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Short poem

Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

Man Frail and God Eternal

              1Our God, our help in ages past,
              2  Our hope for years to come,
              3Our shelter from the stormy blast,
              4  And our eternal home.

              5Under the shadow of thy throne
              6  Thy Saints have dwelt secure;
              7Sufficient is thine arm alone,
              8  And our defence is sure.

              9Before the hills in order stood,
            10  Or earth receiv'd her frame,
            11From everlasting thou art God,
            12  To endless years the same.

            13Thy word commands our flesh to dust,
            14  "Return, ye sons of men:"
            15All nations rose from earth at first,
            16  And turn to earth again.

            17A thousand ages in thy sight
            18  Are like an ev'ning gone;
            19Short as the watch that ends the night,
            20  Before the rising sun.

            21The busy tribes of flesh and blood,
            22  With all their lives and cares,
            23Are carry'd downwards by the flood,
            24  And lost in following years.

            25Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
            26  Bears all his sons away;
            27They fly, forgotten, as a dream
            28  Dies at the op'ning day.

            29Like flow'ry fields the nations stand,
            30  Pleas'd with the morning light:
            31The flow'rs beneath the mower's hand
            32  Lie with'ring ere 'tis night.

            33Our God, our help in ages past,
            34  Our hope for years to come,
            35Be thou our guard while troubles last,
            36  And our eternal home.


1] Our: O (John Wesley's revision, 1738). See The English Hymnal with Tunes (London [1906]), no. 450, p. 595. The hymn is based on Psalm 90, verses 1-5:

Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.
Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.
For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.
Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up.
Dr. William Croft (1678-1727) composed the tune "St. Anne" in 1708 that has come to be traditionally used for this hymn.

13] This stanza was first omitted by the Episcopal church in the 1871 Hymnal (see The Hymnal 1982 Companion, ed. Raymond Glover [New York: ChurchHymnal Corp., 1994], III, 679-80).

21] This stanza was also first omitted in 1871.

26] his: its (in modern text).

29] This stanza was also first omitted in 1871.

33] Our: O (Wesley's revision).

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: I. Watts, The Psalms of David (London: S. Burton, E. Kent, and J. Lister, 1805), pp. 231-32. BS 1440 W3 1805 Trinity College Library.
First publication date: 1719
Publication date note: Watts' Psalms of David (1719)
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 2:2002/3/6

Rhyme: abab

Other poems by Isaac Watts