Home History of Hymns: "Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven"

History of Hymns: "Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven"

"Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven"
Henry Francis Lyte
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 66

Henry Francis Lyte

"Praise, my soul, the King of heaven,
To the throne thy tribute bring;
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
Evermore God's praises sing.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Praise the everlasting King."

The psalms are a source of inspiration for hymn writers. Psalm 103 is the basis of "Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven" by Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847).

Born in Scotland and educated at Enniskillen and Trinity College in Dublin, Lyte's most significant appointment was as Anglican curate at Lower Brixham, Devonshire, England, where he served for 24 years.

Kenneth Osbeck notes that Lyte "was known as a man frail in body but strong in faith and spirit." Suffering from chronic asthma and tuberculosis, he retired from his parish in September 1847. Seeking a better climate in Italy, he died that November in Nice, France, on his way to Rome.

Lyte's poetry earned him several honors. His collections include Tales on the Lord's Prayer in Verse (1826), Poems, Chiefly Religious (1833, 1845), and The Spirit of the Psalms (1834).

His most famous hymn was "Abide with me, fast falls the eventide" -- which represents the heart of the Romantic style for hymn scholar Ian Bradley. This hymn, originally in five stanzas, was published as one of 280 free psalm paraphrases in The Spirit of the Psalms. One of three paraphrases of Psalm 103, Lyte took a very free approach to his interpretation.

An Anglican minister, he drew upon Miles Coverdale's translation as found in the Book of Common Prayer rather than the Authorized King James Version.

Instead of beginning with "Bless the Lord, O my soul," this translation opens with: "Praise the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me praise his holy Name. Praise the Lord, O my soul: and forget not all his benefits; who forgiveth all thy sin: and healeth all thine infirmities; Who saveth thy life from destruction: and crowneth thee with mercy and loving-kindness."

One can see these theological ideas in the opening stanza of Lyte's hymn, but in a free poetic form.

When the hymn appeared in the influential collection Hymns Ancient and Modern, the editors substituted "Alleluia! Alleluia!" for "Praise him! Praise him!" -- a change that not only improved the ease of singing, but elevated the exaltation.

A missing stanza four corresponds very closely with a portion of the psalm (verses 15-17), but is rarely included:

Frail as summer's flower we perish:
Blows the wind and it is gone.
But, while mortals rise and perish,
God endures unchanging on.
Praise him! Praise him!
Praise the high eternal One!

English literary scholar J. R. Watson says lines three and four of this stanza "are weaker than the rest of the hymn." Since the original publication indicated this stanza was optional, Mr. Watson suggests it is best to omit it.

Besides a sense of jubilation, this hymn emphasizes God's providence. Again Mr. Watson notes that the poet "consistently emphasizes the reliability of God."

In stanza two, God's "grace and favor to all people in distress" is praised. Later in the same stanza, we sing that God is "the same as ever, slow to chide, and swift to bless."

Many small changes have been made in the UM Hymnal, mostly for inclusive-language reasons. Here's an example from stanza three, with alterations in brackets:

Father-like, he [God] tends and spares us;
Well our feeble frame he [God] knows;
In his hands he [mother-like God] gently bears us,
Rescues us from all our foes.

The popularity of this hymn has been greatly aided by LAUDA ANIMA, John Goss' tune written in 1869 for this text. Its inclusion in Hymns Ancient and Modern (1875 edition) and in The English Hymnal (1906) have made it one of the most widely sung Victorian tunes.

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

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