There are words that are available for many years before being brought fully to life by being given a tune. This is a supreme example. The words were published by Samuel Crossman in his Young Man’s Meditation
in 1664, many generations before the singing of hymns was allowed in the Church of England. The words were brought into hymnbooks in the second half of the nineteenth century, with a worthy but not exciting tune. In 1918 John Ireland was the organist of St Luke’s, Chelsea, with a growing name as a composer, chiefly of songs and piano music. He was asked to contribute a tune for these words for the 1919 edition of The Public School Hymn Book
. He wrote this irresistible tune immediately in a quarter of an hour on the back of a menu card. The shape of the tune reflects the form of the words but is not tied to it. In each verse the fifth line startles (above all perhaps in verse 4, ‘Sweet injuries’) and the tune with its modulation answers in a way that never fails to satisfy and enlarge the appreciation of the words.
from notes by Alan Luff © 1999