In many of his great hymns it is difficult to know whether William Williams is on one of his many journeys across Wales or in a Biblical landscape. Here he is on a spiritual journey where he sees himself with the people of Israel toiling in the wilderness. Williams was one of the leaders of the Methodist Revival in Wales in the eighteenth century, together with Howell Harris and Daniel Rowland. From a slow beginning in the 1730s the revival was moving forward, but Rowland and Harris were such different characters that neither could agree to see the other as the leader. In 1752 there was a division, and the movement faltered. It was in this sad period that Williams wrote the original Welsh of this hymn, with the title ‘A Prayer for strength to go through the Wilderness of the World’. There was reconciliation between the leaders in 1762 and the Revival took off again with renewed strength, with the additional impetus given by Williams’ first mature collection of hymns The Songs of those upon the Sea of Glass
, which included this hymn. In about 1771 Peter Williams had translated some verses into English, and it appears that William Williams took Peter Williams’ first verse and produced his own version of the rest. Its whole mood is changed in what is more than a translation. It is a new hymn, and in it the tread of the people in the Wilderness is strong and confident.
This is ideally matched by the tune with its confident marching movement. It took over a hundred years for the match to be made. It was not until 1905 that an amateur musician, John Hughes, a clerk at the Great Western Colliery, Pontypridd, wrote it for a Baptist Cymanfa Ganu, and called it at first ‘Rhondda’. There has been controversy about whether the tune and the tenor parts should be interchanged in the line ‘Feed me till I want no more’, but this version is the more interesting and likely to have been the original. It has become the usual tune for the English words, but it is not the usual tune in Welsh.
from notes by Alan Luff © 2004