Be Thou My Vision is an ancient Irish hymn that dates from at least the eighth century with some sources dating it back as far as the sixth century and attributing it to Dallan Forgaill, an Irish poet and monk. In 1905, Mary Elizabeth Byrne translated the text from Old Irish to English and Eleanor Hull versified it into its current version. It was then paired with an old Irish folk tune, Slane, to create the lovely hymn we sing in churches today.
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.
Riches I heed not, nor vain empty praise;
thou mine inheritance, now and always.
Thou and thou only, first in my heart,
Ruler of heaven, my treasure thou art.
While Be Thou My Vision is the most popular text sung to Slane, many other hymn texts have been matched with the melody. Lord of All Hopefulness, penned by English author Jan Struther and published in 1931, is likely the most well known. Its four insightful verses ask for God’s presence throughout an entire day – waking in the morning, laboring through the day, returning home, and sleeping at night – and the second verse has a nice reminder that Jesus was a laborer “whose strong hands were skilled at the plane and the lathe.”
For a piano arrangement of Be Thou My Vision (or if you prefer, Lord of All Hopefulness), I wanted the simple, lilting melody to shine. So I kept the adornments to a minimum and created a soothing, uncluttered setting that allows listeners to meditate on the hymn’s well-known words. Thanks to the arrangement’s simplicity, it’s quick to prepare and can be a staple in the church pianist’s repertoire for worship services throughout the year as well as for weddings and funerals. And with its Irish history, it’s perfect for any Sunday near St. Patrick’s Day. Enjoy!