Eternal Father, strong to save - for those in peril on the sea.
Descant to the hymn tune MELITA. Audio: (intro ad lib) - hymnal verse - harmonized descant. Free score.
At the time William Whiting's hymn 'Eternal Father, strong to save' was published (Hymns Ancient and Modern, 1861), the world's maritime activity was at peak sail, a trade plied with boats made of wood, driven by wind, topheavy with mast and sail. Inspired by Psalm 107, 'They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters,' the hymn acknowledges the mortal uncertainty posed by seafaring. Many variants of the text exist, including verses for Seabees, soldiers, astronauts, military families, arctic explorers, and more.
The hymn was introduced with the tune MELITA, composed for this text by John Bacchus Dykes. The tune name is an alternative rendering of 'Malta,' the island site where the apostle Paul escaped a shipwreck; as a priest and theologian, Dykes would have been keenly aware that the voyagers were delivered, but natural events were not interrupted. The initial four bars open with a wave-like motive, not just in the tune, but also with a dramatic counter-wave in the tenor and bass; the central episode adds harmonic tension beneath the undulating waveforms of the melodic surface; the chromatic final section has the sense of a rising tide or surge. MELITA was quickly adopted by seafarers, and became known as 'the mariner's hymn.' With subsequent adoption as the devotional hymn of the US Navy in 1879, the Royal Navy perhaps somewhat earlier, it is also popularly known as 'the Navy hymn.'
Pronunciation of MELITA depends on when in history you decide to stake your claim. During the time of Paul's shipwreck, the island was a key Roman port facility, and the Latin/Italian is MELL-ee-teh. Lingusitically, this morphs easily into Malta. But the Koine Greek of the biblical period, the Mediterranean lingua franca, was Μελίτη, mel-EE-tay, or in contemporary Greek, it is often mel-EE-tee.
Benjamin Britten quoted MELITA in Noye's Fludde, Op. 59 (1957).
The US Navy Band Sea Chanters have also posted a beautiful rendition.
The Hymnal 1982 Companion, ed. Raymond Glover, New York: The Church Hymnal Corporation, 1990, pp. 578-579
"Melita: A Hymn Tune by J.B. Dykes," Patrick Little, The Musical Times, Vol. 131, No. 1774 (Dec., 1990), pp. 675-678. http://www.jstor.org/stable/966741.
John Bacchus Dykes, http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/
NTZ Study Bible (after Strong) http://www.ntz-studybible.com/strong/G3194
Eternal Father, strong to save
O Trinity of love and power,
Thy children shield in danger's hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them wheresoe'er they go;
Thus, evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.
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