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.
A video of the King’s College Choir singing the hymn is below followed by the full text.
My Song is Love Unknown
My song is love unknown,
my Savior’s love to me,
love to the loveless shown
that they might lovely be.
Oh, who am I
That for my sake
my Lord should take frail flesh and die?
He came from his blest throne
salvation to bestow;
but men made strange, and none
the longed-for Christ would know.
But, oh, my Friend, my Friend indeed,
who at my need his life did spend!
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.
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
And ‘gainst him rise.
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 suff’ring goes
that he his foes from thence might free.
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.
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!