Hymn Text Analysis
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,181
    On another thread I was asked to analyze a hymn text that I feel is badly written. I took a little time writing it, so just to keep it in view for a little while, I thought I'd begin a new thread with it.

    Assuming this text http://www.hymnary.org/hymn/ANH1921/page/349

    -Verses 3 and 5 are ok, although each has an inexact rhyme.

    Every other verse, and the chorus, (and actually verse 5 but not as egregiously), has some quite unacceptable inversion of word order.

    Word order in modern languages is exacting; it's part of the reason we can get away without inflecting our nouns and adjectives. The place where a noun falls in a sentence tells you whether it's a subject or object.

    A man fell onto the dog

    is different from

    The dog fell onto a man.

    One of the chief difficulties of writing rhymed verse in English is English's rhyme-poverty. Unlike Latin, Spanish, or Italian, where rhymes are easily found, English rhymes are very hard to find. That's especially so, in English, when some of the rhymes are feminine (2-syllable end rhymes), as half of those in this hymn are. It's almost necessary to use verbs at the ends of lines--but ordinarily in English, verbs come earlier in a sentence.

    A compromise that many hymn writers make is inversion of word order. Put the verb last "Benedictions on us shed" or the adjective last "Here we meet with hearts sincere."

    This isn't the only fault here. Verse 2 is nearly unintelligible. But it's a glaring problem.

    I like to think of hymn writing as a craft or skill, like woodworking. When a master craftsman makes something, even something as simple as a wooden chest, for example, the seams are finished. If there were knots in the wood, or if the grain is faulty, or if there is any other problem with the basic equipment, a master is able to finesse the problem so that it comes out finished. Or think of a beautiful piece of lace or embroidery. It has a finished quality. If there have been compromises, they have been handled in a masterful way so that the seams don't show. In this hymn, they show.

    Consider the following hymn, by the master Charles Wesley. Here he often ends a line with a verb, but the entire line has been arranged so that this is natural English word order, as straightforward and robust as natural spoken speech. In addition to a polished, finished handfeel, the hymn also seems to ring with inspiration. We all know singers who are able to ring out the feeling behind a song--Mahaliah Jackson could always do this brilliantly, even without knowing all the words! A well-written hymn is in some way able to communicate the religious impulse that inspired the hymn to those who sing it.

    Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
    Sons of men and angels say; Alleluia!
    Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
    Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply: Alleluia!

    Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
    Where, O Death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
    Dying once He all doth save, Alleluia!
    Where thy victory, O Grave? Alleluia!

    Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
    Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
    Death in vain forbids Him rise, Alleluia!
    Christ hath opened Paradise, Alleluia!

    Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
    Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
    Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
    Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,308
    Thanks, Kathy. I've also been wondering about "Holy Patron" from another angle: what is the theology behind this hymn?

    For those who haven't seen it, here's the text:
    Holy Patron, thee saluting
    Here we meet, with hearts sincere;
    Blest Saint Joseph, all uniting
    Call on thee to hear our prayer.


    Worldly dangers for them fearing,
    Youthful hearts to thee we bring,
    Guide, in virtue persevering,
    Vice may ne'er their bosom sting.

    Thou who faithfully attended
    Him whom heav'n and earth adore;
    Who with pious care defended
    Mary, Virgin ever pure.

    May our fervent prayers ascending,
    Move thee for our souls to plead;
    May thy smile of peace descending
    benedictions on us shed.

    Through this life, O watch around us!
    Fill with love our ev'ry breath,
    And, when parting fear surrounds us,
    Guide us through the toils of death.

    Hymn Tune: Pleading Savior
    Meter: 8 7 8 7 D

    [UPDATE: When I made this comment, one stanza of the hymn was omitted. It is now in place.]
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,181
    No problems there, in my opinion. There's this nice turn of a phrase in one of the prayers for the Mass of St. Joseph, perhaps the collect? Where it asks for his help, who watched over the Church at its beginnings. Watched over this mystical body with its "human and divine elements," even when it was just the Virgin and the Lord. I'm also reminded of St. Teresa of Avila's constant recourse to St. Joseph. I think it's fine.
  • Note to the unwary reader: Kathy's verse 2 is omitted from Chonak's version. That verse is indeed horrible; is it even grammatical?

