A young minister’s two-mile walk in the rain provided the inspiration for “How Great Thou Art,” most recent addition to the great hymns of our time.
The story of the hymn gains interest through the Soviet origin of the version most commonly sung, and its delayed but amazingly swift rise to popularity.
Though as late as five years ago the hymn was still virtually unknown in North America, its lines date to 1885. The Reverend Carl Boberg of Mönsterås. on the southeast coast of Sweden, was 25 years old when he wrote the lyrics after trekking through a thunderstorm from a church meeting two miles away.
His inspiration yielded a poem of nine verses published in a local newspaper under the title, “O store Gud” (O Great God). Several years later, Boberg heard that the poem was being sung to the tune of an old Swedish folk melody. The tune is essentially the same as is used today, but it never became popular in Sweden; neither did an English translation made in 1925 (“Mighty God”).
Boberg became editor of a Christian weekly and later served 13 years as a member of the upper house of the Swedish parliament. He died in 1940 without having seen his hymn gain any extensive acceptance.
In 1907, Boberg’s poem was translated into German by Manfred von Glehn as “Wie gross bist Du” (“How Great Thou Art”). Von Glehn lived in Estonia, which included a large segment of German-speaking inhabitants. Twenty years later I. S. Prokhanoff published in Moscow a Russian translation of the Estonian-German version.
An English missionary, the Reverend Stuart K. Hine, came across the Russian version in the western Ukraine soon after it was published in 1927, and he and his wife used it as a duet during evangelistic meetings. Later he translated three verses ...1
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