Sarah Fuller Flower Adams: Nearer My God to Thee


Sarah Fuller Flower Adams was born on February 22nd, 1805 in Sussex. She was the youngest of two, with her older sister being the composer, Eliza Flower. Adams was an English poet and she is renowned for her writings during the mid-nineteenth century. As an Unitarian, Adams wrote several hymns. The most famous of these hymns is the mesmerizing Nearer, My God, To Thee (c.1840) which has become well-known for a variety of different reasons. Perhaps most pertinent is that it is the alleged last song the band played on the RMS Titanic before the ship sank. Although the verse was written by Sarah, it was actually set to music by her sister Eliza Flower.

This Christian hymn retells the story of Jacob’s dream, from Genesis. The story is as follows:


“So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”


From this Adams created this text for the hymn:

Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me;

Still all my song shall be nearer, my God, to Thee,

Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down,

Darkness be over me, my rest a stone;

Yet in my dreams I’d be nearer, my God, to Thee,

Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

There let the way appear steps unto heav’n;

All that Thou sendest me in mercy giv’n;

Angels to beckon me nearer, my God, to Thee,

Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

Then with my walking thoughts bright with Thy praise,

Out of my stony griefs Bethel I’ll raise;

So by my woes to be nearer, my God, to Thee,

Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

Or if on joyful wing, cleaving the sky,

Sun, moon, and stars forgot, upwards I fly,

Still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee,

Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!


The Music & Further Usage

The source of the titanic legends come from various accounts from passengers and the musicians themselves, who enjoyed the hymn very much so they arranged it for string quartet. It has also been found that the band leader, Wallace Hartley, loved this particular hymn and wished to have it performed at his funeral. As well as this, Nearer, my God, to Thee has been associated to other hymn tunes such as Horbury by John Bacchus Dykes, which names a village near Wakefield where Dykes found much peace and comfort.

The original music to this hymn was composed by Eliza Flower, however there have been many renditions of this hymn arranged. For example the 1872 version by Arthur Sullivan is popular among British Methodists.

This particular hymn has been quoted musically by other composers such as Carl Nielsen. It has also been played at a range of famous funerals such as President William McKinley, Gerald R. Ford and Warren G. Harding. As the tale goes, the dying words of McKinley were the first couple of lines of the hymn. Nearer, my God, to Thee has also made it onto screen with it being played in the films, Nearer, my God, to Thee, San Francisco, Le Plaisir and Titanic. The hymn has been covered extensively by the media including CNN, who claims when the world is ending, they will cover it live, whilst playing Nearer, my God, to Thee.

From a simple Christian hymn to one of the most symbolic hymns ever written, Nearer, my God, to Thee encompasses meaningful lyrics and delicate music to create comfort for those in need, and a look in to the Christian faith through music. With the combined efforts of the Flower sisters, this hymn has been set for many different ensembles, although the choral version remains the most popular among most.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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