- Singing the Faith: 57
- George Herbert
- “Luckington” by Basil Harwood
This hymn is a "big sing" - set to the tune "Luckington", each verse takes a lot of puff! Originally, the poem was called "Antiphon" (see below), suggesting that it can be sung by alternate groups of singers - a congregation and choir or two sides of a congregation, for example.
E.g. Congregation sings opening and closing couplets of each verse ("Let all the world in every corner sing: / my God and King!") and choir sings intervening four lines, allowing the congregation to listen and reflect on Herbert's words.
E.g. All sing opening and closing couplets of each verse, and then the middle four lines are divided between two groups in the congregation:
Group 1 - "The heavens are not too high, / his praise may thither fly"
Group 2 - "the earth is not too low; his praises there may grow".
This division of the lines (perhaps between women and men) emphasises the contrasts that George Herbert is describing.
In the posthumous collection of George Herbert’s poetry, “The Temple” published in 1633 (see King of Glory, King of Peace, StF 56), this poem is titled “Antiphon (1)”, a type of composition designed to be sung by two choirs taking alternate passages. Herbert designates the first two lines of each verse “Cho” (Chorus) and the six-syllable lines that follow “Verse”.
The original poem structure is:
The editors of the Companion to Hymns & Psalms (1988) comment that the custom of adding an additional chorus in order to create two hymn verses of equal length “actually does violence to the intentions of the author”.
There is no evidence that Herbert (though a good musician himself) ever set the poem to music or envisaged it has a hymn. However, the antiphonal structure may be reflected in the singing of the hymn (see above).
The Companion to Hymns & Psalms also notes that “the antiphonal contrast between the 10.4 lines of the chorus and the 22.214.171.124. lines of the verse is obvious. Less evident are the neat sub-antiphonal contrasts which beautifully echo the larger ones, between ‘The heavens… the earth’ in verse 1 and ‘The Church… the heart’ in verse 2.” These contrasts give the clue to yet another way of singing the hymn e.g. by sharing the 126.96.36.199. lines between two groups of the congregation.
Possibly the hymn is inspired by Psalm 66:4 – "All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name."
See George Herbert on CD for details of one recording of this hymn.
More about George Herbert
George Herbert was born in Montgomery, Wales, on 3 April 1593. He died in Bemerton, near Salisbury, at about the end of February or beginning of March 1633.
He was born into a noble family. His eldest brother, also a poet, was Lord Herbert of Cherbury. George was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he became a Fellow in 1615. The failure of his ambitions to be accepted (like his elder brother) at court led to his decision to “lose himself in a humble way” and to take up Holy Orders in 1626. He became a country rector in Bemerton in 1630.
George Herbert wrote no secular verse; in his first year at Cambridge he wrote to his mother, promising to consecrate his “poor Abilities in Poetry” to God. His religious verse, however, influenced younger writers and he became known, like John Donne, as one of the “metaphysical poets” (in part of because of their clever use of philosophical ideas to describe human feelings). Herbert’s poems were published posthumously by his friend Nicholas Ferrar under the title “The Temple” – “though much of it is too complex and witty for hymn singing” (Companion to Hymns & Psalms, 1988).