    Wesley's inversions, when he does invert, are further justified by their allowing him to place theologically and syntactically significant words at the beginning of each line. Look at all those telling verbs and participles at the beginnings of lines in the example above.

    Poor Fr Nicholas, though - it's hardly a fair comparison. And Wesley, as far as I know, never wrote a hymn to St Joseph!
  • The text RC posted is the text we used!
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,308
    The content seems unappealing to me. It's not unorthodox, but it doesn't give enough of a basis about St. Joseph; it doesn't start by recounting his history from Scripture, or greeting him as the guardian of the Redeemer. Instead it greets him as "patron" (verse 1), an idea which takes him out of the context of salvation history. Then it goes on with a verse (#2) about St. Joseph protecting youth from vice, which is a little puzzling, since Jesus and Mary were sinless. Liturgical texts tend to emphasize the more fundamental ideas about St. Joseph.
  • Oh, wait. I only have 4 verses.

    1. Holy Patron...
    2. Thou who faithfully attended...
    3. May our fervent pray'rs ascending...
    4. Through this life...

    I gravitated to this for Holy Family because of my verse 2. It speaks of him "attending Him whom heav'n and earth adore." (Presumably, fathering the Christ child.) Also of piously defending Mary, virgin ever pure. (Presumably, taking her in on the advice of the angel and not throwing her to the wolves when she came home pregnant.)

    A precautionary disclaimer: I am only seeking advice on my observations and am in no way defending/arguing about my choice.
  • Would it make sense to start a thread specifically for help with analyzing hymns? I am currently planning the remainder of Ordinary Time before Lent and have run into a few "hymns" for which I wouldn't mind some input. I figured rather than starting a new thread for each hymn, perhaps just one thread where we can post requesting feedback about using certain titles. Thoughts?

    I decided not to do it here because this thread started as general principals for hymn analysis.
  • oldhymnsoldhymns
    Posts: 148
    Chonak is right on track when he says Holy Patron, Thee Saluting "doesn't give enough of a basis about St. Joseph." This could be intentional, though. In at least one hymn book I have, there is an asterisk (*) next to Joseph with the statement at the bottom of the page "any saint's name may be used in place of Joseph."

    The hymn, apparently, was widely used since it appears in many hymnals and with varying melodies.
    Thanked by 1chonak
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,308
  • Kathy, do you ever write hymns with thees and thous in them?

    Many of the english language hymns in 19th century catholic hymns were not very well done. I think that is a period of time to forget rather than to remember, except to teach the lesson to avoid their mistakes. I tend to ignore them. Learning how to not make hymns like them is a good idea. The ones who were roman catholic and wrote hymns that were higher quality were often former Anglicans such as Rev. Edward Caswell.

    I always liked John McDougalls hymns, he was a cradle catholic i think. His St. Joseph Hymn is much better than this one, as it's based on latin office hymn, but I think kKathy could improve it because his version doesnt fit the latin meter as smoothly as the latin words do, which always annoys us.

    I don't know if writing english language hymns was ever very respected in 19th c. roman catholicism. This is why the anglicans and other protestants had an advantage. a catholic influenced anglican who takes english seriously and is a talented poet and linguist is a powerful force for good english hymnody.

    On the other hand, writing brilliant latin hymns in 19th c. catholicism was a much more respected practice. The office hymns of Christ the King written in the 1920's are a good example.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,181
    Yes, I write hymns with thees and thous in them from time to time. It seems natural to me to pray that way in certain circumstances. I don't believe very much in rules, except for orthodoxy and "good writing"--whatever that means in the situation at hand.

