Be Thou My Vision ~ Lost in Translation

The time was almost here. I had practiced my heart out and was so proud of how I had prepared for this missions trip. So much so that I had sat down with the translator to show her what we were going to be singing.

She took the paper from me and said everything I had expected. How great it was we had taken the time to learn these. How much they were going to love them. And I, in all my 14 years, had never been more proud.

The teacher in her came next as she shared with me what every word translated to, line by line. At first I wanted to assure her I knew it well as we sang it in church often. But the words she was saying didn’t sound at all like the song I knew. In fact, some of my favorite phrases were missing completely.

As we stood up there to perform, I went numb. It was either that or throw a tantrum right on that stage, screaming in a language they didn’t understand that there was so much more.

Six years later was the next time I felt that urge. This time from a different teacher. My piano professor insisted we write a history paper on every piece we played. And when I researched one of my favorite hymns, I was floored.

All this time, I had no idea there was more. That the author’s message was somewhat lost in translation.

You know the one. But do you know the real words — the ones translated word-for-word directly from the 6th century Old Irish?

Be thou my vision O Lord of my heart
None other is aught but the King of the seven heavens.
Be thou my meditation by day and night.
May it be thou that I behold even in my sleep.
Be thou my speech, be thou my understanding.
Be thou with me, be I with thee
Be thou my father, be I thy son.
Mayst thou be mine, may I be thine.
Be thou my battle-shield, be thou my sword.
Be thou my dignity, be thou my delight.
Be thou my shelter, be thou my stronghold.
Mayst thou raise me up to the company of the angels.
Be thou every good to my body and soul.
Be thou my kingdom in heaven and on earth.
Be thou solely chief love of my heart.
Let there be none other, O high King of Heaven.
Till I am able to pass into thy hands,
My treasure, my beloved through the greatness of thy love
Be thou alone my noble and wondrous estate.
I seek not men nor lifeless wealth.
Be thou the constant guardian of every possession and every life.
For our corrupt desires are dead at the mere sight of thee.
Thy love in my soul and in my heart —
Grant this to me, O King of the seven heavens.
O King of the seven heavens grant me this —
Thy love to be in my heart and in my soul.
With the King of all, with Him after victory won by piety,
May I be in the kingdom of heaven O brightness of the son.
Beloved Father, hear, hear my lamentations.
Timely is the cry of woe of this miserable wretch.
O heart of my heart, whatever befall me,
O ruler of all, be thou my vision.

I realize we can’t sing it this way in English. The fluidity is missing. But there are lines of this I feel are lost in translation. Do you see them, too?

It’s clear to me the author knew the love affair Christ offers to everyone. And they wanted in. All in. Nothing held back. Not even their dreams. Their possessions. Their family. Their pride. Nothing withheld in hopes perspective would be gained.

Friends, this is what I think of when we sing this in church. When I play it on the piano. When I hear it on the radio.

I want in. More of Him. Less of me.

Solus Christus.

How about you? What does the song mean to you? I’d love to hear.

The way Ginny Owens sings this hymn resonates with me the most. I love her voice. But more importantly, I hear her heart. And I don’t think it’s simply because she’s blind that she gets it. The desire to see through His eyes… You can listen in HERE.

Thanks for sharing your time with me.

Simply striving,


22 thoughts on “Be Thou My Vision ~ Lost in Translation

  1. Oh Nikki . . . this is one of my favorite hymns, and I am just treasuring this translation. Beautiful, beautiful.

  2. Nikki, thank you for sharing this translation. I love this hymn. We don’t sing it in my church. The first time I heard it, my sister was singing it at one of her concerts.Here’s a link to her version, from her CD, “Song of the Bride.”

      • Thanks, Nikki. Right now, Wendy is in Russia right now with a missionary team, sharing her music and testimony with children at summer camps for a couple of weeks. This is her second year, going. Yes, I’m amazed at some of the wonderful things Wendy is doing. I think by now she’s created eight CD’s.

  3. Sarah said just what I wanted to say, too. You’re right. Many times we sign along with the other worshipers in a church service without taking the time to know the words…to actually realize what those words are saying. Also,
    I’d not thought of translating into other languages being a hindrance with the meaning. I can see how this could prove frustrating during a missionary event. You’re wanting to present the best and this would not be happening…perchance there could be someone saying a word ahead of time to bring the more precise meaning to light…

    • You are right, Donna. And you know, we did have someone speak prior to performing, so the gospel was shared. Just as it should be. But my little 14 year old heart wanted more. Music speaks to my soul so much I wanted it to speak to theirs, the same way! Sadly, that’s where language boundaries struggle. And it makes me want to focus on what I’m singing so much more because of that.
      Always blessed when you share with me. Thank you!

  4. I love, love, LOVE this hymn!! the words are simple and true and hold such a yearning to know and be one with Christ! The translation is a bit new to me – I had studied it before, but admittedly I had forgotten a few of the lines. Thanks for bringing it back to me 🙂

  5. The words to this hymn are so beautiful and spoke to my heart. “Be thou solely chief of my heart. Let there be none other O high King of Heaven.” Thanks once again for placing a song in my heart, Nikki.

    • Oh, those lines get me every time, Joy. Along with “O heart of my heart, whatever befall me…”
      we are kindred on this one. Thanks for sharing with me today.
      All for Him,

  6. I love Ginny Owens. I saw her about 5 years ago at a conference. She is truly inspiring. I had never heard these original words to this hymn. I’m so glad you shared it. We sang this hymn at my wedding and it’s always held a special place in my heart. Many blessings!

    • Oh, I love her, too! She is amazing in concert. And I adore you sang this at your wedding! Wish I could say the same…What a perfect wedding plea. Thanks for sharing, Christina!

  7. Nikki, one of my all time favorites but never did I know that these lines existed in this format.

    “Be thou solely chief love of my heart.
    Let there be none other, O high King of Heaven”

    These lines really speak to me — chief love, love above all else. None other — no matter what, no one else. I must put Him first in my heart or everything else is lost.

    I’m digging out our hymnal and playing this one tomorrow! It’s been a long time. 🙂

    • Oh, I’m loving picturing you playing this, Sherrey! If I was tech savvy at all, I would have posted me playing it. My son is 4, so I’m assuming he’ll be able to teach me how to do that soon enough ; )
      That’s the stanza that speaks to me the most, too. In fact, I wrote that one in my own hymnal…
      Thanks for sharing with me, today! (and for help with my weed vs flower debacle) 🙂

  8. This is one of my all-time favorite hymns, so thank you for enlightening me! oh, for the grace, that whatever befalls, He would be my vision, my love…how are you today, my friend? had a rough am beginning at 4 am, but God always sustains…did go back to sleep for a bit…really wish you lived closer so we could chat in person 🙂 Hugs to you 🙂

    • Thanks for stopping by, friend. So sorry to hear about your rough am! Was it your forearms? Trusting and praying rest will come deep tonight. And yes, would love to have you over to my kitchen table! 🙂 Hugs to you as well, friend.

I can't wait to hear from you...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s