N 1964, BARRY GOLDWATER of Arizona ran against Lyndon B. Johnson, who became president when JFK was shot and killed in Dallas. The strategy of Goldwater’s opponents was to paint Goldwater as a “trigger-happy cowboy” who would start a nuclear war. Goldwater’s campaign slogan was: In your heart you know he’s right. An adversary of Goldwater—with a potent sense of humor—modified that slogan, printing bumper stickers saying: “In your heart you know he’s nuts.” [For the record, the Republican party was “destined” to lose that year, due to enormous sympathy generated by Kennedy’s assassination.]
An Easier Route? • At various times over the last 100 years, some have attempted to dispense with hymns that rhyme. In English, writing a hymn that doesn’t rhyme is much easier than writing one that does. The justification usually given is: “Not all Latin hymns rhyme.” In a certain sense, that’s true—but it’s not that simple. Ancient Latin hymns used two systems: QUANTITATIVE (long and short syllables) and QUALITATIVE (stress-accent). Fortescue says quantitative was once considered “the more noble” form, but as the centuries elapsed it was quashed by the stress-accent type. For those of us alive today, the problem is that both systems were commingled for roughly 600 years—and it’s not always easy to determine what system is being used during the transitional period. As Father Britt wrote: “In studying the hymns chronologically, it will be observed also that the growth of rhyme kept pace with the growth of accent.” Broadly speaking, extremely ancient Catholic hymns usually don’t rhyme, whereas the those written later (circa 1200AD) usually do. An excellent way to keep things straight is to remember the PANGE LINGUA GLORIOSI. The version by Bishop Venantius Fortunatus (from the 6th century) doesn’t rhyme. But when Saint Thomas Aquinas made his version 600 years later—using the version by Fortunatus as a model—all the verses rhyme.
Should Hymns Rhyme? • I started by mentioning Barry Goldwater’s campaign slogan: “In your heart you know he’s right.” Hymns in English absolutely must rhyme because the melodies don’t feel complete otherwise. I believe that in your heart you know this is true. The following was recorded by our volunteer choir yesterday (1 October 2023):
Agree? Or Disagree? • Do you see how our ears anticipate those rhymes? The rhymes are so satisfying. Do you agree it would be totally unfulfilling not have non-rhyming stanzas? Below is a different rhyme-scheme … but it employs the same melody:
Summary • The ear craves the “fulfillment” of rhymes. Non-rhyming hymns are certainly tempting because they’re so much easier to write. But the ear needs rhymes. Needless to say, exceptions do exist. For example, for a complicated non-metrical melody such as this, one could “get away with” a non-rhyming text.