Corinthian Hymn – Love is ….

Salisbury Cathedral from meadows
Salisbury Cathedral from Harnham Meadows


I had not been quite sure what to do about this canticle. It is No. 59 in Common Worship Daily Prayer, where it has the title A Song of Divine Love. It is 1 Cor 13:4-13, part of one of the best known passages in the New Testament, often read at weddings. There are, though several other reasons why I have felt a bit daunted at versifying these verses.

– The canticle is actually quite long, 12 verses in its prose version.

– There is an excellent and well known hymn inspired by some of these verses by Bishop Christopher Wordsworth (1807-85), Gracious Spirit, Holy Ghost, which as a hymn is probably better than anything I am ever likely to write.  He was bishop of Lincoln from 1869 to 1885 and a nephew of the poet.  It only covers part of the CWDP canticle and is slightly too loose a rendering really to count as a metrical version of it by the standards of this site.  I cannot criticise Bishop Wordsworth for that. He did not write it either as a canticle or a metrical version of these verses. It is one of series of hymns he wrote inspired by, not a rendering of, the epistles in the 1662 Prayer Book, in this case for Quinquagesima.  That is the old name for the Sunday before Lent.  Nevertheless, if anyone wanted to sing it in lieu of the canticle, I could not disagree with their decision.

– The canticle starts at 1 Cor 13:4 but there happens to be rather a good rendering of 1 Cor 13:1-3 by Isaac Watts in Long Metre, which has gone out of use.  He also wrote a less inspiring version of part of the rest of the passage in Common Metre.  So what I have decided to do is to render the whole chapter into Long Metre, with the verses at the beginning inspired by rather than partially derived from Isaac Watts’s version.  Verse 3 is the only one that is still all that close to what Watts wrote.  I have then divided the whole into two parts, so that one can select which verses and how much of it one wishes to sing on any particular occasion.

The words

These are the words,

Part 1

1. Though with the tongues of heav’n and earth
I speak, I’m yet as nothing worth —
If I’ve no love. I am a farce,
A gong or cymbal made of brass

2. Were I inspired to preach and tell
All myst’ries found in heav’n or hell,
Or could my faith a mountain move,
I am as nothing without love.

3. Should I give all from my whole store
To feed the hungry and the poor;
Or hand my body to the flame,
To gain a martyr’s glorious name, —

4. If love for God and people too
Are absent, vain is all I do.
No tongues, no gifts, no fire nor zeal
My lack of love can e’er conceal.

Part 2 – the verses of this Canticle in CWDP

5. Love is patient, mild, kind and good
Not envious, vaunting, proud, nor rude.
Rejoicing not in ill but truth,
Not cross, resentful nor uncouth.

6. Love is not harsh, nor inhumane,
Nor grudging, sour, puffed up or vain.
All things loves bears, believes and hopes,
Endures, is endless in its scope.

7. Tongues, prophecies will all depart.
We know and prophesy in part.
The partial shall give up its power
When what is perfect strikes its hour.

8. When but a child, then like a child
I reason’d, spoke, my thoughts I styled.
But I grew up, reached adult days.
I cast aside my childish ways.

9. For riddles through a glass I see
But face to face then shall I be.
In part is all that now I’m shown;
Then shall I know as I am known.

10. Love bears all things but never ends.
These are the three; these are our friends.
Faith, hope and love shall ever be,
But love’s the greatest of the three.

The tune

There are a number of Long Metre tunes which suit this canticle. Angel’s Song, by Orlando Gibbons (1585-1625) often used for Forth in thy name O Lord I go and in this collection allocated to Psalm 40, would be an excellent choice.

It will also work well in Double Long Metre.  That is probably a necessity if one wants to sing the whole Canticle at once. London (added in the previous blog, 19th July 2017) and Haydn’s Creation (Ps 93) in this collection would both work well.

However the tune below, which I have chosen for it, has a curious history.  It will not be well known. I found it in an old copy of Hymns Ancient and Modern. I think it may have been there from the original edition in 1861. There it is entitled Jesu Dulcis Memoria and is set to a hymn by J.M.Neale, Jesu! The very thought is sweet. The Latin title of the tune implies that his hymn could be his rendering of the Latin hymn that originally went to this tune. The tune is marked ‘Proper Sarum Melody’.

If one forgets about (and ignores) its presumably being originally plainsong, it is an attractive tune in its own right, best played at a reasonable speed, and treated in a slightly ‘folky’ style.  The version on Soundcloud is in that form. It shares with a lot of folk tunes a modal ambivalence. It feels a little as though it cannot quite to make up its mind whether it is in D or E Dorian. In that, it is like a number of dance tunes in 9/8 time which end on the second in a way that leaves the tune feeling incomplete, a sense that one has not finished, that one should dance on.

It is up to you when you get to the last verse, whether you stick with E Dorian, or resolve it with a chassé onto a D chord, in which case, the easy option is D, D, A, low F.

Taking the tune fairly fast and making sure that the numerous melismas keep the discipline of having a conventional time signature also makes it easier not to lose track of which syllables go with which notes.

Since the end result will doubtless horrify any lover of early music, since the same tune sometimes appears elsewhere under a different title Christe Redemptor Omnium, and since all that this version now has in common with its early music ancestor is approximately the same notes in the same order, I felt that this version probably should not appear under the name of its forbear.  So in tribute to the remains of the old Salisbury on a hill north of the current one, I am  calling this version New Sarum. As far as I have been able to find out, this title has not been used previously.

New Sarum (Jesu Dulcis Memoria) in Hymn Format
New Sarum (from Jesu Dulcis Memoria)

I have added it to Soundcloud and it can be found here

The Picture

is a photograph of Salisbury Cathedral from Harnham Meadows, slightly south of the viewpoint in one of Constable’s Salisbury paintings, the one with the rainbow in it.


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