Thoughts on “My Song is Love Unknown”

By | March 20, 2014

The hymn “My Song is Love Unknown” features a text from the 1600s coupled with a melody composed in the early 1900s by the English composer and church musician John Ireland (1879-1962). This haunting and beautiful melody was apparently composed casually one day over lunch at the suggestion of fellow church musician and composer Geoffrey Shaw (1879-1943).

The poet of this hymn, Samuel Crossman (c. 1624-1683), was a pastor who served both Anglican and Puritan congregations, but ultimately renounced his Puritanism. His poem reflects many aspects of the story of Christ’s sacrifice and its meaning for Christians. It ends with a beautiful eschatological statement:

This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.

Crossman’s poem is similar in many respects to the poem Love Unknown by  George Herbert (1593-1633).  Other Crossman texts show Herbert’s influence.

Crossman’s text “My Song is Love Unknown” has been sung to various tunes over the years, but most recently John Ireland’s melody has become more popular. It is so rich in its theological expression that my worship planning software list 49 related scripture passages for this hymn alone. Among them are:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8

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