Lenten Hymns and their Story

March 10, 2023

“My Song is Love Unknown”

The 17th century in England was a Golden age for Christian poetry, from the intensely personal metaphysical verse of John Donne to the epic Biblical re-tellings of John Milton. These poems were not originally intended as hymns, though some were set to music in the 19th and 20th centuries. “My Song is Love Unknown”, with it’s haunting melody by the 20th Century composer John Ireland, has as it’s text a poem by the Anglican clergyman Samuel Crossman [1625-84].
The poem beginning “My Song is Love Unknown” was first published in 1644 in a collection of Crossman’s poems titled “The Young Mans Meditation.” In “My Song is Love Unknown”, the best of all the poems published by these composers, there is a symbolic exploration of the mysteries of God’s love in the midst of human suffering. The poem as a whole, however, is related to “the Passion of the Christ, the Sacrifice”. It is a 252 line poem that was written from the point of view of Christ Himself.
The “love unknown” that constitutes this “song” is the love of Christ for sinners; specifically, “my Savior’s love to me.” That love is unknown not only because some people do not realize what Christ has done for them, but also and especially because God alone makes it known through the Gospel, revealing that it is unfathomable to human reason and beyond all understanding.
What did Jesus do to deserve this treatment? He mercifully healed diseases and affliction. Throughout, Crossman is contrasting the love of Jesus with the hatred that human beings give Him in return. They respond to Jesus’ goodness with “rage and spite,” being “displeased” with Jesus to the point of saving the lief of a murderer.
Jesus goes to suffering precisely so that He can free His foes from rejection of Him and the guilt of their evil, abhorrent treatment of Him. Throughout, Crossman is writing not just about Christ’s crucifiers; he is writing about himself, so that those who sing this hymn also put themselves in the position of the “loveless” sinner whom Christ loves.

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

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