Words from the night (3)

In Songs in the Night (1996), Henry Gariepy has collected stories that stand behind songs and hymns born in the “night” of human experience.  Here is another song from this collection (see here for the last one).

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom; lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever¹ thus, nor prayed that Thou shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will.  Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blessed me, sure it still will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till the night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Meantime, along the narrow rugged path, Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Savior—lead me home in childlike faith, home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life.

– John Henry Newman, 1833

About this prayer song, Gariepy relates the following:

“Newman was a leading influence in the religious life of 19th-century England. But in his early years his pace and spiritual struggle for the heavy toll, and he traveled to Italy for rest and recuperation.  There he was stricken with a serious fever.  Further depressed, he boarded a ship to return to his native England.”

While on a motionless sailboat, essentially stalled for a week, while “sick and depressed, closed in by the fog, faced with the prospect of starving at sea,” Newman wrote the poem.

¹ Here, “ever” means “always.”

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