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Be Thou My Vision

by Dallán Forgaill

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 tower:
Raise Thou me heav’nward, O power of my power.

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 heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

Did You Know?

Be Thou My Vision (Rop tú mo baile or Rob tú mo bhoile in Old Irish) is among the oldest surviving Christian poems to be passed down through the centuries.

The poem has traditionally been attributed to 6th century poet Dallán Forgaill of Ireland. Scholars debate the accuracy of this attribution, however, and have dated it to the 8th century or later and of unknown authorship.

Poem Backstory

Be Thou My Vision began achieving notoriety in the English language after it was translated, set to music, and began appearing in English hymnals in the early 1900s. The story behind the poem, however, goes back much further.

In his work The Life of Saint Patrick, monk and historian Muirchú moccu Machtheni relates the story that inspired both the poem lyrics and the hymn melody behind Be Thou My Vision. Muirchú tells about a certain brave action Saint Patrick took in defiance of a decree issued by the local Irish King regarding the observation of a pagan Druid festival, The Feast of Bealtine (Beal's fire).

In the year AD 433, High King of Ireland Lóegaire mac Néill issued a decree forbidding any other fires, even so much as a candle, from being lighted during a certain period in observance of the pagan festival. Patrick, however, refused to pay honor to any pagan god, and therefore on Easter Sunday in 433, Patrick proceeded to climb the highest point in the area, the Hill of Slane, and light a huge bonfire to the High King of Heaven where it could be plainly seen by all - including those in the king's house, the Palace of Temoria. According to Muirchú, a confrontation between the High King of Ireland and Patrick ensued, but in the aftermath of this act of defiance, King Lóegaire was converted and Patrick obtained complete freedom to preach the gospel in Ireland.

Some time later, we do not know when, an Irish Folk melody named Slane was composed commemorating Patrick's brave deed upon the Hill of Slane. Also sometime later, an Old Irish poem named Rop tú mo baile was written in honor of St. Patrick. The poem has long been said to have been written by Dallán Forgaill (c. 560 - c. 640), but with the earliest copy of the text dating back to only approximately the 10th or 11th century, no proof positive of Forgaill's authorship has ever been obtained.

As time passed, Slane and Rop tú mo baile were all but forgotten. But in 1905, 25-year-old National University of Ireland student Mary E. Byrne (Irish name Máiri Ní Bhroin) came across Rop tú mo baile and translated it into English for the first time. Seven years later, in 1912, Irish scholar and folklorist Eleanor Hull versified the Mary E. Byrne English translation. Finally, in 1919, seven years after its versification, the versified text of Be Thou My Vision was combined with the old tune of Slane and harmonized by Leopold L. Dix. It began appearing in hymnals soon thereafter. It has since become one of the most popular hymns in the English language.

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Did You Know?

In 1917, just two years prior to the poem Be Thou My Vision being set to the tune of Slane and becoming the famous hymn that we know today, Francis Ledwidge, an Irish poet from the tiny village of Slane and one of Slane's most famous sons was killed in action at Ypres during World War I.

Slane, Ireland is the setting of the story of St. Patrick famously lighting his Paschal fire in defiance of a pagan decree.

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