This is the best known hymn of Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847) who wrote it not long before he died. His biographies reveal he was no stranger to difficulties and poor health.
His parents separated when he was 8 or 9 and he never saw his mother again. His Father was an army officer who began to represent himself as an uncle, and his second wife as his aunt (Source: J.R. Watson, The English Hymn: A Critical and Historical Study who cites B.G. Skinner, Henry Francis Lyte, Brixham’s Poet and Priest).
In setting up this hymn, J. R. Watson also writes:
“There are many poems by Lyte which re-enact the process of separation from the beloved, either by death or parting.”
“Lyte was obsessed by darkness, separation, and loss”
What is often found in Lyte’s hymns “is a use of words in patterns, He has a striking ability to produce a phrase, and then repeat it, or vary it, or turn it back on itself.”
“It was not for nothing that he strove all his life to find rest, the stability in God that he had never had as a child. All these things go into the making of ‘Abide with me’. And because of this, (the) hymn expresses deep and mysterious truths about human nature, neither presuming nor despairing, but placing the hope of heaven against the shortness of life and the helplessness of human kind.”
“As the manuscript tells us, Lyte had in his mind Luke 24:29, Abide with us, for it is toward Evening, and the day is far spent.”
Abide With Me
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word;
But as Thou dwell’st with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.
Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings,
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea,
Come, Friend of sinners, and thus bide with me.
Thou on my head in early youth didst smile;
And, though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee,
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.
I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.