Text: Bianco da Siena (c. 1350–c. 1434)
Music: Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958)
Tune name: DOWN AMPNEY
In 1367 Bianco da Siena entered the Order of Jesuates, a community of unordained men who followed the rule of St. Augustine. They were known for their fervent and mystical piety, which is reflected in the hymns of its most famous member. In 1851, 92 of these were published, four of which have been translated into English.
“Come down, O Love divine” is the most famous of these. It was included in the first edition of the English Hymnal (1906) with four stanzas, one of which is omitted in our Hymnal.
1. Come down, O Love divine,
seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardor glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear,
and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.
2. O let it freely burn,
till earthly passions turn
to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
and let thy glorious light
shine ever on my sight,
and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.
3. Let holy charity
mine outward vesture be,
and lowliness become my inner clothing:
true lowliness of heart,
which takes the humble part,
and o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.
4. And so the yearning strong,
with which the soul will long,
shall far outpass the pow’r of human telling;
for none can guess its grace,
till he become the place
wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.
The tune DOWN AMPNEY was composed by the English Hymnal’s editor, Ralph Vaughan Williams, especially for this the text of this hymn. Down Ampney is a village in the Cotswolds and the birthplace of the composer.
In May 2020, our choir recorded this hymn, each singing from our homes while under quarantine. We sang all four stanzas, which are presented below. The descant sung in the final stanza is by a former neighbor, Charles Giffen, who retired from the mathematics faculty of the University of Virginia in 2001, after teaching there for 35 years.