»  Peter Dawson sings "Eternal Father, Strong to Save"


Eternal Father, Strong to Save

by William Whiting, music by John Bacchus Dykes, sung by Peter Dawson


•  Background

Peter Dawson sings one of the most stirring and best-loved of all the great Victorian hymns, William Whiting's "Eternal Father, Strong to Save," to J.B. Dykes's tune Melita. This is commonly known as "The Navy Hymn."

Here is Whiting's response to a request from the publishers of Hymns Ancient and Modern when they asked if he might be willing to assign copyright to them for a fee:  "I have always given not sold the right to use that as well as any other of my hymns which have been asked for, and have refused all offers to purchase that or any other right … The only profit I have had is the satisfaction of knowing that I have written anything which has proved of service in Divine Worship." (Quoted from Ian Bradley's Abide With Me: The World of Victorian Hymns.) Similarly for Dykes, of whom Bradley notes:  "Dykes was happy for his tunes to be used in hymn-books of all denominations and rarely, if ever, asked for payment."

As a measure of the falling-off there has been, note that one modern hymnal updated lines 5 and 6 to be sung as

O hear us when we cry to you
For those who sail the ocean blue.

This has been one of the most parodied of the classic hymns. I remember a version current in London journalistic circles around 1980 whose stanzas ended:  "… For those who work for the B.B.C."


•  Listen to the song


•  Lyrics of the song

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

O Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the waters dark and rude,
And bid their angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

O Trinity of love and power!
Our brethren shield in danger's hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them wheresoever they go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.