My Song Is Love Unknown

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My Song Is Love Unknown

by Samuel Crossman (1664)

My song is love unknown,
  my Saviour’s love to me;
love to the loveless shown,
  That they might lovely be.
    O 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 O, 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
      themselves displease,
    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 suffering 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


I really love the first four lines of this hymn in particular.

I suspect that for those of you who do not know this hymn, you recognize some of these lines anyway. There is a likely reason and I will explain why below. For now, I will share a little bit about the author. From Wiki:

Samuel Crossman was a Puritan minister who had taken part in the Savoy Conference but was ejected from the Church of England due to his opposition to the Act of Uniformity 1662. During his exile from the Church of England, he wrote “My Song Is Love Unknown” as a poem in 1664. It was first published in The Young Man’s Meditation and then became published as an Anglican hymn in 1684, after Crossman had rejoined the Church of England in 1665 and two years after his death. The last verse of the hymn was written as an imitation of George Herbert‘s The Temple poem as a tribute by Crossman to Herbert. In the 21st century, the language of the hymn is sometimes updated by hymnal editors, a move which is often lamented by traditional hymnologists who feel that the newer language loses the original meaning and nuance.

The most commonly used tune for “My Song Is Love Unknown” is called “Love Unknown”. It was written by John Ireland in 1925 and reportedly was composed in 15 minutes on the back of a menu. Ireland’s tune was credited with bringing the hymn out of obscurity which it had fallen into during Victorian times.

Here is a performance of the hymn from King’s College, Cambridge.





If this sounds familiar to you, it might be because Coldplay borrowed heavily from the hymn (musically and lyrically) with their song “A Message” from their X&Y album (2005.) I found some interesting notes from “Coldpedia” regarding the writing process for this song.

Chris Martin and Jonny Buckland said the song was the last one written for the album. In interviews, Chris told that some close friends who have heard the album before its release date thought that it was missing a track, which ended up irritating him since the recording process of the album was troubled at that time. Chris said for The Guardian the initial idea for the song was based on Samuel Crossman’s 1664 hymn, “My Song Is Love Unknown”, but hadn’t followed it up. Later after that, the idea came up again while he was at home, at two in the morning, talking about the album with his ex-wife, Gwyneth Paltrow. “[She] was saying “Maybe you should try and write that other song””, which made he lost his temper, replying, “I’ve broken my back over this record!”, ultimately deciding to give it a try. “So I went downstairs and sat with the guitar, and in five minutes it came. It’s brilliant. And it was the first song I’ve ever written without any clothes on. Makes it freer.”

Sometimes I suppose one finds the Gospel in unexpected places.