth’s joys fade, her glories pass
Change and decay in all around I see
O Thou who does not change, abide with me

I fear no foe, with you at hand to bless
Ailments have no weight and tears have no bitterness
Where is the sting of death?
Where, falls, your victory?
I triumph again, if you stay with me

Hold your cross before my closing eyes
Shine through the dark and lead me to the sky
The morning of paradise rises and the vain shadows of the earth flee
In life, in death, oh Lord, stay with me
Stay with me, stay with me

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