My song is love unknown (StF 277)

Authors & translators:
Crossman, Samuel
Love Unknown
Composers & arrangers:
Ireland, John
Festivals and Seasons:
Holy Week
Singing the Faith: 277 (CD11 #28)
STF Number:


Ideas for use

See Hymns to build worship around.

Intersperse the verses with prayer (maybe selecting a few only) but keep the spoken words to a minimum, allowing the words of the hymn to speak for themselves. You may also find this approach suitable for use with Dear Lord and Father of mankind (StF 495).

More information

“My song is love unknown” is a big sing with an attractive tune (“Love unknown”) by the notable English composer John Ireland. The story goes that he composed it over lunch one day in 1918 while out with the organist and music editor, Geoffrey Shaw. Shaw was looking for a tune to go with the hymn, which he wished to include in The Public School Hymn Book of 1919.

The words are by Samuel Crossman (1624 – 1683) who became a Dean of Bristol Cathedral. In 1664 he published The Young Man’s Meditation, or some few Sacred Poems upon Select Subjects and Scriptures. This hymn was one of nine poems included in that volume. It re-tells the story of Jesus’ life (drawing mainly from the Gospel of Matthew, e.g. Matthew 27) from a highly personal point of view – as if the singer were witnessing the events at first hand. There is an almost conversational quality about the second half of some of the verses, with their short, halting phrases that the tune reinforces: “But O my Friend, / my Friend indeed…” (v.2); “What may I say? / Heaven was his home…” (v.6). The tune also draws out the underlying grief of the meditation, which is only resolved, in the final verse, by the opportunity to live in uninterrupted relationship with “my Friend”: “This is my Friend, / in whose sweet praise / I all my days / could gladly spend.”

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