Clinton Miller, Organist & Choirmaster
The Episcopal Church of the Mediator
1 Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,pilgrim through this barren land
I am weak, but thou art mighty; hold me with thy powerful hand;
bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
feed me now and evermore, feed me now and evermore.
3 When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside;
death of death, and hell’s destruction, land me safe on Canaan’s side;
songs of praises, songs of praises,
I will ever give to thee, I will ever give to thee.
Hymn 690, The Hymnal 1982: “Guide me, O thou great Jehovah” / Tune: Cwm Rhondda
As a musician, organist/choirmaster, I, obviously, am attracted initially by the music. The tune, Cwm Rhondda, is extremely appealing to me as are many other Welsh hymn tunes.
This tune was written in 1905 by John Hughes (1873-1932) for a hymn festival in Wales. In 1907, Hughes played a revised version of the tune, which he called “Rhondda”, at the inauguration of an organ in the Rhondda Valley. The name of the tune was later changed to “Cwm Rhondda” (Rhondda Valley) to avoid confusion with another tune. The value of the tune lies in its immense vigor and what can be called its vulgar appeal (not necessarily a bad thing in a hymn). This is essentially a tune sung in four parts, the bass being particularly important as it strides through the first four lines and mounts in line five to its strong and confident dominant seventh.
This text, by William Williams (1717-1791) was printed in the Hymnal 1826, in an English translation by Peter Williams (1722-1769). This popular hymn has been translated into roughly seventy-five languages.
William Williams often wrote about pilgrimage, “as though the geography of ancient Palestine could be superimposed upon his contemporary Wales” (The Hymnal 1982 Companion, p. 1294). Like Williams, I can see Christian life as a pilgrimage, requiring God’s guidance. At “the verge of Jordan,” we have confidence that the “death of death and hell’s destruction” will bring us across to heaven.
The hymn was sung at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, and the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. It is included in the soundtrack of the films How Green Was My Valley (1941) and The African Queen(1952), and even in the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony, in London.
Glover, Raymond F., editor. The Hymnal 1982 Companion. Church Publishing, 1990.
“Cwm Rhondda” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cwm_Rhondda
Photo of coast in Wales, courtesy of Dean Tony Pompa.