Anatomy of a Hymn Exploring the skeleton of a hymn, the choice of poetic feet, and an assortment of poetic devices
Question: Why does the poet choose one pattern of accent rather than another for his/her hymn?
Prosody and Rhyme All poetry is organized into “feet,” indicating that poetry “walks” or “marches.” A foot consists of a group of two or more syllables with one accented and the others unaccented.
OGod, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come, Our shelter from the stormy blast, And our eternal home. Common Meter (C.M.) is a convenient way of saying that there are eight syllables (actually four iambic feet) in lines one and three and six syllables (three iambic feet) in lines two and four. 8 6 8 6 Iambic The most common form on English poetry is the iambic foot, consisting of an upbeat(weak) followed by an accent(strong).
OGod, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come, Our shelter from the stormy blast, And our eternal home. “The upbeat pattern before each accent allows time for an idea to start development and to reach its climax in a towering peak at the end of a series of rolling hills. It can also be likened to the roll of the ocean, a series of cresting waves ending in a gigantic wave pounding the shore.” p.13 Iambic Lovelace states that iambic movement is stately and noble and it best used for those texts which are propositional in nature (exposition).
Hark! The herald angels sing “Glory to the newborn King; or “Christ the Lord isris’ntoday!” Saints on earth and angels say; Trochaic is more direct than iambic and is used where directness of thought and excitement are desirable. Trochaic Trochaic is the reverse of iambic, consisting of an accent(strong) that isfollowed by an upbeat(weak).
Worshipthe Lord in the splendor of holiness. . Dactylic Dactylic is quite rare in modern hymnody. Dactylic consists of one accent(strong) that isfollowed by two upbeats(weak). Dactylic is challenging to set due to the two final unaccented syllables.
‘ Twas the nightbeforeChristmas and allthrough the house Not a creature was stirring, noteven a mouse. Immortal, invisible, God only wise (This feels dactylic after the initial “Im-” but technically anapaestic because it ends on a strong syllable.) Anapaestic Anapaestic is closely related to dactylic. It consists of a by two upbeats(weak) followed by one accent(strong) . Anapaestic is often altered by shortening a foot somewhere in the line.
The importance of rhyme If the rhythmic life and vitality of a hymn is created by the meter, its memorability is aided by rhyme.
Remember this about rhyme! The good hymn writer succeeds in making rhyme sound and feel natural, not forced or obvious. The poor writer finds his thought patterns being forced into uninspired channels by overly familiar rhymes.
“eye” rhymes (also known as false rhymes) Earth/hearth blood/good
Thesefalse rhymes were probably never noticed by those singing, “Come, Thou Long-expected Jesus” Jesus/release us deliver/forever Spirit/merit
“identities” are combinations of words which have the same consonant before the final accented vowel. bay/obey In a true rhyme, the consonant that precedes the accented vowel must be different.
“consonance” “off rhymes” are created by having all the consonants and vowel sounds after the accented vowel identical, but having the accented vowels different. heaven/given (eh and ih) cunning/winning (uh and ih) Spirit/merit (ih and eh)
“assonance” “vowel rhyme” has an identical final accented vowel sound, but dissimilar subsequent sounds. bliss/is (s and z) praise/grace (z and s)
Remember this about rhyme! While an occasional false rhyme can be used without much damage, the widespread acceptance of assonance and consonance as a replacement for rhyme is unlikely in hymnody. Why? They are not a sufficient aid to one’s memory.
Remember this about rhyme! Rhyming patterns: the usual rhyming patterns are found at the ends of lines of poetry. (A single line is technically a verse; a series of lines makes astanza.)
The star proclaims the King is here; But, Herod, why this senseless fear? For He who offers heavenly birth Seeks not the kingdoms of this earth. (LSB 399:1) Hail to the Lord’s anointed, Great David’s greater Son! Hail, in the time appointed, His reign on earth begun! (LSB 398:1a) aabb&abab In a four-line stanza, the best poets will have two pairs of rhymes—rhyming couplets or cross rhyme.
