Article

History of Hymns: “Lord of All Hopefulness”

by C. Michael Hawn

"Lord of All Hopefulness"
Jan Struther
The Faith We Sing, No. 2197

Jan Struther

"Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy,
whose trust, ever childlike, no cares could destroy:
Be there at our waking, and give us we pray,
your bliss in our hearts, Lord, at the break of the day.*


Jan Struther, the pen name for Joyce Maxtone Graham Plazcek (1901-1953), wrote many poems and hymns under the pseudonym derived from her mother’s maiden name, Eva Anstruther. She was a native of London, England, but died in New York City. 

Struther is best remembered for her World War II novel Mrs. Miniver (1939) and the film based on the novel. Mrs. Miniver was a character created in 1937 by Struther for her newspaper columns for the London Times. The Minivers depicted lighthearted scenes of British life before World War II. 

Publishing her first work when she was 16, her career included many published articles, short stories and poems in English periodicals. In addition to writing five volumes of poetry, Struther served on the editorial board of the London Times. She lived with her children in New York during the war and became quite popular as a lecturer. 

The hymn was prepared at the request of Percy Dearmer, with whom she worked on the enlarged edition Songs of Praise (1931). It is one of the best examples of an “all-day” hymn—a hymn petitioning God’s abiding presence throughout each moment of the day. Each of the four stanzas, in turn, requests God’s providential care at the “break of the day,” “noon of the day,” “eve of the day” and “end of the day.” 

Dearmer noted that this hymn “is indeed a lovely example of the fitting together of thought, words, and music.” The Hymnal 1982 Companion suggests that the “almost naïve imagery of the text suits the simple folk-song qualities of the melody SLANE with its gentle flowing metre. The text uses the classic collect form that includes an address describing an attribute of our Lord followed by a petition relating it, in this case, to our daily lives.” 

One notices immediately the classic proportions and parallel structure of each stanza. The first line of each stanza begins by addressing God and naming one of God’s attributes: “Lord of all hopefulness . . . eagerness . . . kindliness . . . gentleness.” 

The second line expands on that attribute. Then in the middle of the hymn, the posture changes to a petition with the imperative verb: “Be there at our waking . . . labors . . . homing . . . sleeping.” The requests are simple but substantive. In succession, each stanza requests “bliss,” “strength,” “love” and “peace.” 

The petition for the abiding presence of God throughout the day suggests a spiritual life that is anchored by a pattern of daily devotional prayer at the crucial junctures of the day’s activities. In stanzas two and three we identify with times in Christ’s life. Stanza two recalls the profession that Jesus inherited, a carpenter, “whose strong hands were skilled at the plane and the lathe.” Stanza three alludes to the many times that Christ demonstrated hospitality toward others, both in his actions and in the parables, “with hands swift to welcome, [and] arms to embrace.” 

Set to one of the favorite tunes in hymnody, the Irish ballad SLANE, this song is one of the devotional treasures of the Christian hymn tradition.

*© Oxford University Press. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology.

Categories: History of Hymns