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Who would true valour see

Hymns we love to sing






Who would true valour see, 
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather.
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He’ll with a giant fight,
He will have a right
To be a pilgrim.

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit,
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
He’ll fear not what men say,
He’ll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.


This is the only hymn in popular use today written by John Bunyan [1628-1688] 

Bunyan was born in 1628, at Elstow near Bedford, the son of a tinker [a maker and mender of metal pots].  He had little schooling and during the English Civil War served in the Parliamentary Army.

During these turbulent and violent times he experienced acute spiritual anxiety, finally finding the peace he was searching for within the fellowship of a Baptist congregation. He became a lay preacher, while earning his living as a tinker during the time of Cromwell’s Commonwealth. 

After the Restoration of the monarchy and the Established Church in 1660 Bunyan was viewed with suspicion as a Puritan sympathiser.  He was ordered to stop preaching.  He refused and was sentenced to imprisonment several times, where he spent his time studying, preaching to his fellow prisoners and writing.  His first substantial work was an autobiography, Grace Abounding To the Chief of Sinners. This was followed by a number of other publications, including The Pilgrim's Progress.   

Pilgrims Progress recounts, in allegorical form, the experience of a person called Christian, from the first awareness of his sinfulness and spiritual need, to his personal conversion to Christ and his life as a believer.  The book follows Christian’s pilgrimage to the "Celestial City", his true and eternal home.  The work was an immediate sensation and its popularity has endured for well over three hundred years as a classic in Engish literature.

Bunyan wrote He who would true valour see in 1684 as part of Pilgrim’s Progress.  The words are spoken by Mr Valiant-for-truth to Mr Greatheart. 

Mr. Valiant-for-Truth
Mr. Greatheart

It’s unlikely that Bunyan himself would have approved of turning his poem into a hymn.  In the English speaking Churches of his day only metrical versions of the psalms were sung.

The poem was first included in the English Hymnal, in the BBC Hymn Book and in later editions of Hymns Ancient and Modern.  It was revised by Revd. Dr. Percy Dearmer [1867-1936].  Dearmer was an Anglo Catholic priest and liturgist and is remembered for publishing the English Hymnal [1906] in partnership with Ralph Vaughan Williams and Martin Shaw. 

He edited Bunyan’s words, changing "He who would valiant be" to “Who would true valour see”.  Dearmer also changed other verses, most notably omitting ‘hobgoblin’ from verse 4, claiming that 'to include the hobgoblins would have been to ensure disaster'.  Most scholars, however, regard the original words as superior to the more modern version. Right, a hobgoblin:

Who would true valour be is almost universally sung to the tune Monk’s Gate.  Monk's Gate appeared in the first edition of the English Hymnal.  It was arranged by Vaughan Williams from the melody of a Sussex folk-song, collected by a Mrs Verrall of Monk's Gate. 

Ralph Vaughan Williams 1872-1958, a great English composer in the 'pastoral' style of composition.




The tune was originally known as 'Valiant' or 'Welcome Sailor'.  It has been suggested that this was the melody Bunyan had in mind when he wrote the pilgrim's song, though this is now thought unlikely.

Though Who would true valour be was widely sung during the 20th century, especially in schools, it’s popularity has waned in recent years.  Bunyan, the puritan, would have undoubtedly preferred his words to have remained a poem.


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