Swiftly pass the clouds of glory, Heaven’s voice, the dazzling light; Moses and Elijah vanish; Christ alone commands the height! (LSB 416:1a) O Lord, throughout these forty days You prayed and kept the fast; Inspire repentance for our sin, And free us from our past. (LSB 418:1) abcb It takes more skill to rhyme all pairs of lines and it is obviously easier to only rhyme lines two and four. Many hymn writers take the “easy” way out.
For all the saints whom from their labors rest, Who Thee by faith before the world confessed, Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest. Alleluia! Alleluia! (LSB 677:1) aaa Atercetis a three-lined stanza in which all the last words rhyme.
There once was a lady of Niger Who smiled as she rode on a tiger. They returned from the ride With the lady inside And the smile on the face of the tiger. aabba Internal rhymeis another poetic device as occasionally a poet finds it possible to break up a long verse into two rhyming parts. One example is a limerick.
The foxes found rest, and the birds their nest In the shade of the forest tree; But Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God, In the deserts of Galilee. aabccb Internal rhymemay be helpful to one’s memory, but it also runs the danger of making a text sound flippant.
Christ sits at God’s right hand, His saving work complete, To reign till ev’ry foe will lie Beneath His feet— All that the Father planned, The Son sought to fulfill, When first He said, “Lord here am I To do Your will.”(LSB 564:1) abcbadcd Stanzas of more than four lines offer anumberofpossibilitiesin rhyming schemes.
All Christians who have been baptized, Who know the God of heaven, And in whose daily life is prized The name of God once given: Consider now what God has done, The gifts He gives to ev’ryone, Baptized into Christ Jesus! (LSB 596:1) ababccd Stanzas of more than four lines offer anumberofpossibilitiesin rhyming schemes.
Masculine,feminine and triple rhymes When only the last word is rhymed, the rhyming is called single or masculine: earth/birth. With two syllables it is called double or feminine: singing/ringing.Triple rhymes are rare: holiness/lowliness.
People are the final critics “The hymnal is not a book to be admired primarily for its poetry, although great hymns are always masterfully shaped as poetry. It is a book of devotion for the people and they are the final critics.” p. 22
Poetry the handmaid of piety “That which is infinitely more momentous than the spirit of Poetry is the spirit of Piety…It is in this view chiefly that I would recommend it to every truly pious reader, as a means of raising or quickening the spirit of devotion; of confirming his faith; of enlivening his hope; and of kindling or increasing his love to God and man. When poetry thus keeps its place, as the handmaid of Piety, it shall attain, not a poor perishable wreath, but a crown that fadeth not away.” John Wesley, “Preface to a Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists.” 1780 p. 23
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun Does its successive journeys run; His kingdom stretch from shore to shore Till moons shall wax and wane no more. (LSB 832:1) “How shall they hear,” who have not heard, News of a Lord who loved and came; Nor known His reconciling word, Nor learned to trust a Savior’s name? (LSB 831:1) (See page 1007 in Lutheran Service Book for metrical index of Long Meter tunes.) Iambic hymns Long Meter (8 8 8 8) The rhyme scheme is either aabb(rhyming couplets) or abab(cross rhyming). Rhyming couplets can be sing-songy and tend to give a false sense of completion at the end of line two. Cross-rhyming carries the singer along with a sense of expectancy, even a guessing, for the final two lines.
Splendor paternaegloriae, De lucelucemproferens, Luxlucis et fonsluminis, Dies diem illuminans. Ambrose of Milan (340-397) O Splendor of God’s glory bright, O Thou that bringest light from light, O Light of Light, O living spring, O Day, all days illumining: Alleluia! (LSB 874:1) (See page 1007 in Lutheran Service Book for metrical index of Long Meter tunes.) Iambic hymns Long Meter (8 8 8 8) Long meter, with eight syllables for each line of poetry, lends itself to majestic subjects and stately treatment of a topic. Here is the Latin hymn by Ambrose and its translation.
