Behind the Hymn: Morning Has Broken

Morning Has Broken is a popular hymn that was written by Eleanor Farjeon.

Farjeon was born on February 13, 1881 in London, England.  She came from a literary family and was an author of children’s stories and plays, among numerous other literary pursuits.

Known as ‘Nellie’ to her immediate family, she was a sickly child who suffered from poor eyesight and educated at home.  Her father encouraged her to write from the age of five.  She eventually earned a living as a journalist, broadcaster, writing poetry and stories and counted among her friends the celebrated D H Lawrence and Walter de la Mare.

Eleanor Farjeon

Farjeon never married but had two long term relationships.  First with an English teacher, George Earle, and after his death with the actor, Denys Blakelock.   In 1951, she converted to become a Roman Catholic.

The hymn was first published in 1931 in Songs of Praise.  Percy Dearmer, the editor of Songs of Praise, “explains that as there was the need for a hymn to give thanks for each day, English poet and children’s author Eleanor Farjeon had been “asked to make a poem to fit the lovely Scottish tune”. A slight variation on the original hymn, also written by Eleanor Farjeon, can be found in the form of a poem contributed to the anthology Children’s Bells, under Farjeon’s new title, “A Morning Song (For the First Day of Spring)”, published by Oxford University Press in 1957.”

The tune is set to the traditional Scottish Gaelic tune Bunessan.  This is the same tune used for the Christmas Carol, Child in a Manger.

Cat Stevens expanded the song to the standard three-minute length and cut the song, releasing it in 1972 on his album, Morning Has Broken.  Stevens explained on The Chris Isaak Hour: “I accidentally fell upon the song when I was going through a slightly dry period and I needed another song or two for Teaser And The Firecat. I came across this hymn book, found this one song, and thought, This is good. I put the chords to it and then it started becoming associated with me.”

The song has been covered by numerous other artists, including Neil Diamond, over the years.

Farjeon died on June 5, 1965 in London, England.  She won numerous literary awards during her lifetime.  The Children’s Book Circle, a society of publishers, present the Eleanor Farjeon Award annually to individuals or organizations whose commitment and contribution to children’s books is deemed to be outstanding.

 

 

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