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The Midweek Hymn: Awake, My Soul, and with the Sun

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THE last verse of this hymn is well known in its own right as the Doxology (an expression of praise to God):

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

The hymn was written by Thomas Ken (1637-1711), who was born at Little Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. Both his parents died during his childhood, and he grew up under the guardianship of Izaak Walton (1593-1683), the husband of his elder sister Ann and writer of The Compleat Angler. He was educated at Winchester College and New College, Oxford, and was ordained in 1662.

In 1669 he became a prebendary at Winchester Cathedral and chaplain at his old school, and this was where he wrote three hymns, for morning, evening and midnight. In 1674 he published A Manual of Prayers for the Use of the Scholars of Winchester College. A passage suggests that he had already composed the hymns:

‘Be sure to sing the Morning and Evening Hymn in your chamber devoutly, remembering that the Psalmist, upon happy experience, assures you that it is a good thing to tell of the loving kindness of the Lord early in the morning and of his truth in the night season.’

Only two hymns seem to be referred to, but the expression ‘night season’ may include both the evening and midnight hymns. The hymns were not printed in the Manual of 1674, or succeeding editions, until they were added as an appendix in 1695.

The hymns went through several revisions and the tunes Ken used are unknown. After ten years he left Winchester for a short time to be chaplain to the Princess Mary at The Hague, but was dismissed for remonstrating against a case of immorality at the court, and returned to Winchester the following year, 1680. There a similarly principled stand turned out better. King Charles II visited Winchester with his mistress Nell Gwynn. Ken was asked to provide lodging for her. The story goes that Ken quickly declared his house to be under repair and had a builder take off the roof. Not long afterwards the bishopric of Bath and Wells became vacant. Apparently the king, who had been impressed by his character, exclaimed: ‘Where is the good little man that refused his lodging to poor Nell?’ and insisted that Ken should be bishop. The consecration took place at Lambeth on January 25, 1685, and one of Ken’s first duties was to attend Charles’s death-bed.

During the reign of James II, Ken was one of the Seven Bishops who refused to read the Declaration of Indulgence, which extended religious freedom. They were imprisoned in the Tower of London by James for their refusal, but triumphantly acquitted on their trial. At the accession of William III in 1689, he refused to swear allegiance and in 1691 he was deprived of his see.

From this time he lived mostly in retirement with his college friend Lord Weymouth at Longleat in Wiltshire. He took up residence on the top floor and part of the West Wing was transformed into a chapel for the household’s daily worship. In 1703 Queen Anne pressed him to resume his diocese after the death of his successor, but he declined, partly on the ground of growing weakness, and partly because he was enjoying his quiet life at Longleat.

After twenty years there he died on 19 March 1711, aged 74. At dawn the following day his remains were laid to rest beneath the East Window of the Church of St John in Frome – the nearest parish in his old diocese of Bath and Wells – while his friends sang Awake My Soul and With the Sun.

He is remembered as a man of saintly character with its combination of boldness, gentleness, modesty and love. The historian Thomas Macaulay wrote that he approached ‘as near as human infirmity permits to the ideal perfection of Christian virtue’.

These are the Ken’s words of the Morning Hymn, but these days only verses 1, 12, 13 and 14 are usually sung:

1 Awake, my soul, and with the sun
Thy daily stage of duty run;
Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise
To pay thy morning sacrifice.

2 Thy precious time mis-spent, redeem,
Each present day thy last esteem;
Improve thy talent with due care,
For the great day thyself prepare.

3 In conversation be sincere,
Keep conscience as the noon-tide clear:
Think how all-seeing God thy ways
And all thy secret thoughts surveys.

4 By influence of the light divine,
Let thy own light to others shine,
Reflect all heaven’s propitious rays,
In ardent love, and cheerful praise.

5 Wake, and lift up thyself, my heart,
And with the angels bear thy part,
Who all night long unwearied sing
High praise to the eternal King.

6 I wake, I wake; ye heavenly choir,
May your devotion me inspire,
That I like you my age may spend,
Like you may on my God attend.

7 May I like you in God delight,
Have all day long my God in sight,
Perform like you my Maker’s will,
O may I never more do ill.

8 Had I your Wings, to Heaven I’d fly,
But God shall that defect supply,
And my Soul wing’d with warm desire,
Shall all day long to Heav’n aspire.

9 All praise to Thee who safe hast kept,
And hast refresh’d me whilst I slept.
Grant Lord, when I from death shall wake,
I may of endless Light partake.

10 I would not wake, nor rise again,
And Heav’n itself I would disdain;
Were’t not Thou there to be enjoy’d,
And I in Hymns to be employ’d.

11 Heav’n is, dear Lord, where e’er Thou art,
O never then from me depart ;
For to my Soul, ’tis Hell to be,
But for one moment void of Thee.

12 Lord, I my vows to Thee renew,
Disperse my sins as Morning dew,
Guard my first springs of Thought and Will,
And with Thy self my Spirit fill.

13 Direct, control, suggest, this day,
All I design, or do, or say,
That all my Powers with all their might,
In Thy sole Glory may unite.

14 Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all Creatures here below,
Praise Him above ye Heavenly Host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

It is usually sung to the tune Morning Hymn by François Hippolyte Barthélemon (1741-1808). He was born in Bordeaux and studied violin and composition in Paris. At the age of 23 he came to England to lead a theatre orchestra and was received with enthusiasm. He married a singer named Polly Young and settled in England to bring up a family. He was asked to write the tune by Jacob Duche, chaplain at the Female Orphan Asylum in London, and it was published in A Supplement to the Hymns and Psalms Used at the Asylum or House of Refuge for Female Orphans printed between 1785 and 1789. Barthélemon died in Surrey at the age of 66.

There is not a huge selection of performances on YouTube. This is by the choir of Norwich Cathedral:

It is also occasionally sung to the tune Old Hundredth attributed to the French composer Louis Bourgeois, but I will write about that when I cover the hymn All People That On Earth Do Dwell. In the meantime, here the group Anthem Lights sing the Doxology to Old Hundredth.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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