Long Meter (LM)88 88 Lovelace writes, “The danger of Long Meter is the tendency to dullness (in 4/4 time every measure is filled to overflowing and breathing spaces are hard to find) or to pompousness.” One of the most successful hymn writers in Long Meter was Isaac Watts: “From All that Dwell Below the Skies” “Jesus Shall Reign” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” p. 23
Eternal Father, strong to save, Whose arm hath bound the restless wave, Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep Its own appointed limits keep: O hear us when we cry to Thee For those in peril on the sea. (LSB 717:1) Iambic hymns Long Meter variants (8 8 8 8 8 8 or 8 8 8 8 8 8) Variants of Long Meter are six eight syllables, either 8 8 8 8 8 8 with a rhyme scheme of ababccoraabbccand 8 8 8 8 8 8 with a rhyme scheme of aabccb. This metrical form is of sufficient length that the hymn writer can present an idea and develop a thought.
The tree of life with ev’rygood In Eden’s holy orchard stood, And of its fruit so pure and sweet God let the man and woman eat. Yet in this garden also grew Another tree, of which they knew; Its lovely limbs with fruit adorned Against whose eating God had warned. (LSB 561:1) Iambic hymns Long Meter Double (LMD) (8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 ) Long Meter Double is eight eight-syllable lines: 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 with a rhyme scheme of aabbccdd.Lovelace writes that this rhyme scheme is “just too long-winded to find much popularity with hymnal editors or congregations.”
God Moves in a Mysterious Way LSB 765 The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll Not Want LSB 710 God Our Help In Ages Past LSB 733 This Is the Spirit’s Entry Now LSB 591 O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing LSB 528 Iambic hymns Common Meter (CM) (8 6 8 6) Common Meter is two eight-syllable lines and two six-syllable lines: 8 6 8 6 with a rhyme scheme of aabbor abab.Lovelace writes that Common Meter is the “workhorse of hymnody.” In the Old English metrical psalters, it was the most “commonly” used meter since it resembled the popular ballad meter.
No tramp of soldiers’ marching feet With banners and with drums, No sound of music’s martial beat: “The King of glory comes!” To greet what pomp of kingly pride No bells in triumph ring, No city gates swing open wide: “Behold, behold your King!” LSB 444:1 Iambic hymns Common Meter (CM) and Common Meter Double (CMD) Since CM is so “common” it is a treacherously and deceptively easy meter for poets to use. It rises to great heights in the hands of careful poets who know how to use the changes of poetic devices to prevent monotony. Even more difficult to handle without flippancy and monotony is Common Meter Double (CMD) 8 6 8 6 8 6 8 6. It can be used for strong texts if the tune is strong, e.g. KINGSFOLD
O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see the lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep The silent stars go by; Yet in thy dark streets shineth The everlasting light. The hopes and fears of all the years Are met in thee tonight. LSB 361:1 Iambic hymns Other meters Phillips Brooks uses a slight variation of CMD (8 6 8 6 7 6 8 6) in “Old Little Town of Bethlehem.” Brooks skillfully uses inner rhyme in lines three and seven. Where Brooks is successful, a lesser poet would be in danger of flippancy created by this ballad meter and the limerick style of inner rhyme.
