I’ve mentioned here before that my basic method of writing hymns involves letting a tune run through my head and letting the words sort of write themselves. It’s not exactly that simple, as this procedure is preceded by some kind of inspiration and succeeded by a lot of editing. However, the exercise as a whole is much more about listening for what might work as a hymn, rather than working hard at making the words happen.
One sound that I have come to prefer as I “listen” is the letter L. It seems to be a very pleasant sound, delicate and light. It does not impose, but suggests.”N” is similarly tentative, wondering, and delicate. Here is a text of mine, and here is the Australian composer Colin Brumby’s lovely setting:
The day shall never yield to night
when faith gives way to perfect sight.
The Lamb shall be the only light,
and he shall be the temple.
The city streets are paved with gold.
The final scroll shall be unrolled,
and no one shall grow faint or old,
for God shall be their glory.
For now, we see as in a glass,
but soon this childish way shall pass.
Faith and hope and love shall last,
and love shall be the greatest.
For Love Himself our eyes shall see.
The Lord is One, and ever Three,
and in that happy company
we shall rejoice forever.
Note how Charles Wesley has punctuated his marvellous mystical hymn Come, O Thou Traveller Unknown with the “L” sound throughout, here in a modern setting:
This is not a singular instance in Wesley, but rather seems to be characteristic of hymns that deal with the mysteries. Consider his great Ascension text, Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise, and his tenderest devotional text, Jesus, Lover of My Soul, as well as Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. When Wesley repeats words, they often contain an L or two: “Changed from glory into glory.”
What is so special about this consonant? Perhaps “L” takes longer to say than other consonants–it lingers. Physically, it uses a similar physical positioning of tongue and teeth as “t,” but unlike “t” is not percussive. It’s gentle. It leaves the vowels free to express themselves. One rests a moment. “Lord.” “Love.” “All in all.”