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
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.