“Now is the Hour” (Pō Atarau) began as a piano piece called “Swiss Cradle Song,” written by an Australian composer in the early twentieth century.
The Māori words were added in 1915, and the song was used as a farewell to soldiers going to fight in World War I. The song went through several other adaptations, and eventually caught the attention of English singer Gracie Fields, who learned it while visiting New Zealand. She recorded it in 1947 (or 1948, depending on the source), with a new title (“Now is the Hour”). Performers such as Bing Crosby and Vera Lynn also recorded the song at that time.
(Gracie Fields' recording adapts the words to take the point of view of the one who is leaving--"When I return," etc.)
Now is the hour when we must say
Soon you'll be sailing far across the sea
While you're away, oh, then (please) remember me
When you return, you'll find me waiting here
Additional Lyrics (Bing Crosby recording)
Sunset glow fades in the west
Night o'er the valley is creeping
Birds cuddle down in their nest
Soon all the world will be sleeping
Additional Lyrics (Vera Lynn recording)
I'll dream of you,
if you will dream of me
Each hour I'll miss you,
here across the sea.
It's not good-bye,
it's just a sweet adieu
Some day I'll sail
across the seas to you.
Recommended Video Version
Musician Jessie Lloyd is (from her website) an Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait singer, social historian and cultural practitioner of Indigenous song. She is also the founder of the Mission Songs Project. In this video, she tells about interviewing family members for their memories of this song, and notes that the tune was also used for the hymn "Search Me, O God" by J. Edwin Orr. She sings the first verse of "Now is the Hour" in English, adds a verse of the hymn, sings it again in Māori, then repeats the English verse again. (The music begins at 2:00).