John Henry Newman Writes the Lyrics to Lead, Kindly Light

a photograph of a modern church chapel with a diverse congregation singing hymns together

John Henry Newman was 33 years old when he found himself on a boat from the Sicilian city of Palermo to Marseille, France. Newman, who was recovering after being dangerously ill with a fever, was on the boat to return to his native England when he penned the lyrics to “Lead, Kindly Light.”

The context that Newman was recovering from a frightening illness in the middle of the sea gives insight to the lyrics:

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom; Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me.

Newman faced much adversity in his life. In 1816 his father’s bank was shut down as a result of the financial collapse that followed the Napoleonic Wars. In 1821 nervousness and anxiety caused him to graduate with third-class honors. Then, in 1828, his sister suddenly passed away as his family continued to struggle financially.

Newman would overcome his challenges and eventually become an important religious leader in England. For more information on the history behind this hymn, listen to episode 6 of the History of Hymns series on the Mormon Channel.