’Tis gone, that bright and orbed blaze
Sun of my soul! Thou Saviour dear
Text: Origins. In 1827, John Keble (1792–1866) published a two-volume set of hymns, The Christian Year: Thoughts in Verse for the Sundays and Holydays throughout the Year (Oxford: W. Baxter, 1827), intended to be used in conjunction with the Anglican Book of Common Prayer:
The object of the present publication will be attained, if any person find assistance from it in bringing his own thoughts and feelings into more entire unison with those recommended and exemplified in the Prayer Book. The work does not furnish a complete series of compositons, for many of them are rather adapted with more or less propriety to the successive portions of the Liturgy than originally suggested by them. Something has been added at the end concerning the several Occasional Services, which constitute, from their personal and domestic nature, the most instance of that soothing tendency in the Prayer Book, which it is the chief purpose of these volumes to exhibit.
The idea of assembling a collection of hymns to coordinate with the liturgical cycles of the Church of England was new at the time, mirrored by a similar collection released that same year by fellow minister Reginald Heber (1783–1826), Hymns Written and Adapted to the Weekly Church Service of the Year (1827 | PDF). “’Tis gone, that bright and orbèd blaze” is the second hymn in Keble’s collection, recommended for evening services. Hymnologists often report that it was written seven years earlier, on 25 Nov. 1820, but the authority for this date is unclear. The Scripture reference at the top is to Luke 24:29, “Abide with us, for it is towards evening, and the day is far spent.” The full hymn is in fourteen stanzas of four lines, without music (Fig. 1):
Fig. 1. John Keble, The Christian Year: Thoughts in Verse for the Sundays and Holydays throughout the Year, vol. 1 (Oxford: W. Baxter, 1827).
In the second edition (1827), Keble made one small change in the first line of the twelfth stanza, to “If some poor wandering child of thine.” In later editions, “infant’s slumbers” became “infants’ slumbers.”
Text: Analysis. The reference to Luke 24:29 is explored in stanza eight (“Abide with me from morn till eve”). The other stated Scripture reference pertains to the last line of stanza nine, “We are in port if we have Thee,” which alludes to John 6:21 (“Then they willingly received Him into the ship, and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went”). The end of stanza eleven possibly refers to Mark 10:21 (“take up the cross and follow me”).
Given its length, the hymn is usually printed in various excerpts, known mostly in forms starting with the third stanza, “Sun of my soul! Thou Saviour dear.” The hymn became immensely popular. In 1892, in his Dictionary of Hymnology, p. 1178, John Julian said “it has become one of the foremost hymns in the English language.” In 1899, English Presbyterian hymnologist John Brownlie reported in The Hymns and Hymn Writers of The Church Hymnary, p. 332, that in a survey of 24 hymnals, “the principal hymnals in use in this country and in America,” the only hymn to appear in all 24 collections was Keble’s “Sun of my soul.” Louis Benson, in The English Hymn (Philadelphia, 1915), p. 493, felt that Keble’s work “elevated the standard of sacred poetry,” the whole collection’s primary influence being “in the glamour of poetry it threw upon the feasts and fasts of the liturgical year, its call upon the imagination to prepare the way for the Oxford Movement.”
Tune 1. Keble’s hymn is most frequently paired with HURSLEY (or STILLORGAN), a variant of the German tune for “Grosser Gott wir loben dich,” a pairing that started with The Metrical Psalter (London: Novello, 1855) edited by William Irons and Henry Lahee (Fig. 2). For more on the origins of this tune, see the article on “Te Deum laudamus.”
Tune 2. In British churches, this hymn is sometimes set to ABENDS, a tune written for this text by Herbert S. Oakeley (1830-1903), who was a professor at the University of Edinburgh at the time, first published in the Irish Church Hymnal (1873 | Fig. 3), then adopted into Hymns Ancient & Modern, starting with the 1875 edition, with some alterations. It was intended as a replacement for HURSLEY, the tune that had appeared with Keble’s hymn in the 1864 Irish Church Hymnal. Oakeley had a particular dislike for HURSLEY:
One of my reasons for disliking it is the resemblance it bears to a drinking song, “Se vuol ballare,” in Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro. As Mozart produced that opera in 1786, he is responsible for the opening strain, which suits his Baccanalian words very well. But to hear “Sun of my soul, Thou Saviour dear” sung to a lively tune, unsuitable to sacred words, often has the effect of driving me out of church.
Tune 3. HESPERUS was written by Henry Baker (1835–1910), reportedly in 1854. It was entered anonymously into a tune survey facilitated by The Penny Post (London) for Keble’s “Sun of my soul,” then printed in that magazine as a preferred option in April 1862, “Tunes for Keble’s hymn,” pp. 67-68 (Fig. 4).
Its first appearance in a hymnal was in John Grey’s Hymnal for Use in the English Church (London: 1866 | Fig. 5), paired with Keble’s hymn, and named WHITBURN. In the United States, the name was curiously changed to QUEBEC, starting with its appearance in the Book of Worship with Hymns and Tunes (Philadelphia, 1899), changed for unknown reasons, but many other collections have followed suit. This tune has gained greater proliferation by being paired with other texts, especially Ray Palmer’s “Jesu, thou joy of loving hearts,” a partial translation of the Latin hymn “Jesu dulcis memoria.”
Tune 4. MARYTON was composed for Keble’s hymn by Henry Percy Smith (1825–1898), first published in Arthur Sullivan’s Church Hymns with Tunes (London: SPCK, 1874 | Fig. 6), where it was originally called SUN OF MY SOUL. Like Tune 3 above, this melody also has a close association with Ray Palmer’s “Jesu, thou joy of loving hearts,” a translation of “Jesu dulcis memoria.” The shift in name to MARYTON is unclear, but it happened as early as 1898 in The Church Hymnary, edited by John Stainer.
by CHRIS FENNER
for Hymnology Archive
23 October 2018
The Hymnal 1940 Companion, 3rd Rev. Ed. (NY: Church Hymnal Corp., 1956), p. 86.
John Julian, “Tis gone, the bright and orbed blaze,” A Dictionary of Hymnology (London, 1892), p. 1178.
Louis Benson, “Sun of my soul, Thou Saviour dear,” Studies of Familiar Hymns (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1903): Archive.org
“Sun of my soul, Thou Savior dear,” Historical Companion to Hymns Ancient & Modern, ed. Maurice Frost (London: William Clowes & Sons, 1962), p. 140 (no. 24).
Carl P. Daw, Jr., “QUEBEC,” Glory to God: A Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2016), pp. 496-497.
Carl P. Daw, Jr. “MARYTON,” Glory to God: A Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2016), p. 706.
“Tis gone, that bright and orbed blaze,” Hymnary.org:
“Sun of my soul, Thou Saviour dear,” Hymnary.org:
J.R. Watson, “Sun of my soul, Thou Saviour dear,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology: