and labour up the heavenly hill


Senior Member
Can you help me with the following excerpt from Thomas Hornblower Gill's hymn 461?

"I would not, Lord, with swift-winged zeal
On this world’s errands go,
And labour up the heavenly hill
With weary feet and slow. "

My interpretation:
My Lord, I won't give myself to mundane business of everyday life but instead
I will slowly climb the heavenly hill with my tired feet.

Am I close?

Thanks for answers

  • Scholiast

    Senior Member

    If you look at the entire context, the hymn presents a consistent thematic between giving oneself over to worldly things while in one's prime of age and youth and strength, and only turning to God when one is old and frail. Rather, the writer wants to devote himself to the service of God while he is still hale and strong and youthful.

    The sense of this stanza is therefore:

    "I do not wish to devote myself to worldly concerns with youthful zest and energy, and only turn my concentration to heavenly things when I am worn out with age."



    Senior Member
    English, USA
    He seems to be saying that his feet would be weary and slow while laboring up the heavenly hill, if he gave himself to the mundane business of everyday life. If he doesn't, then his feet may not be weary or slow at all.

    Other than that, I don't see a problem with your interpretation, but others may have more to say.

    Edit: I typed this as Scholiast was posting.


    Senior Member
    English - England
    I don't think this is a conditional would. As Scholiast says, it refers to a wish. There is another example of this would in a better known old hymn:
    Who would true valour seek, let him come hither.

    It fits into this pattern:
    - You can climb the hill - possibility expecting fulfilment
    - You could climb the hill - mere possibility
    - You may climb the hill - permission expecting fulfilment
    - You might climb the hill - mere permission
    - You shall climb the hill - imperative expecting fulfilment
    - You should climb the hill - mere imperative (without control)
    - I will climb the hill - desire expecting fulfilment
    - I would climb the hill - mere desire (without control)

    This use of would is the most archaic of these - I suppose because of the risk of confusion with conditional would.
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    I think Scholiast had the best interpretation based on the context.

    Here is the entire text:"labour+up+the+heavenly+hill"&source=bl&ots=gdlv3QQMAE&sig=X8swDgO6gcaDkYIIdifrxiCDUmY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=IjZhVLz3Ko-AygTFkIDIDA&ved=0CCcQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=Thomas Hornblowe Gill "labour up the heavenly hill"&f=false

    The previous couplet is:

    I would not give the world my heart,
    And then profess thy love;
    I would not feel my strength depart,
    And then my service prove.


    Senior Member
    It's a great example of how much a difference the complete background makes. I would have agreed with your interpretation, Biffo, before I read the entire text.

    bajtucha, please provide a link to the entire text when asking a question like this, if at all possible. You will get much better answers.
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