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Robert Lowry  

How Can I Keep From Singing?

Hymn 1860.
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"How Can I Keep From Singing?" (also known by its opening line "My Life Flows On in Endless Song") is a Christian hymn with music written by American Baptist minister Robert Wadsworth Lowry. The song is frequently, though erroneously, cited as a traditional Quaker hymn. The original composition has now entered into the public domain, and appears in several hymnals and song collections, both in its original form and with a revised text.


Authorship and Lyrics

Apparently the first publication of the words was on August 7, 1868, in the New York Observer. Entitled "Always Rejoicing," and attributed to "Pauline T.",[1][2] the text reads:

My life flows on in endless song:
Above earth's lamentation,
I catch the sweet, tho' far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul--
How can I keep from singing?
What tho' my joys and comfort die?
The Lord my Saviour liveth;
What tho' the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?
I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it.
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
All things are mine since I am his--
How can I keep from singing?

These are the words as published by Robert Lowry in the 1869 song book, Bright Jewels for the Sunday School.[3] Here Lowry claims credit for the music, but gives no indication as to who wrote the words. These words were also published in a British periodical in 1869, The Christian Pioneer,[4] but no author is indicated. Ira D. Sankey published his own setting of the words in Gospel Hymns, No. 3 (1878), writing that the words were anonymous.[5] In 1888, Henry S. Burrage listed this hymn as one of those for which Lowry had written the music, but not the lyrics.[6]

Doris Plenn learned the original hymn from her grandmother, who reportedly believed that it dated from the early days of the Quaker movement. Plenn contributed the following verse around 1950, which was taken up by Pete Seeger and other folk revivalists:[7]

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death-knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near,
How can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile,
Our thoughts to them go winging;
When friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from singing?


During the 20th Century, this hymn was not widely used in congregational worship. Diehl's index to a large number of hymnals from 1900 to 1966 indicates that only one hymnal included it: the 1940 edition of The Church Hymnal of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (hymn no. 265).[8] The United Methodist Church published it in its 2000 hymnal supplement, The Faith We Sing (hymn no. 2212), giving credit for the lyrics as well as the tune to Robert Lowry.[9] The Faith We Sing version changes some of the lyrics and punctuation from the 1868 version.

Pete Seeger learned a version of this song from Doris Plenn, a family friend, who had it from her North Carolina family. His version made this song fairly well known in the folk revival of the 1960s. Seeger's version omits or modifies much of the Christian wording of the original, and adds Plenn's verse above. The reference in the added verse intended by Seeger and by Plenn - both active in left-wing causes - is to 'witch hunts' of the House Un-American Activities Committee (Seeger himself was sentenced to a year in jail in 1955 as a result of his testimony before the Committee, which he did not serve due to a technicality) . Most folk singers, including Enya, have followed Seeger's version.

In the late 1970s and early 80s, How Can I Keep From Singing was recorded by Catholic Folk musician Ed Gutfreund (on an album called "From An Indirect Love"), and the music was published in a widely used Catholic Hymnal called "Glory and Praise," and was popular among Catholic liturgical music ministers, especially those who used guitar. In this, and in an 1993 recording by Marty Haugan, Jeanne Cotter, and David Haas, the quatrain beginning: "No storm can shake my inmost calm..." is used as a repeated refrain.

In the first season of The Muppet Show, Jim Henson sang the hymn in the voice of Rowlf the Dog.[10]

It is also sung by Dahlia Malloy (Minnie Driver) in the episode 'Virgin Territory' from Season Two of FX's The Riches.

In his radio singing debut, actor Martin Sheen performed this song (using the Plenn-Seeger lyrics) on A Prairie Home Companion in September 2007.

It has been used on the 2009 Christmas advertisement for the UK supermarket, Waitrose, in a performance by Camilla Kerslake.

Contemporary Christian artist, Chris Tomlin clearly was inspired by the song when he wrote his song, "How Can I Keep from Singing Your Praise" in 2007. So, Pauline T's Christian poem is again regularly sung in churches as a worship song.

Enya version

"How Can I Keep From Singing?"
Single by Enya
from the album Shepherd Moons
B-side 'S Fágaim Mo Bhaile
Oíche Chiúin (Silent Night)
Released 1991
Recorded 1990
Genre New Age
Length 4:24
Label Warner Music
Writer(s) Robert Wadsworth Lowry
Producer Nicky Ryan
Enya singles chronology
"Caribbean Blue"
"How Can I Keep from Singing?"
"Book of Days"

The song received new prominence in 1991 when Irish musician Enya released a recording of the hymn on her album Shepherd Moons. It was also released as a single in November of the same year, with Oíche Chiún and 'S Fagaim Mo Bhaile appearing as additional tracks.

The videoclip featured Enya singing in a church in the countryside, while also including archive footage of political figures such as Nelson Mandela or Boris Yeltsin among others, and references to the Gulf War and famine.


Chart (1991) Peak
UK Singles Chart 32
Australian ARIA Singles Chart 47
Swedish Singles Chart 29



  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ [2]
  3. ^ Robert Lowry, ed. Bright Jewels for the Sunday School. New York: Biglow and Main, 1869, hymn number 16.|[3]
  4. ^ The Christian Pioneer, a monthly magazine. Vol 23, page 39, London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co., 1866.|[4]
  5. ^ Ira D. Sankey, Gospel hymns no. 3, New York: Biglow & Main, 1878, hymn no. 66
  6. ^ Burrage, Henry S. Baptist Hymn Writers and Their Hymns. Portland, Maine: Brown, Thurston & Co., 1888, p. 433.|[5]
  7. ^ [6]
  8. ^ Diehl, Katharine Smith (1996) (in English). Hymns and Tunes—An Index. New York: Scarecrow Press. 
  9. ^ HIckman, Hoyt L., ed. The Faith We Sing. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000, hymn no. 2212.
  10. ^ [7]

External links

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "How_Can_I_Keep_from_Singing%3F". Allthough most Wikipedia articles provide accurate information accuracy can not be guaranteed.

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