Forty days and forty nights

Hymn #55
Text: George Hunt Smyttan (1822-1870)
Music: Martin Herbst (1654-1681)
Tune name: HEINLEIN



Smyttan, an Anglican priest, first published this hymn in the Penny Post in 1856 along with two other Lenten poems. This hymn originally had nine stanzas (our Hymnal retains five of these, siginficantly altered from the original).

In one of the stanzas exclude from our hymn, the conditions of Christ’s days in the wilderness are described colorfully:

Sunbeams scorching all the day;
chilly dewdrops nightly shed;
prowling beasts about thy way;
stones thy pillow, sand thy bed.

Another stanza describes the worldly distractions that deter our penitence:

And shall we in silken ease,
festal mirth, carousals high —
all that can our senses please —
let our Lenten hours pass by?

The version of Smyttan’s poem that we sing has been in the Episcopal Hymnal since 1874.

1. Forty days and forty nights
thou wast fasting in the wild;
forty days and forty nights
tempted, and yet undefiled.

2. Shall not we thy sorrow share,
and from earthly joys abstain,
fasting with unceasing prayer,
strong with thee to suffer pain?

3, Then if Satan on us press,
flesh or spirit to assail,
Victor in the wilderness,
grant we may not faint nor fail.

4. So shall we have peace divine:
holier gladness ours shall be;
round us, too, shall angels shine,
such as ministered to thee.

5. Keep, O keep us, Savior dear,
ever constant by thy side;
that with thee we may appear
at the eternal Eastertide.


This tune (also known as AUS DER TIEFE) was originally published to accompany a German paraphrase of Psalm 130. Its simple rhythm and melody impart an ascetic character suitable for a Lenten hymn. The intervals between notes are small, with the dramatic exception of the descent between the second and third notes.

Below is Andrew Remillard’s rendition of this hymn on piano.