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Exploring Language in Hymns

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale Thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn!

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

This is one of my favorite hymns and as I researched it, I found that it has eleven verses!

The two above are the verses we usually sing and I think these two verses are full of suitable content for discussion with children.

I sometimes hear people say they do not like reading the King James Version of the Bible because the language is difficult to understand. Yes, the language in the King James Bible and in this song is slightly different from the language we customarily use today, but I don’t think that is a reason to disregard either. (Anyone ever hear of The Constitution of the United States? The language is antiquated, but still pertinent!)

I think it is very important to expose children to a vast array of vocabulary, and hymns are a great way to do just that.

Here are some questions for discussion with children:

*Who is this song about?
*What words tell you that?
*What is “sore abuse”?
*What does “visage” mean?
*What is the question asking in the second verse?
*Why is the last word capitalized?

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Comments

  1. LOL I was just talking about this the other day with a friend from church. It was sad, but for Memorial day our church sang the classic memorial day songs. I do sign language though and a lot of times the signs for complicated words are translated to simplier signs….. (the signs are the same for the complex english word and the less complex words) Anyway, I couldn’t sign the song cause I don’t know what an Alabaster is, much less what it means….. which is sad, cause it is in one of our national songs…. Not to toot my own horn, but I have a college degree. I can’t imagine that the non-college educated students out there would have a clue what the song is talking about either…. and people wonder why we don’t have any national spirit…. we don’t even know what the words in the songs mean!

  2. Smockity Frocks says:

    Meagan, I just asked my 12 and 14 year olds, seperately, what the meaning of alabaster is and they both knew. (It means white, more specifically, a white stone.)

  3. Excellent post… and happy anniversary! :)

  4. Well I am impressed. I had no idea, and the other lady next to me didn’t know. I haven’t asked any one else here lately but I rememeber asking the same questions in previous years. What is sad is that I never remembered to look up the meaning afterwards.

  5. Cardamom says:

    I love this hymn! I was in a 26-member high school choir that toured Europe years ago. We would sing this in EVERY cathedral we visited, in 8-part-harmony, just to hear the acoustics of each building. The words would nearly make me cry every time, too…

  6. I agree wholeheartedly with you. We have only ever read the KJV (and I’m not a person who wouldn’t touch other versions – we have a number of versions in, and make use of them all, but the KJV is the one we read in family devotions etc) When we come across a difficult word, we simply tell its meaning…. simple as that!
    If we never give our kids what’s above them, or ‘deeper’ than their existing knowledge, they’ll remain stagnant.
    After all, we learnt Psalm 23 as little kids (and the Shorter Catechism, for that matter!). If we’d waited for a full understanding before learning these things by rote, we’d still not have learnt them today…. Who of us can enter into the full depth even of Ps 23, after all?

    :) Love, Anne x

  7. I agree! Glad you took the time to make this point. :)

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