[Today’s post is by John H. Parker, co-author of the newly released book, Abide With Me, published by New Leaf Press. This account is from the travels of John and his co-author/photographer,Paul Seawright.]

We love the great hymns, don’t we? But the words, or lyrics, of hymns are poetry. And poetry is sometimes difficult to understand. So often people sing the words of a hymn for years and love those words, but they don’t fully understand them. As an English professor I encounter this problem many times with many people—including myself! So in GREAT HYMN! WHAT’S IT MEAN? We’ll look at short phrases of great hymns and together we can figure out their meaning and understand them better and therefore love the hymns even more.

Night snow

We’ll start with “Silent Night.” This hymn was written in the German language and later translated into English, and when that happens there is often a further difficulty. Let’s look at the first two groups of words:

Silent night, holy night!

This group of words is actually an independent unit, a kind of exclamation, and stand by themselves. But most word groups in hymns are sentences: you start with the first word, usually capitalized, find the subject and the verb, and read until you get to the period or question mark or other end punctuation mark such as these: . ; : ? !

So the next sentence is

All is calm, all is bright; [A]Round yon[der] virgin and child.

Here’s where the confusion often comes in. Because we all pause for breath after the word “bright” we tend to disconnect the first line from the second. Actually then, the sentence stars with “All” and ends with “child” and reads “All is calm and bright around the virgin and child over yonder.”

Bethlehem, Israel, from Tantur

More next blog.