by Philip Paul Bliss
Light in the darkness, sailor, day is at hand!
See o’er the foaming billows fair haven’s land,
Drear was the voyage, sailor, now almost o’er,
Safe within the life boat, sailor, pull for the shore.
Pull for the shore, sailor, pull for the shore!
Heed not the rolling waves, but bend to the oar;
Safe in the lifeboat, sailor, cling to self no more!
Leave the poor old stranded wreck, and pull for the shore.
Trust in the life boat, sailor, all else will fail,
Stronger the surges dash and fiercer the gale,
Heed not the stormy winds, though loudly they roar;
Watch the “bright and morning Star,” and pull for the shore!
Bright gleams the morning, sailor, uplift the eye;
Clouds and darkness disappearing, glory is nigh!
Safe in the life boat, sailor, sing evermore;
“Glory, glory, hallelujah!” pull for the shore.
Written by Philip Paul Bliss (1838-1876). Bliss was an unusual character, born in poverty, but possessed by a love of music that pushed him always to learn as much as he could. He wrote his first big hit, “Hold the Fort,” in 1864. This song has a strong Minnesota tie. It was during the Civil War battles around Atlanta. A brigade containing the Fourth Minnesota was defending a strategic point when it came under attack by the Confederates under attack by John Bell Hood’s army. General Sherman, commanding the Union forces, signalled to the defenders, “Hold the fort. I am coming.” Bliss converted this into song:
Ho, my comrades, see the signal,
Waving in the sky;
Reinforcements now appearing,
Victory is nigh.
“Hold the Fort, for I am coming,”
Jesus signals still.
Wave the answer back to Heaven,
“By thy grace we will.”
This seemed to set the theme for his gospel songs, which were generally not very specific about religion. “Pull for the Shore,” one of his other most popular songs, is even more “non-denominational.”
Bliss in 1874 joined with Ira Sankey to edit the famous book Gospel Songs. He died in a train wreck in 1878 in Ohio, reportedly trying to save his wife from the fire.
This particular song was published in 1873/1874. Although called a hymn, it has no explicitly Christian lyrics; the closest thing is the phrase “the bright and morning star,” which is an allusion to a rather peculiar way of translating chapter 22, verse 16 of the Revelation to John. (It really ought to say simply “the bright morning star”; the Greek reads “the star the bright the morning,” which appears to be Aramaic taken over literally into Greek.)
Source: This song has not been collected in Minnesota, but it has at least two indirect links with the state, both historically interesting enough that I decided to include it.
For starters, Laura Ingalls Wilder cites it twice in Little Town on the Prairie, first in chapter 6 and then again in chapter 23. This is only seven years after the song was published; if Laura’s memory is accurate, it must have spread like wildfire in the Upper Midwest.
Second, this is the only song we can reliably say was sung as the Titanic was sinking (the common claim that the band played “Nearer My God to Thee” is based on testimony from witnesses too far away to hear. The handful of survivors who were still on the ship at the end said the band never played any such song). But one of the Titanic’s officers who was in command of a lifeboat used this song to encourage the passengers to row. (Talk about an appropriate song! — not only was the Titanic sinking, but it sank in the middle of the night, so the survivors were desperate for day.)
And, although it is not often remembered, many of the Titanic’s passengers were headed for the Midwest. At least two of the survivors (John and Nellie Snyder) were returning to Minneapolis, and several of the steerage passengers were headed for Minnesota.
I learned this version from the exquisite recording by Tom Brad & Alice on their recording “Been There Still” (Copper Creek CCCD-0164); the version given here closely follows theirs.