Over the last few years, I have been attempting to write in a special genre of poetry: the hymn. I have found it a challenging task, owing partly to the difficulty of making a poem that achieves excellence as poem and at the same time fulfills its purpose as a hymn. As Helen Gardner says in Religion and Literature (pp. 156-7), “A hymn is a distinct kind of poetry… A hymn is not intended to express the personal situation or personal warmth of feeling of an individual singer, but a common ideal of Christian feeling…which the congregation acknowledges as an ideal….It should not be too individual, too original, in its images and phrasing.” Those, and other limitations which she mentions, present creative difficulties. Added metrical challenges come with having to remember always that the words will be set to music.
I had been searching without success for a musician with an interest in working with me on such a project when, one Sunday after church service, I asked John Hoyer if he knew of a liturgical time in the church year that might provide a need for a hymn. He suggested Christ the King Sunday, which is fairly new in the liturgical calendar, and thus has fewer hymns than other days. I set about the task, looking into the purpose of the day and pondering its themes. After some experiments with words and lines, I settled on the pattern of iambic trimeter. My meditation on the subject resulted in four stanzas, each on what seemed to be an important issue related to the meaning of Christ as King. John took the text from there, and graced it with music.
When Francis and I first discussed a hymn for Christ the King, I was expecting a triumphal “Crown Him with Many Crowns” text. Was I ever surprised! The text is challenging, and the metric structure of the hymn (five 6’s doubled) is totally unlike anything I had ever seen. There is a calm certainty in this text, an inevitability that I tried to capture in the rhythm and melody of the tune. The harmony, like the text, is also provocative–parallel fifths, cross relations, and modal elements abound. It probably would not be a good idea to try to sing this hymn in harmony!
The best way to sing this hymn is to start right away with the first stanza sung by a soloist or choir, so the organ does not introduce the hymn. Then add or change voices as each stanza is sung, so that the entire congregation does not sing until the final stanza. When Hope Reformed Church sang this hymn in 2003, the four stanzas were: 1. Solo, 2. Women, 3. Men, 4. All. Whatever you do, do not cut the last stanza! I am happy to help with free advice or a bulletin insert TIF file if any congregation would like to sing this hymn. Send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.