The night will soon be ending; The dawn cannot be far. Let songs of praise ascending Now greet the Morning Star! All you whom darkness frightens With guilt or grief or pain, God’s radiant star now brightens And bids you sing again. LSB 337:1 Iambic hymns Other meters Closely related to CMD is 7 6 7 6 D. It is, in one sense, a feminization of the stronger CMD. Yet many CMD tunes fit 7 6 7 6 D metered texts equally well because both have a folksy, free-flowing style Instead of ending lines one and three with a strong beat, the last syllable is a falling one with the accent of CM missing: CM: strong weak strong 7 6 7 6: strong weak
Blest be the tie that binds Our hearts in Christian love; The fellowship of kindred minds Is like to that above. LSB 649:1 O Christ, You walked the road Our wand’ring feet must go. You faced with us temptation’s pow’r And fought our ancient foe. LSB 424:1 Iambic hymns Short Meter (SM) 6 6 8 6 Short Meter was at one time called the poulter’s measure because of his custom of giving twelve eggs for the first dozen and then thirteen or fourteen on the second dozen. Short Meter is made of two couplets, the first with twelve syllables, the second with fourteen. Of the three chief meters of the English psalters (CM, LM, and SM), it stands last in usage. The few syllables give the hymn writer little time for developing a substantial thought.
O Christ, who led the Twelve Among the desolate And broke as bread of life for all Your love compassionate: Lead us along the ways Where hope has nearly died. And help us climb the lonely hills Where love is crucified. LSB 856:3 Iambic hymns Short Meter Double (SMD) 6 6 8 6 6 6 8 6 Short Meter Double was a favorite meter of Charles Wesley. Half of the SMD hymns that appear in The Methodist Hymnal are by him. It is successfully used in “Crown Him With Many Crowns” by Matthew Bridges and in a new text in LSB by Herman Stuempfle: “O Christ, Who Called the Twelve” (LSB 856) set to the tune TERRA BEATA. abcbdefe
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. LSB 430:1 Iambic hymns 8’s and 6’s There are many ways to combine eights and sixes in addition to the basic Short, Common, and Long meters. Lovelace writes that while such combinations may cause problems from a tune standpoint, they all tend to have a “refreshingly unsquare” feeling. At one time such meters were called “Peculiar Meter.” 6 6 6 6 8 8 known as Hallelujah Meter with a rhyme scheme of ababccNote this interesting variation by Samuel Crossman:
Our Father by whose name All fatherhood is known, Who dost in love proclaim Each family Thineown, Bless Thou all parents guarding well, With constant love as sentinel, The homes in which Thy people dwell. LSB 863:1 Iambic hymns 8’s and 6’s F. Bland Tucker, translator and poet who helped edit The Hymnal 1940, has extended 6 6 6 6 8 8 by adding one more line of 8: 6 6 6 6 8 8 8. This is the same meter I chose for a hymn commissioned for the 2010 Michigan District LWML convention, a text called: “How Beautiful the Feet” also sung to the tune RHOSYMEDRE.
O holy city seen of John, Where Christ the Lamb doth reign, Within those four-square walls shall come No night, nor need, nor pain, And where the tears are wiped from eyes That shall not weep again. Walter Russell Bowie Iambic hymns 8’s and 6’s A variation of Common Meter adds two additional lines: 8 6 so that the new meter is 8 6 8 6 8 6. In this example, the rhyme scheme is abcbdb
No temple now, no gift of price, No priestly round of sacrifice, Retain their ancient pow’rs. As shadows fade before the sun The day of sacrifice is done, The day of grace is ours. LSB 530:1 Iambic hymns 8’s and 6’s Another combination of 8’s and 6’s produces the new meter of 8 8 6 8 8 6 found in LSB to a tune by Joseph Herl called KIRKWOOD. This was the meter and tune I chose for the baptism text written for our granddaughter Alina’s baptism, “Blest Be the Father of Our Lord,” when she was baptized on All Saints’ Day of 2009.
