Come, my way, my truth, my life
with THE CALL
Text. This hymn is from the posthumous collection The Temple (1633) by George Herbert (1593-1633), where it appeared in three stanzas of four lines, without music, headed “The Call” (Fig. 1). The text follows a simple but effective structure, with the first line of each stanza offering three nouns (or metaphors) for Christ, and the successive three lines expounding each word in order. The first group draws directly from John 14:6 (“I am the way, and the truth, and the life”). The second describes a feast, perhaps evoking the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22 or Luke 12, or the wedding feast of Revelation 19. The third is the final part of a love letter to Christ, or as Herbert scholar John Drury put it:
In the last verse this inherent dialogue between poet and Jesus melts into identity as the happiest feelings of the human heart are also the qualities of its indwelling divinity, Jesus. The reader has reached the heart of things—of everything—for Herbert, and the progression of the poem is revealed as a homecoming.
Adaptation. The Wesleys adopted many of Herbert's hymns into some of their collections, including 41 in Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739). For this collection, John Wesley printed the text as “Come, O my way, my truth, my life” (Fig. 2), with several alterations, including a shift from trochaic to iambic feet, and a conversion to common meter (188.8.131.52.). Because of the Wesleys, the hymns of Herbert had some currency among Methodists for many years before eventually falling out of favor.
Tune. The most commonly used tune is THE CALL, written for this text by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) for his Five Mystical Songs (1911), for baritone, chorus, and orchestra (Fig. 3). Even though the tune was intended for a soloist, its modest range of a minor seventh and its rhythmic simplicity make it singable for congregational purposes.
Fig. 3. Five Mystical Songs (London: Stainer & Bell, 1911).
Williams’ setting was first used as a hymn tune in the Hymnal for Colleges and Schools (New Haven: Yale University,1956), edited by E. Harold Geer (Fig. 4).
by CHRIS FENNER
for Hymnology Archive
2 August 2018
- John Drury, Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert (University of Chicago Press, 2013), p. 348.
William T. Brooke, “George Herbert,” ed. John Julian, A Dictionary of Hymnology (London, 1892), pp. 511-512: Google Books
“Come, my way, my truth, my life” on Hymnary.org:
Robert Gullifer, “Come, my way, my truth, my life,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology: