Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the rest-less wave...
"Eternal Father" is popular in the naval tradition of a number of western nations and sung by members of the U.S., the British and the French Navies. The piece, alternately titled "The Navy Hymn," was written by two Englishmen, Rev. William Whiting (lyrics) and Rev. John B. Dykes (music) during the years 1860 and 1861, respectively.
Reverend Whiting's ode "Eternal Father" drew inspiration from both the Old and New Testaments. His verses referenced familiar texts such as Matthew 8:26 ("He was asleep... Then he rose and rebuked the seas, and there was a great calm") and Psalm 65, ("who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations"). Whiting also cited as an impetus to the work his survival during a ferocious Mediterranean storm.
Rev. Dykes is also known for the composition of such popular hymns as "Nearer, My God, to Thee" and "Lead, Kindly Light." Dykes based the tune for "Eternal Father" on an earlier tune he had written entitled "Melita" (the ancient name for the Mediterrean island of Malta). Malta is associated with the biblical shipwreck of the Apostle Paul (Acts 28:1).
In 1879, Lieutenant Commander Charles Jackson Train (later a Rear Admiral), then director of the Midshipmen's Choir, instituted the practice of singing the first verse of "Eternal Father" at the conclusion of the U.S. Naval Academy's Sunday Services. Because of this practice "Eternal Father" came to be called "The Navy Hymn," became an integral part of Navy tradition, and gained increasing popularity among U.S. Navy personnel.
There exist a myriad of alternate verses to the hymn. One, for example, was written by David B. Miller in 1965 and specially dedicated to naval submariners.
Lord God, our power evermore,
Whose arm doth reach the ocean floor,
Dive with our men beneath the sea;
Traverse the depths protectively.
O hear us when we pray, and keep
Them safe from peril on the deep.
Eternal Father, was a favorite hymn of both President Theodore Roosevelt, a former Secretary of the Navy (1897-98), and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy. It was performed as the body of President John F. Kennedy, a PT boat commander in World War II, was brought to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.
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