Thursday, March 26, 2009

"He'l fear not what men say"

One of my favorite hymns is "He Who Would Valiant Be," Percy Dearmer's reworking of John Bunyan's poem, set to Vaughan William's Monk's Gate. I was browsing through Frank Colquhoun's A Hymn Companion, came across his description and was reminded that the original words were a bit different:
Who would true Valour see
Let him come hither;
One here will Constant be,
Come Wind, come Weather.
There's no Discouragement,
Shall make him once Relent,
His first avow'd Intent,
To be a Pilgrim.

Who so beset him round,
With dismal Storys,
Do but themselves Confound;
His Strength the more is.
No Lyon can him fright,
He'l with a Gyant Fight,
But he will have a right,
To be a Pilgrim.

Hobgoblin, nor foul Fiend,
Can daunt his Spirit:
He knows, he at the end,
Shall Life Inherit.
Then Fancies fly away,
He'l fear not what men say,
He'l labour Night and Day,
To be a Pilgrim.

Part of what Colquhoun says about the hymn:
It comes from the second part of Pilgrim's Progress, 1686, and is connected with Mr Valiant-for-Truth. This brave man tells Greatheart about his pilgrim life, of the trials he has met with, of the battles he has fought and won. At this point in the story Bunyan inserts the song. It is important to note that the words are not put into the mouth of Valiant, as though he were boasting of his valour and pointing to himself as an example. The words are not his but Bunyan's. Before proceeding with the story the author directs the reader to `come hither' and take a good look at Valiant so as to see in him a picture of a courageous and victorious pilgrim.

This is the purpose of the song. The first stanza stresses the need for constancy in the face of discouragements; the second describes the fearless spirit with which the pilgrim must meet and conquer his foes; and the third points to the goal of the journey, the life eternal which is the pilgrim's heavenly inheritance.
I have accumulated several books recounting the origins of hymns. This one, now apparently out of print, is one of my favorites.

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