love unknown

A 2005 song from Chris Martin (Coldplay) contains these lyrics:
My song is love
Love to the loveless shown
And it goes up
You don't have to be alone ...

My song is love, unknown
But I'm on fire for you, clearly...

You're the target I'm aiming at
And I'm nothing on my own
Got to get that message home ...

A 1664 hymn by Samuel Crossman contains these lyrics:
My song is love unknown
My Saviour's love for me;
Love to the loveless shown
That they might lovely be.
But who am I, that for my sake.
My Lord should take take frail flesh and die?

I stumbled across this combo as I was picking the hymn (wanting to fit into the mantra of 'teaching people a new song'!) for community worship at Carey this week. I haven't investigated this too deeply but Chris must have known about Sam - particularly when the two tunes are so hauntingly similar as well! However it is the comparisons between the two complete sets of lyrics that has captured me. Let me open this up a bit and invite you to jump in!

1. Chris is only horizontal; Sam is only vertical in their relational focus
The focus for both is on the word 'unknown'. For Chris it seems that the love of a guy for a girl is unknown by the girl and he 'has to get the message home'. For Sam Jesus' love for people with a sin-problem is being rejected and so remaining unknown to them - with particular reference to the hatred shown by those watching Jesus go to the cross.

2. For Chris the purpose of the pursuit seems more selfish; for Sam the purpose is sacrificial.
While Chris goes on about 'you don't have to be alone' and this does sound selfless (although we don't know if she wants his company!), the deeper motivation is to fill the void in himself: "I'm nothing on my own". For Sam the purpose is about this fabulous gospel story. It is about this sacrificial death of Jesus - 'for my sake ... who at my need His life did spend' - which then enables this profound friendship with this same Jesus - 'my friend, my friend indeed' - to develop and writer's own person to become deeply 'lovely': 'love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.'

3. For Chris this love remains unknown until the end; for Sam the love becomes known by the end.
Both songs tell a story. For Chris there is intense longing and emotional turmoil all the way through. The message doesn't seem to get home. For Sam the hatred and scorn and anger of the crowds in that final week is contrasted by the writer experiencing something quite different: "Never was love ... like yours. This is my Friend, in whose sweet praise I all my days could gladly spend." This love actually can be known and experienced...

Maybe you can uncover a few other observations. Here are a couple of clips from YouTube:

The Coldplay song:

The Crossman song:

nice chatting



The Coldplay one is all about the love the singer feels for his love-object; the hymn is all about God's love for all people, whether they know it or care or not. Coldplay is clearly referencing the hymn, but singing about your own love for someone feels quite different to me than singing about someone else's love. Don't know what that difference means, but it was the first one that struck me...

Paul said…
Yeah, Heather I kinda missed that one, didn't I?

4.For Chris it is singing about the love he wants to give; for Sam it is singing about the love he has received.

How does that sound?

Thanks for that!
Much more coherent than what I wrote! I've been having a fuzzy-head day and shouldn't really be wrtiting for public consumption right now!
Paul said…
Nah - you've provoked me to think more about these issues overnight...

I wonder if your observation captures one of the shifts that has taken place in the Christian singing:worship scene over recent years.

Aren't we becoming more influenced by Chris than by Sam?

Aren't we tending to sing more about our love for God than about God's love for us?

Aren't we tending to place our singing in more of a romantic frame than in a theological one?
paroikos said…
yes we are, and that is very depressing, cos actually my love for God is not worth singing about, unless it is a dirge - frail, halfhearted, doubleminded, impotent, adulterous, selfish, inadequate love. I find nothing to celebrate in my love for God, (except perhaps that by grace i even can love him) but his love makes for much better songs. 'amazing love, how can it be, that thou my God shouldst die for me?'
Rhett said…
You're Chris might have known about Sam. I've read an interview with Chris in Rolling Stone where he states that one of his motivations for forming a band was singing in chapel while at school. He comparred the sound of an audience singing along with him in concert to the feeling he had singing with others in that chapel.
Deane said…
Hi Paul. That's an interesting reuse of an old hymn that you've pointed out.

Interestingly, there is no development in Samuel Crossman's own knowledge of God's love through the poem. Right from the beginning it is manifest or "known" to Samuel himself. The reference in the first line to "love unknown" seems to mean that the love of God is unimaginable, beyond the ken of men, or (comparing it to later verses, including the second verse) that it is a love that is not known by other men, including those who originally rejected him on earth. It is not a knowledge that the poet is saying was once "unknown" to him, but is now "known". Rather, the "unknowable" love of the Saviour is the poet's "song"/proclamation right from the beginning.

My song is love unknown:
My Savior’s love to me

So, rather than being a development in the poem, I think there is a constant antithesis between friends and enemies of Christ.
Paul said…
a couple of comments, deane

1. I confess that I haven't found it easy to understand what Sam is trying to say "My song is love unknown". What actually does he mean by "unknown"?
Since writing this post I went looking for further explanation. One guy says this - "the hymn meditates on the sharp difference between Christ's love for sinners and the hatred he received from them in return." I think he means that Sam's love is unknown in the sense of being non-existent?
That then becomes the point of the "love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be" because he goes on to say that "Divine love loves what is unlovable in itself and thus makes it lovable."

2. By the end I think what has been "unknown" has become known - there is development in the hymn - as the final verse is a beautiful statement of love for Christ:

Here might I stand and sing
Of him my soul adores;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like yours.
This is my Friend in whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.
Deane said…
I see what you're saying. It does depend on whether the "love unknown" is Sam's own (nonexistent) love, or - as I think is the case - it is a description of the love of Christ.

It may just be a Hebraic bias, but I think that the first two lines are in synchronic parallelism on the word "love"(!) That is, the "love unknown" (line 1) that Sam sings/proclaims is "My Saviour's love to me" (line 2), which again is "Love to the loveless shown" (line 3). And, once introduced, the loveless "might lovely be" (line 4).

Also, given that "My song" introduces the topic of the whole poem/song, it is marginally more likely that it concerns Christ's love rather than Sam's love.

So, I'm still favouring the constant friend versus foe of the love-dispensing Christ in the song - although I'd be interested if anybody has some insights.

I sang this a few weeks ago, so it has interested me. (I often wonder what I'm saying.)

... I seem to remember singing hymns for years, and later working out that they meant something a little different from what I had thought. Maybe we could make a list ...
Paul said…
Actually, I find your case more convincing now that you expound it more fully, Deane. It certainly makes for an even more intriguing hymn, doesn't it?!

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