    Regarding the theology, yes, it's true that the hymn could be sung to almost any saint! By way of contrast, below I'm posting my hymn for the Feast of the Holy Family from my collection Hymns for the Liturgical Year. I do not own the copyright to this hymn. But it would be very inexpensive to buy a copy of the whole booklet from CanticaNOVA for your parish or school, and then you could make copies ad nauseam, setting them to whatever melodies you think best in your local situation.

    If I remember correctly, it was Gary Penkala's excellent suggestion to sing this to Sussex Carol, which is perfect, both for the meter and the season, and which makes it very cheerful indeed.

    One of the things I like about this hymn is that it has a kind of layered quality: we're talking about both the Holy Family and the Christian family at the same time, in different ways, as well as the Fatherhood of God the Father. The Gospels are referenced in verse 1 an oblique way, and this can be appreciated as underlying the hymn if you see it, like a joke you "get," but it's not necessary for immediately comprehending the surface sense of the hymn. St. Joseph is not mentioned by name until the second to last line of the hymn, but he is hidden in line 2 of verse 1, because the angels communicate God's will for the family to him repeatedly. The family themselves are travelers in distress on the flight to Egypt, and they receive the travelers from the East. They receive friends, and Mary and Jesus are received by Elizabeth and John the Baptist. The last line of verse 1 refers among other things to Luke 2:52, "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour [the Greek word means "grace"] with God and man."

    Generally, I feel that men are the underserved population of the modern American Church. I've seen some good apostolates that seek to address this. Personally one of the things I try to keep in mind as I write hymns is that they should be robust enough for a man to sing. When I asked my choir to sing this hymn, I heard a number of positive comments, but especially from the men.

    Within the quiet of a home
    Let no one but the angels come,
    Or travelers in their distress,
    Or friends in holy righteousness.
    Let every fam’ly live in peace
    And let the grace of God increase.

    O Jesus, born on Christmas night,
    The Son of Mary, heaven's Light,
    Give us the grace we need each day
    To follow in Your Father's way:
    The heav'nly Father, quick to bless,
    Whose ev'ry act is faithfulness.

    Then Father, bless each family
    With faith and hope and charity,
    That we may find our perfect Good
    Whose bed was only hay and wood.
    Saint Joseph, help all families stay
    With Him you sheltered Christmas day.

    Copyright © 2005 CanticaNOVA Publications. Duplication restricted.
    Meter: D Suggested tune: Sussex Carol, or others:
    Angel’s Song Neumark (alt) Saint Petersburg
    Melita Saint Catherine Stella
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    ad nauseum?

    Ummmm, maybe ad infinitum projects a more pleasant image?
    TeeHee, K
    Happy New Year een a Roma approacheth pronto, si?
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,181
    Ah, yes, but Scripture says that prophecies will cease. In heaven we won't be writing the hymns. We will be given what to sing :)

    Buono capodanno!
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,370
    Kathy, I'm sorry to chime in here, but the posted hymn has meter 88. 88. 88, not 76. 76. D. Is there some misteak here?

    Happy New Year!
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,181
    Chuck, Happy New Year to you and yours. Yes, you are right! Not sure how that happened. Hopefully it doesn't throw anyone off.

    Just use Sussex Carol, which is a perfect match, and all will be well.

    I do hope someone will remark on the substantive points I've made above regarding hymn analysis. Class? Anyone? Bueller?
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Ferris is at Cameron's, gaping at Cameron's dad's totalled out dream car. PrayTell reports that's what happens when you try to roll time or odometers back!
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,181
    I've never before in my life thought Paul Ford was being unreasonable. Having personally benefited enormously by SP, and being unaware of anyone who has been hurt by the Extraordinary Form in any way, and being very much aware of a number of people who have rejoiced in it, I'm flummoxed.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Omigosh, I'm double flummoxed, my Bueller quip about PTB I just made up for kicks. So, I went there and linked to the two Pauls. Inwood, pro forma. Dr. Ford, whoa Nelly! I didn't see that coming at all. And I was singing his praises to our bishop a week ago, but I may have been barking up the wrong tree there as well.