HYMN 105 Lost in the Night
Updated: Feb 3, 2021
Finnish: Tuoll' on mun kultani (Folk song, not the Hymn)
Malagasy: O! ry Mpanefa ny toky rehetra (tune, similar text)
Swedish: Fjärran han dröjer/Far away he tarries (Folk tune text)
1. Lost in the night do the people yet languish Longing for morning the darkness to vanquish, Plaintively sighing with hearts full of anguish, Will not day come soon? Will not day come soon?
2. Must we be vainly awaiting the morrow? Shall those who have light no light let us borrow, Giving no heed to our burden of sorrow? Will you help us soon? Will you help us soon?
3. Sorrowing wand’rers, in darkness yet dwelling, Dawned has the day of a radiance excelling, Death’s deepest shadows forever dispelling. Christ is coming soon! Christ is coming soon! 4. Light o’er the land of the needy is beaming; Rivers of life through its deserts are streaming, Bringing all peoples a Savior redeeming. Come and save us soon! Come and save us soon!
Tr. Olav Lee (1859-1943) alt.
“If this hymn is included in the Service Book and Hymnal, (1958) Suomi Synod will not buy!” So thundered a member of the committee from the Suomi (Finnish) Synod in America. The Finns knew the tune as a love song not suitable for church. But as these things go, it happened. Writers of hymn texts frequently suggest folk tunes for their work. In many cases it makes the new hymn text more popular and sometimes completely overwhelms the old folk song. People will know the tune by the hymn text, not the original. For some, like the Finns, the old song so adversely affected their experience of the new text, that they banned it from the hymnal.
Non-Finns, however, did not have the same associations. Lina Sandell used the tune for several of her hymn texts. Swedish Americans knew it from Hemlandssånger. It had been used for at least a generation by Norwegian Americans when it appeared in the Concordia 1916, a bi-lingual collection of hymns in English and Norwegian. Then for the first time with the "Lost in the Night" text in Concordia 1932. The choral anthem to the text and tune by F. Melius Christiansen, probably written in 1928, was a keeper. Many readers of a certain age will remember singing it in their college choirs. It featured a high soprano solo that the prize soloist would get to sing. Not many college aged voices were up to it, but if they were, it made for a thrilling ending to a concert.
Its language was deemed politically incorrect by the makers of the Lutheran Book of Worship, (1978) “Lost in the Night, Doth the Heathen yet Languish,” so it was revised to make it into an Advent song, people crying in the darkness for Jesus to return. For a while it disappeared from the repertoire.
Where the original of "Lost in the Night" came from is really a mystery. Olav Lee, a Luther College graduate, who had attended Luther Seminary in Madison, Wisconsin, and Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, ended up at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD, where he taught practically every subject in the catalogue: Latin, Religion, German, Norwegian and English composition. In 1894 he became a professor at St. Olaf College where he also taught a panoply of subjects. During this time he came to know F. Melius Christiansen and worked with him translating texts for what became the St. Olaf Series of choral anthems, published by Augsburg and edited by F. Melius, now being continued by Anton Armstrong and John Ferguson. The anthem is still being printed with the old text.
Lee translated the text, the records say, in 1929, from Finnish. I find that highly unlikely. Although Lee was clearly a gifted linguist, Finnish does not appear on his vita, as it most surely would have. It could be that he simply changed the folk song text, "Fjärran han dröjer" which is a lover longing for her beloved, ending with something like, Is he coming soon? Unless I can be proven wrong, I think it is Lee's own text rather skillfully based on the folk song. It is not the first time that a love song to a beloved got switched over to a love song to Jesus. Maybe something of a translation.
I can find no Norwegian or Swedish hymn text that resembles "Lost in the Night." My library is not as extensive as it once was, but usually I can find stuff. If someone can inform me on this, I would love to know. Never trust completely what the hymnal says about who wrote or composed a hymn!
In 1996 Luther Seminary at its Reformation Festival featured the Finnish hymn tradition. The Luther College Nordic Choir under the direction of Weston Noble was the featured college choir. Weston chose “Lost in the Night” as the showpiece anthem. As the high soprano and choir raised the rafters of Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, I thought of all the complications in its history, which made no difference to anyone sitting there rapt in the music many of them knew, either as a hymn, or an anthem they had also sung. Now it was speaking for us with its insistent refrain, Will not day come soon? Will not day come soon? by the lower voices underneath the glorious soprano.
Its mournful, but beautiful, cry for release from the darkness, for the Savior to return, spoke for us all. As you listen to the choirs on the links below, sing along. Will not day come soon? Will not day come soon? It is a prayer many of us can sing with even more fervor as we get older and darkness seems to be closing in.
The text appeared in 1929 in the anthem and was used in the Concordia with F. Melius Christiansen’s harmonization. It appeared as a hymn in the Concordia 1932. Instead of a mission hymn, it is now in the Advent section of the hymnal. It has returned to the concert repertoire as the links below will demonstrate. Anton Armstrong directs the St. Olaf Choir in a new anthem on the tune and revised text in one of the links below. The tune and a text something like "Lost in the Night" made it into the Malagasy hymnal of 1962.
Wartburg College Choir
Concordia College Choir/Paul J. Christiansen 1974
St. Olaf Choir with Anton Armstrong and new arrangement by Kyle Haugen
Rock version with Jonathan Rundman