Sunday, March 29, 2009

John Keble

John Keble (April 25, 1792 - March 28, 1866) is commemorated today in the Episcopal calendar of saints.

He attended Oxford University, where he was awarded double first class hono(u)rs for his academic performance. He was ordained in the Church of England in 1815 and returned to Gloucestershire as curate in his father's parish. He continued to serve in small churches for the rest of his career.

Keble's employment prospects (though not his renown or influence) may have been diminished by a famous sermon he preached at Oxford in 1833 titled National Apostasy. In it, he attacked what he saw as the Anglican Church's indifference to doctrine and lack of respect for bishops. The Oxford Movement was born on that day,with a new respect for the ministry, liturgy, and the sacraments, but it was not welcomed by everyone and was seen as "too Catholic."

In 1827 Keble published The Christian Year, a book of poems for each Sunday of the church calendar. This has been called the most popular book of religious poetry in the nineteenth century; it went through ninety-five editions in Keble's lifetime alone. Most of his hymn texts are taken from this book (usually shortened somewhat).

This familiar hymn was the second poem in The Christian Year, originally fourteen verses long.

Sun of my soul, thou Savior dear,
It is not night if thou be near;
O may no earthborn cloud arise
To hide thee from thy servant’s eyes.

Abide with me from morn till eve,
For without thee I cannot live;
Abide with me when night is nigh,
For without thee I dare not die.

Watch by the sick, enrich the poor
With blessings from thy boundless store;
Be every mourner’s sleep tonight,
Like infants’ slumbers, pure and light.

Come near and bless us when we wake,
Ere through the world our way we take,
Till in the ocean of thy love
We lose ourselves in heaven above.

John Keble, 1820; alt.
Tune: HURSLEY (L.M.)
Katholisches Gesangbuch, 1774

At one point I thought the original first verse should be restored:

'Tis gone, that bright and orbed blaze,
Fast fading from our wistful gaze;
Yon mantling cloud has hid from sight
The last, faint pulse of quivering light.

but now I think it's a bit fussy and better left out so that the more familiar first verse begins the hymn.

HURSLEY is named for the town in Hampshire where Keble was the vicar of All Souls Church for many years. Composer Herbert Oakeley wrote another tune, ABENDS, for this text because he thought HURSLEY was too close to the aria Se vuol ballare, from Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro. He wrote "... to hear Sun of my soul, thou Savi­our dear sung to a live­ly tune, un­suit­a­ble to sac­red words, had the ef­fect of driv­ing me out of church." The second edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern used ABENDS for the recommended tune, so it may be better known in the UK.

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