To be read in the dark, by the first light of morning.

Te lucis ante terminum / To Thee before the close of day

For roughly 1200 years the hymn sung at the Christian Office of Compline — and thus the final hymn sung before bed — has been the hymn Te lucis ante terminum, “To You before the end of light”. The best-known English version of this hymn is John Mason Neale’s 19th-century translation, “To Thee before the close of day”. (You know Neale’s work, even if you’ve never heard of him: he wrote the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas”, and also translated “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”.)

The original hymn — attributed to Saint Ambrose of Milan, who once astonished Saint Augustine with his ability to read without moving his lips — contains three verses. In 1974, after the Second Vatican Council, the new Breviary of Pope Paul VI removed the second verse of the ancient hymn and replaced it with two newly-composed verses. This is probably appropriate for our age, since — no matter how delicately you worded it — the original second verse essentially ran “O Lord, preserve us tonight from naughty thoughts and nocturnal emissions”.

To date, however, I have not been able to find a singable English translation of this new version of the hymn. I have therefore translated the two new verses in a manner similar to Neale’s, so that those who wish to do so can use them together with his excellent renderings of the two remaining original verses.

I now give the 1974 Latin text; a literal translation of all four verses; and my own singing version (the first and last stanzas remain Neale’s). I also hereby waive my copyright to this translation, making it public domain, so that anyone who wishes to use or adapt it for any purpose may do so.

1974 Latin version:

Te lucis ante terminum,
rerum Creator, poscimus,
ut solita clementia
sis praesul ad custodiam.

Te corda nostra somnient,
te per soporem sentiant,
tuamque semper gloriam
vicina luce concinant.

Vitam salubrem tribue,
nostrum calorem refice,
taetram noctis caliginem
tua collustret claritas.

Praesta, Pater omnipotens,
per Iesum Christum Dominum,
qui tecum in perpetuum
regnat cum Sancto Spiritu.


Literal translation:

Before the end of light, Creator of all things, we ask
that with your customary clemency you might be guardian of our safety.

May our hearts dream of you; may they feel you in their sleep;
and may they ever sing your glory by the coming light.

Grant us healthful life; restore our ardour;
may your brightness illuminate the foul gloom of night.

Grant this, almighty Father, through Jesus Christ the Lord,
who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit forever.


Singing version (the first and last verses are Neale’s):

To Thee, before the close of day,
Creator of the world, we pray
That with Thy wonted favour, Thou
Wouldst be our guard and keeper now.

Be Thou, Lord, in our dreams by night,
Be Thou our slumb’ring souls’ delight;
And may we rise again to sing
Of Thee, in light, almighty King.

Grant to us wholeness, we implore;
The fullness of our hearts restore;
Dispel the murky shades of night
With dazzling beams of glory bright.

O Father, that we ask be done
Through Jesus Christ, Thine only Son,
Who, with the Holy Ghost and Thee,
Doth live and reign eternally.


One Response to Te lucis ante terminum / To Thee before the close of day

  1. Enver says:

    Thanks so much for this beautiful translation. This one will tide me over beautifully until ICEL’s new translations are approved.

    I did modify neale’s Doxology a bit, as it really bothers me that his doxology’s are all the same. I made it:

    All Mighty Father, e’er present,
    Through Christ our Lord whom thou hast sent,
    Who, with the Holy Ghost and Thee,
    Doth live and reign eternally.

    God bless and thanks!

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