Wednesday, September 22, 2021

In which I eventually propose a game

It suddenly occurred to me the other day, and I was struck by the fact, that there are two types of hymns in Christian hymnals (remember hymnals?). The first type -- let's call them Type 1 -- are those in which the title is also the first line of the hymn. The second type -- let's call them Type 2 -- are those in which the title does not appear until later, usually in the refrain.

Here, in no particular order, are some examples of Type 1 hymns:

Holy, Holy, Holy
Rock Of Ages, Cleft For Me
Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me
How Firm A Foundation
Come, Thou Fount Of Every Blessing
O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing
Like A River Glorious
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
Christ The Lord Is Risen Today
Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
Dear Lord And Father Of Mankind
What A Friend We Have In Jesus
Great Is Thy Faithfulness

There are hundreds of these. Most Christmas carols are of this type:

Silent Night
The First Nowell
Joy To The World!
Angels We Have Heard On High
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night
Deck The Halls

But there are also plenty of the second type where the title does not appear in the opening lines. Using a couple of non-hymn examples, if I said "Dashing through the snow" you would instantly know that the title of the song is "JINGLE BELLS!", or if I said "You better watch out, you better not cry" you would say "SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN", right?

You may remember that in a recent post I mentioned a couple of these Type 2 hymns, namely "Far away the noise of strife upon my ear is fallng" ("DWELLING IN BEULAH LAND") and "Master, the tempest is raging, the billows are tossing high" ("PEACE! BE STILL").

Reader Tasker Dunham immediately said that those were definitely not Church of England hymns. He is right. Many Type 2 hymns are Methodist or Baptist hymns written in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

There are a few Type 2 hymns that might even qualify as Type 3 (or at least Type 2B) because the title is not sung until the very end of the song. One of these, known to many as the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, begins "Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon". The song's last two words are also its title, "ETERNAL LIFE" Another example of a Type 3 hymn is thought by some to be a translation of a poem written by St. Francis Xavier. It is entitled "MY ETERNAL KING" but begins "My God, I love Thee; not because I hope for heav'n thereby", and the title words are the last three words of the entire song.

If your eyes have not glazed over by this time, I propose a game that involves trying to select which title goes with which first line (and if you have been paying attention, you will recognize these as Type 2 hymns). Anyone can play; familiarity with the hymn is not necessary.

Here are some first lines:

1. Some day the silver cord will break, and I as now no more shall sing.
2. My Lord has garments so wondrous fine, and myrrh their texture fills.
3. Years I spent in vanity and pride, knowing not my Lord was crucified.
4. The chimes of time ring out the news, another day is through.
5. We praise thee, O God, for the son of Thy love.
6. Are you weary? Are you heavy laden?

and here are some titles:


(end of matching game)

Finally, some songs have more than one tune associated with them, often on opposite sides of the Atlantic, as it happens. Some people know only one of the tunes, and some people know both. Three hymns that are sung to more than one tune are "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah", "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross", and "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day". The last one is actually a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow!

If this post was not your cup of tea, hang in there with us and something better will come along eventually.


  1. Well you stumped me. None of those are hymns I am familiar with.

    1. Emma, the point of the game is to try to figure out or deduce from the first line of a song alone what it’s title might have been! Maybe it’s an impossible game. But give it a try!

    2. Okay I'll guess.
      1. f
      2. d
      3. c
      4. e
      5. b
      6. a
      How did I do?

    3. Emma,. good try but a little bit off.You got the first two perfect, the next two are inverted, and the last two are also inverted. What I’m trying to say is if you swap c and e, and also swap b and a, the answers will be in the right order!

  2. Can't identify any. They are not Church of Englamd hymns.

  3. Tasker, I never said they were. I wasn’t asking you to identify the hymns. Maybe I need to be a better communicator, although I did say that familiarity with the hymn was not necessary to play the game. The point of the game was NOT to identify a hymn by its first verse opening line. That would not be a game, that would be a memory test. The point of the game was to use logic and deductive/inductive reasoning to predict where the opening line might be leading in subsequent lines and then pick out a title that most likely is the culmination of the thread you came up with, or as a strict grammarian might say, the thread with which up you came.

  4. On September 23, 2021 at 7:20 PM Yorkshire Pudding left the following comment:

    "Tackling your hymn quiz, I was hopeless. As a boy I was a member of our local church choir (Church of England) and many of the hymns we sang still swirl in the nether parts of my brain such as "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross". What a lovely hymn that is. Another one that I often find myself humming or singing is "Ye Holy Angels Bright". Have a nice day Bob!"

    It was published and I made a reply, then somehow both were deleted, so I am attempting to reconstruct them now. Here is the reply I made to Yorkshire Pudding:

    "Neil/Yorkshire Pudding, I tried to picture all those hymns swirling about in your medulla oblongata but it made me dizzy. Then I tried to think about you singing in your local church choir (Church of England) when you were a boy, and my head nearly exploded (I'm kidding).

    I am sorry you found my hymn quiz to be a hopeless task, but I am happy that you were willing to make an attempt. Perhaps I should get the Archbishop of Canterbury's approval before trying to concoct another hymn quiz.


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