I was singing the hymn O God Our Help in Ages Past today in Church, and noticed something interesting.

The fifth verse reads as follows:

Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all who breathe away; 
they fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.

Now I had always half-jokingly assumed this was some sports reference, as "opening day" to me means the first day of the season for an athletic league. However, I noticed that the words here are credited to Isaac Watts in the early 1700's. This is before any organized sporting leagues I know of.

Given that, I'm at a loss. What the heck is he getting when he says "opening day" here?

  • There is no "h" in "O."
    – phoog
    Oct 26, 2021 at 4:14
  • @phoog - I went and checked the official Methodist hymnal, which of course I consider authoritative on the matter, and it agrees. Fixed. Interestingly, both it and WP substitute "Our" for "Oh" in their web page titles for the song. That's probably Watt's official title. However its title in the hymnal for the purposes of looking the song up appears to use "O", and its "O" throughout the song.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 26, 2021 at 12:59
  • Yes, I first learned the hymn with "our," too. I don't know which word Watts used. I'm fairly certain, however, that the fourth word is "help," not "hope" (and surprised that I didn't notice this earlier; I must have been distracted by the "h"!).
    – phoog
    Oct 26, 2021 at 14:00
  • @phoog - Also fixed.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 26, 2021 at 15:44
  • It's a literal dream. You're dreaming, you wake up at dawn, the dream fades.
    – Mary
    Oct 26, 2021 at 22:23

1 Answer 1


It means "Dawn", quite simply, with an elided "of the" to keep the rhythm.

  • 5
    I don't think it's necessary to say anything is elided: There verse alludes to someone who's been sitting all night dreaming away, but whose dreams fade as they witness "the opening day" - the onset of dawn - "opening" here is an adjective.
    – user2590
    Sep 22, 2013 at 19:17
  • 2
    @Vector: To a native English speaker, yes; to others who happen by, I thought the elision mention might help. Sep 22, 2013 at 19:21
  • 2
    OK - although I doubt if a non-native English speaker would know what "elided" means... I had to look it up myself :-) Maybe change to "omitted" or "dropped"?
    – user2590
    Sep 22, 2013 at 19:24
  • 4
    Do more crosswords. ;-) Sep 22, 2013 at 19:24
  • 3
    @Vector: It is a word that has been in my natural vocabulary for over 30 years. (32 to be precise.) As it is not at all affected when I use it, the current wording will stand. Everyone is assumed here to learn, so if an occasional dictionary lookup is required, so much the better. Sep 22, 2013 at 19:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.