Saturday, November 3, 2012

My Song is Love Unknown

Here is another hymn for a wonderful Saturday!

Title: My Song Is Love Unknown
Tune: Love Unknown


Author: Samuel Crossman (c. 1624-1683)

Composer: John Ireland (1879-1962)

            This text, written by Samuel Crossman, contains several parallels between Crossman’s poem, and another poem entitled “Love Unknown,” written by George Herbert (1593-1633). In essence Herbert’s poem says this:

            “But all my scores were by another paid.”
            “Who took the debt upon him. Truly, Friend,
            For ought I heare, your Master shows to you
            More favour than you wot of.” (Westermeyer, 2010, P. 140)

One of the most influential texts for Crossman was Herbert’s poem The Sacrifice, which plays off the Good Friday reproaches. In this work, Herbert writes in such a manner that Jesus speaks for eight pages in 63 stanzas, in regards to his passion and his death. The refrain “Was ever grief like mine?” or the similar “Never was grief like mine,” is found after each and every three line stanza. Towards the end of Crossman’s hymn, “My Song is Love Unknown,” we can find something similar to Herbert’s words, but in our words, rather than Jesus’. The text reads, “Never was grief like thine.” This hymn can be found in Samuel Crossman’s poem, The Young Man’s Meditation, (1664), which echoes much of Herbert’s text:
            Herbert: “Then they condemne me all with that same breath”
                        “Heark how they cry aloud still, Crucifie.”
            Crossman: “Then ‘Crucify!’ is all our breath”
            Herbert: “Mine own deare people cry, Away, away
            Crossman: “We cry out, we will have our dear Lord made away”
            Herbert: “They choose a murderer” instead of “the Prince of Peace”
            Crossman: “A murderer to save, the prince of life to slay” (Westermeyer, p. 141).

For much of Crossman’s text, we can see specific influences from Herbert, not so by the topic, but by specific words and phrases used in the poem. Crossman attempts to cover many of the same topics that Herbert does in his poem. As is explained by Gracia Grindal, a “befuddled” balladeer, she says, tells a story with this “Contradiction and paradox: ‘Love to the loveless shown / that they might lovely be’…Few hymns tell the story so well and so powerfully. And few tell us so much about ourselves” (Westermeyer, p. 141).  This hymn is fitting as a closing hymn for the season of lent, leading into Holy Week and the Three Days.
            In the Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), only six of the original seven verses written by Crossman are published. The fourth verse is omitted because of the potential for the text to be inferred as suggesting that those in particular who had been healed are the ones who will rise against Christ. The hymn stays true to the original text with only a few minor changes, including the spelling of “strew,” instead of “strow.” There are, however, two major modifications that have been made. First, in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, the text is changed from “They,” to “We,” altogether who strew his way and have our dear Lord made away. Second, Crossman wrote
            But men made strange, and none
            The longed-for Christ would know.
But was changed to
            The world that was his own
            Would not its savior know.
Though it is clear that the paradox mentioned earlier is maintained with the change in text, it is a different way of saying estranged. By omitting “strange,” we lose the sense of Christ being estranged, or alienated, from the world.

            Though the contribution to the Hymn world from Samuel Crossman is unmistakable, there is not much known about him. Crossman studied at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge, where he earned his B.A. in Divinity. After his graduation, he received orders to serve at a number of different churches, both in the Anglican Church and in the Puritan Church at the same time. Because of this, Crossman sympathized with the Puritan cause and became a part of a group that planned with Savoy Conference in 1661, the purpose of which was to revise the Common Book of Prayer so that both the Anglican Church and the Puritans could use the book. After the conference failed, Crossman and nearly 2,000 other puritan-leaning priests were expelled from the Church of England in the Act of Uniformity. Several years later, in 1665, Crossman renounced his Puritan affiliation and finally was ordained in a post as Royal Chaplain in Bristol in 1667. In 1683, just a short time before his death, Crossman was named Dean of Bristol Cathedral. He died on February 4th 1683, and is buried in the church of Bristol in the South Aisle.
            Born 1879 in Bowden, Cheshire, England, John Ireland was trained as a musician at the nearby Royal Academy of Music as a talented organist. In 1904 Ireland accepted a position as the Organist at St. Luke’s Chelsea, where he remained until 1926. During his time at St. Luke’s, Ireland began teaching at the Royal Academy of Music from 1923-1939. Though Ireland is known as one of the best composers of his time, he is known to have a very troubled personal life. His Orchestral, Piano, and Chamber works are fairly well known, but Ireland is best known for his Song Cycles set to Shakespeare, Blake, Hardy, and many other English Poets. The tune for the hymn “My Song Is Love Unknown” was written in 1918 and was finally published in the Public School Hymnbook published in 1919. Though the date of the composition is known, the actual details about the piece did not come out until 1950, when a letter was written to the London Daily Telegraph. The letter contained information about the composition, saying that it was written over lunch on a small piece of paper in less than 15 minutes. Ireland was out to lunch with a friend, Geoffrey Shaw (who was an editor for the 1919 Public School Hymnal), when Shaw asked Ireland to compose a piece for the text “My Song Is Love Unknown.” Though the hymn was very popular then, it continues to appear in several different hymnals even to this day.

The Text:

(1)   My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?

(2)   He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.

(3)   Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
And for His death they thirst and cry.

(4)   Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight,
Sweet injuries! Yet they at these
Themselves displease, and ’gainst Him rise.

(5)   They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He to suffering goes,
That He His foes from thence might free.

(6)   In life, no house, no home
My Lord on earth might have;
In death no friendly tomb
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say? Heav’n was His home;
But mine the tomb wherein He lay.

(7)   Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.

My Take on the Hymn:

            This hymn struck me as very reassuring. It is incredible to think that, while Christ was in front of the masses and was about to be condemned to death, he was thinking of us and his love for us. Upon the masses crying for him to be crucified, Christ cried out “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The first verse talks about the capacity that Christ has to love everyone, even those who have no love for Christ or his Disciples. The second stanza reminds us that Christ was sent down from his heavenly place with God to be our savior. Christ loved everyone so much, that he would die for people that he hadn't ever met, nor would he ever know in his lifetime. Stanza three, Crossman mentions that Christ has won some hearts over, but even when Christ has won few, many still cried out for him to be crucified for now reason.  In the fourth verse, Crossman questions “Why, what hath my lord done? What makes this rage and spite?” In this passage he is asking what Christ has done to deserve this. Even Pontius Pilate is confused as to why Christ should be condemned to death over the other two criminals. The love that Christ showed the world is amazing, a true gift to everyone and a model that should remain. If we all take time to pray for those who we do not get along, we can be one step closer to living exactly as Christ did, and we can have fewer worries in our life, because we need not worry about our enemies, but we can love them as our own Brothers and Sisters in Christ!
The Hymn:

If you cannot read music, but start the Youtube video and follow along!

Julian, John. "LOVE UNKNOWN." Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2012. <>.

"661 My Song Is Love Unkown." With One Voice. Vol. 1. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Fortress, 1995. 661. Print.

Westermeyer, Paul. "Lent." Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship. 1st ed. Vol. 1. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2010. 140-42. Print.

1 comment:

  1. The music shown is not the music being sung in the video.