I sang “Be Thou My Vision” over the weekend and the accompaniment was folksy — no keyboard. The guitar player also stood up front at a microphone. I was surprised that no one has tried to update the language of the hymn, especially after hearing so many complaints about inaccessible King James English.
Here’s the text (sung to the tune, Slane, it has its moments):
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 heavenward, 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.
Not only are the “thee’s” and “thou’s” arresting in this age of contemporary English, but the third stanza did not seem to follow a coherent line of thought. We go from fighting, to dignity, to delight, and back to fighting and the need for a tower. And then it looks like we die in battle and go to heaven. But we must not because we still have two stanzas to go.
I wondered what a vernacularized rendition of the hymn might sound like, so I went to the Dialectizer for help. Here is “Be Thou My Vision” in Cockney:
Be Fou me vision, right, O Lord of me ‘eart;
Naught be all else ter me, Chas’n’Dave that Fou art.
Fou me Mae West ffought, by day or by night,
Wakin’ or sleepin’, Fy presence me light.
Be Fou me wisdom, right, and Fou me true word;
I ever wiv Thee and Fou wiv me, Lord;
Fou me great Favver, right, I Fy true son;
Fou in me dwellin’, right, and I wiv Thee one.
Be Fou me battle shield, sword for the fight;
Be Fou me dignity, Fou me delight;
Fou me soul’s shelter, Fou me ‘igh tower:
Raise Fou me ‘eavenward, O power of me power.
Riches I ‘eed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Fou mine inheritance, now and always:
Fou and Fou only, first in me ‘eart,
High Kin’ of ‘eaven, my treasure Fou art.
High Kin’ of ‘eaven, my victory won,
May I reach ‘eaven’s joys, O bright ‘eaven’s sun! Right!
Heart of me own ‘eart, wotever befall,
Still be me vision, O ruler of all.
8 thoughts on “If Contemporary Worship Won, What’s Up with “Thou”?”
King James is Protestantism’s Latin. Good for affect, less so for understanding. But the only person in the world who should sing it is Van Morrison (anglophile alert):
Kind of Pythonesque. Right!
Last Orders? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0zTunFLdwY
sentiment and passion. sheesh, Zrim.
So, Dr. Hart, Van Morrison corrects that third verse for you. Consistent. Zealous.
Any sway babes flanking the guitarist? Asking for Chortles.
Boss, the swaybabes ye will always have with ye. I assume there were even swaynuns. But I could be wrong about that.