Text: Henry Williams Baker (1821-1877)
Music: Traditional Irish melody
Tune name: ST. COLUMBA
Paraphrases of texts from the psalms are legion, and no psalm received more earnest attention than Psalm 23. George Herbert’s recasting is (not surprisingly) one of the best; our choir often sings Herbert’s poetry to Thomas Tallis’s haunting THIRD MODE MELODY. The first stanza runs:
The God of love my shepherd is
and He that doth me feed;
While he is mine and I am his,
What can I want or need?
The drama introduced by this rhetorical question is just one of the features that makes Herbert’s paraphrase so wonderful.
Henry Willams Baker seems to have gotten his inspiration for his paraphrase from Herbert’s poem. Baker, an Anglican priest, was also chairman of the committee responsible for the production of Hymns Ancient and Modern, the 1861 publication of which was a seminal event in the history of English-language hymnody.
1. The King of love my shepherd is,
whose goodness faileth never.
I nothing lack if I am his,
and he is mine forever.
2. Where streams of living water flow,
my ransomed soul he leadeth;
and where the verdant pastures grow,
with food celestial feedeth.
3. Perverse and foolish, oft I strayed,
but yet in love he sought me;
and on his shoulder gently laid,
and home, rejoicing, brought me.
4. In death’s dark vale I fear no ill,
with thee, dear Lord, beside me;
thy rod and staff my comfort still,
thy cross before to guide me.
5. Thou spreadst a table in my sight;
thy unction grace bestoweth;
and oh, what transport of delight
from thy pure chalice floweth!
6. And so through all the length of days,
thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise
within thy house forever.
ST. COLUMBA was first used in service of a hymn in 1873 in an Irish hymnal. The first edition of The English Hymnal, edited by Ralph Vaughan Williams and his colleagues included this tune with this text, part of Vaughan Williams’s insightful exploitation of folk music for liturgical use (see this article for the story of that hymnal).
Here is a recording made in 2014 of the All Saints Choir singing this hymn accompanied by organist Wallace Hornady.
In 2020, as part of our Choir-in-Quarantine project, the choir made this recording, each member recording his or her part from home.