O God, our help in ages past (StF 132)

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O God, our help in ages past 

Source: Singing the Faith: 132
Words: Isaac Watts
Music: “St Anne” by William Croft
Metre: 86.86. Common Metre
Verses: 7

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With its steady, stoic but ultimately uplifting tune, “St Anne”, Isaac Watts hymn needs little introduction. A paraphrase of Psalm 90, verses 1-5, it is full of evocative phrases, including the verse that might have been written to be sung over the dead of The Somme or Passchendaele:

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
bears all its sons away;
they fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.

First published in The Psalms of David (1719), Watts’ paraphrase was entitled, “Man frail, and God eternal”. Two verses from the original that especially reflect the idea of human frailty are omitted from all modern hymn books. One begins, “The word commands our flesh to dust – ‘Return, ye sons of men’…” and the other uses the image of withering flowers in the field.

See also Remembering conflict – singing for peace

Categories: 86.86. Common Metre, Croft, William, New Year: Watchnight, Remembrance, Remembrance Sunday, St Anne, Times and Seasons, Watts, Isaac.

3 Responses to O God, our help in ages past (StF 132)

  1. jean Quick says:

    Many thanks, my Organist came up with the following suggestions as well:

    They are: No 73 St Fulbert, No 107 St Saviour and No 155ii Richmond.

  2. Editor says:

    Hi Jean – we’re fortunate that the words of this hymn are in “Common Metre”. This means that if you click on the “86.86. Common Metre” link above (in Categories), you’ll bring up a long list of hymns – and their tunes – in the same metre. My own initial suggestions would be “Lucius” (StF 608), which has a very different rhythm and feel to “St Anne”; “Belmont” (StF 573) is a lovely tune with a gentler movement to it; and “Richmond” (StF 155ii & 747) feels like another possible alternative.

    Does anyone else have other suggestions?

  3. Jean Quick says:

    Does any one know a more ‘upbeat’ tune that this will fit too please. It’s set tune is so tied to thoughts of Remembrance Sunday and can be quite reflective. I am looking to use it as the last hymn on a service around the theme of hope.

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