Howell Elfed Lewis
Coffa Elfed / Elfed Museum
Elfed may be remembered as a composer of hymns above all else as his compositions have been sung with gusto in services and singing festivals over the decades. He wrote hymns for all occasions and studied the craft of hymn writing assiduously. His hymns are regarded as being more sensuous than those of previous writers.
The current hymnal used in Welsh services since 2001, Caneuon Ffydd, includes 44 of his compositions. The only composer with more hymns, exactly double the number, is William Williams, Pantycelyn.
Interesting anecdotes are associated with many of the compositions. Elfed mentions his boyhood experience of accompanying his father to a Prayer Meeting along a narrow path and how the sight of his father’s face in the lamp-light, as he turned to see if the young boy was following, offered itself as an image for the closing lines of one of his hymn verses – he infers that to see his Father’s face in the beam of the light will always suffice.
Elfed gave his address from the Chair of the Union of Welsh Independents at Llangefni in 1923 on ‘The Welsh Hymn’. He was a member of the editorial board of three of the Independents’ hymnals; published in 1895, 1921 and 1960.
Among his most well-known Welsh hymns are ‘Arglwydd mae yn nosi, gwrando ar ein cri’, ‘Hyfryd eiriau’r Iesu, bywyd ynddynt sydd’, ‘Cofia’n gwlad benllywydd tirion, dy gyfiawnder fyddo’i grym’, ‘Yr Arglwydd a feddwl amdanaf, a dyna fy nefoedd am byth’, ‘Pob peth, ymhell ac agos, sy’n dangos Duw i’r byd’ and of course ‘Rho i’m yr hedd na ŵyr y byd amdano’ is often sung at funerals.
Eight of his hymns were included in the Congregational Praise hymnbook. ‘Whom oceans part, O Lord, unite’ is probably one of his most memorable English hymns. Others would be ‘Lord of light whose name outshineth’, ‘A friend of the home as when in Galilee’ and ‘Jesus calls the little children’.