Now thank we all our God With hearts and hands and voices, Who wondrous things has done, In whom His world rejoices; Who from our mother’s arms Has blessed us on our way With countless gifts of love And still is ours today. LSB 895:1 Iambic hymns Other meters The meter of 6 7 6 7 6 6 6 6 was used by Martin Rinkart for “Now Thank We All Our God.” The short lines, though unusual, work well. Rhyme scheme is abcbdefe
The whole triumphant host Gives thanks to God on high. “Hail, Father, Son and Holy Ghost!” They ever cry. Hail Abr’ham’s God and mine! I join the heav’nlylays: All might and majesty are Thine And endless praise! LSB 798:9 Iambic hymns Other meters The meter of 6 6 8 4D is unusual and divides the twelve syllables into different patterns. Here is the doxological stanza from “The God of Abraham Praise” set to the tune YIGDAL. The third and seventh lines (of eight syllables) provide adequate space for the thought to gather momentum and end on the climactic and compact four-syllabled ideas. Rhyme scheme is ababcdcd
The King of love my Shepherd is, Whose goodness faileth never; I nothing lack if I am His And He is mine forever. LSB 709:1 When shadows fall, I will not dwell On troubles that distress me, Nor let some painful memory Embitter and oppress me. LSB 885:3 Iambic hymns 8 7 8 7 and 10 10 10 10 Much like 7 6 7 6 was created by dropping one syllable from lines one and three of Common Meter, so also 8 7 8 7 is created by adding one syllable to lines two and four. Rhyme scheme is abab or abcb
The Son obeyed His Father’s will Was born of virgin mother; And God’s good pleasure to fulfill, He came to be my my brother. His royal pow’r disguised He bore; A servant’s form, like mine, He wore To lead the devil captive. LSB 556:6 Iambic hymns 8 7 8 7 and 10 10 10 10 A typical German iambic meter is 8 7 8 7 8 8 7. Like so much of German material, it can be classified as unsquare or asymmetrical in contrast to the balance of English hymnody. Rhyme scheme is ababccd
A mighty fortress is our God, A trusty shield and weapon; He helps us free from ev’ryneed That hath us now o’ertaken. The old evil foe Now means deadly woe; Deep guile and great might Are His dread arms in fight; On earth is not his equal. LSB 656:1 Iambic hymns 8 7 8 7 and 10 10 10 10 Another German masterpiece is Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress.” The meter is 8 7 8 7 5 5 5 6 7. A study of the music and text indicates that there is really only one musical phrase and long textual idea running for fifteen syllables before a point of rest is reached. The first two groups of 15 are the exposition of the idea; the other short phrases are “defiant jabs, ending with a good uppercut seven,” Rhyme scheme is ababccdde
Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face; Here would I touch and handle things unseen; Here grasp with firmer hand the_eternalgrace, And all my weariness upon Thee lean. LSB 631:1 (harder to memorize) Abide with me, fast falls the eventide. The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide. When other helpers fail, and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me. LSB 878:1 (easier to memorize) Iambic hymns 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 can be called the meter of the 19th century. Few are excellent hymns; most sound like poems that were set to tunes as an afterthought. Charles Wesley wrote many poems to this meter, but did not use it for any of his many hymns. The lines are too long, the thought process becomes too involved and the mind has long wandered before it reaches the end of the stanza. Two familiar hymns in this meter are “Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face” and “Abide With Me.”
No saint on earth lives life to self alone Or dies alone, for we with Christ are one. So if we live, for Christ alone we live, And if we die, to Christ our dying give. In living and in dying this confess: We are the Lord’s, safe in God’s faithfulness. LSB 747:1 Iambic hymns 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 is quite rare. We have only two examples in Lutheran Service Book: (LSB 752) “Be Still My Soul” and (LSB 747) “No Saint on Earth Lives Life to Self Alone.”
Lift up your heads, you everlasting doors, And weep no more! O Zion’s daughter, sing, To greet your coming King; Now wave the victor’s palm And sing the ancient psalm: “Lift up your heads, you everlasting gates!” Your kings awaits! LSB 339:1 Iambic hymns 10 4 6 6 6 6 10 4 10 4 6 6 6 6 10 4 is another rare meter and in Lutheran Service Book there is one example that is listed as 14 12 12 14. George Herbert’s classic text, “Let All the World in Every Corner Sing” is also written to this meter.