To Be a Pilgrim

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To Be a Pilgrim
John Bunyan 2.JPG
John Bunyan
Genre Hymn
Text John Bunyan
Based on Hebrews11:13
Melody"St. Dunstans" by Winfred Douglas, "Moab" by John Roberts, "Monk's Gate" by Ralph Vaughan Williams

"To Be a Pilgrim" (also known as "He Who Would Valiant Be") is an English Christian hymn using words of John Bunyan in The Pilgrim's Progress. It first appeared in Part 2 of The Pilgrim's Progress , written in 1684.


The words were modified extensively by Percy Dearmer for the 1906 The English Hymnal . [1] At the same time it was given a new tune by British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, who used a melody taken from the traditional song "Our Captain Cried All Hands" which he collected in the hamlet of Monk's Gate in West Sussex – hence the name of "Monks Gate" by which the melody is referred to in hymn books. [2]

The hymn has also been sung to the melody "Moab" (John Roberts, 1870) and "St Dunstans" (Charles W. Douglas, 1917).

For a time, Bunyan's original version was not commonly sung in churches, perhaps because of the references to "hobgoblin" and "foul fiend." However, one commentator has said: "Bunyan's burly song strikes a new and welcome note in our Hymnal. The quaint sincerity of the words stirs us out of our easygoing dull Christianity to the thrill of great adventure." [3] Recent hymn books have tended to return to the original, for example, the Church of England's Common Praise and the Church of Scotland's Church Hymnary 4th Edition (Hymns of Glory, Songs of Praise).

Textual variants

John Bunyan's Original Version1906 The English Hymnal Version
1. Who would true valour see,1. He who would valiant be
Let him come hither;′Gainst all disaster,
One here will constant be,Let him in constancy
Come wind, come weatherFollow the Master.
There's no discouragementThere's no discouragement
Shall make him once relentShall make him once relent
His first avowed intentHis first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.To be a pilgrim.
2. Whoso beset him round2. Who so beset him round
With dismal stories,With dismal stories,
Do but themselves confound;Do but themselves confound——
His strength the more is.His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,No foes shall stay his might,
He'll with a giant fight,Though he with giants fight:
But he will have a rightHe will make good his right
To be a pilgrim.To be a pilgrim.
3. Hobgoblin, nor foul fiend[,]3. Since, Lord, thou dost defend
Can daunt his spirit;Us with thy Spirit,
He knows he at the endWe know we at the end
Shall life inherit.Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,Then fancies flee away!
He'll fear not what men say,I'll fear not what men say,
He'll labour night and dayI'll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim. [4] To be a pilgrim. [5]


The hymn's refrain "to be a pilgrim" has entered the language and has been used in the title of a number of books dealing with pilgrimage in a literal or spiritual sense. [6]

School hymn

Films, TV and radio


"To be a Pilgrim" has been adopted by the British Special Air Service as their battle hymn. [7] [lower-alpha 1]

Notable recordings

References and notes

  1. See also Special Air Service § Memorial and The Golden Road to Samarkand by James Elroy Flecker [8]
  1. The English Hymnal, London: Oxford University Press, 1906
  2. "Our Captain Cried All Hands / Fountains Flowing". Mainly Norfolk: English Folk and Other Good Music.
  3. The Hymnal 1940 Companion, New York: The Church Pension Fund, 1949, p. 331.
  4. John Bunyan. The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come. 32nd ed. London: W. Johnston, 1771, Part II, p. 157.
  5. Ralph Vaughan Williams, ed. The English Hymnal . London: Oxford University Press, n.d. (1906 ed.). Hymn No. 402 (p. 546).
  6. For example, the novel To be a Pilgrim by Joyce Cary, To be a Pilgrim: A spiritual notebook by Basil Hume, To be a Pilgrim: The medieval pilgrimage experience by Sarah Hopper, and To be a Pilgrim: The Anglican ethos in history by Frederick Quinn.
  7. Sengupt, Kim (5 May 2010). "SAS comes out fighting as details of top-secret missions are exposed" . The Independent. Archived from the original on 2022-06-21.
  8. Popham, Peter (30 May 1996). "SAS confronts its enemy within" . The Independent . London. Archived from the original on 2022-06-21. Retrieved 9 January 2011.
  9. BBC Radio 4, Sun 15 Jan 1989.

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