STLT#339, Knowledge, They Say

If you’re looking for music to accompany a service about anti-intellectualism and fake news, this is your hymn.

Heck, even if you’re just looking for music to accompany a service about James Luther Adams’ five smooth stones, or William Ellery Channing’s Baltimore sermon, or our fourth principle, this is your hymn.

Knowledge, they say drives wonder from the world;
they say it still, though all the dust’s ablaze with marvels at their feet,
while Newton’s laws foretell that knowledge one day shall be song.

We seem like children wandering by the shore,
gathering pebbles colored by the wave; while the great sea of truth,
from sky to sky stretches before us, boundless, unexplored.

Adapted from a longer piece by Arthur Noyes, this captures in two short verses the value we place on reason and awe of the natural world. And to be honest, nothing gets me thinking loftier thoughts about God than the latest photos from the Hubble or a previously unimaginable discovery of an animal, or a star system, or a cure.

Pretty much, if you’re a Unitarian Universalist, this is your hymn.

That is, if you can get the hang of the tune.

Composed by Cyril Taylor, this tune is a bit tricky and with an odd rhythm. I find it clunky and – broken record time – I lose the depth of the words because I’m trying to figure out how to sing it. That is not good, if this is sung congregationally. As a solo, perhaps. Now I should note that this was previously in the Celebration of Life, the 1964 hymnal, so it’s got some history. But as much as I love the lyrics, I don’t love the tune. So much so that I’ve scrapped the music altogether and used Noyes’ words as a reading.

Because it’s worth shouting from the rooftops some days.

2 responses to “STLT#339, Knowledge, They Say”

  1. Thanks for mentioning that it was in Hymns for the Celebration of Life — it was fun to look it up and compare. (It’s #39, BTW.) First thing I noticed was that the title in the earlier hymnal was “Wonder” — IMO, a far more appealing title than the dorky and awkward “Knowledge, They Say,” which of course is a result of the “first line as title” rule in STLT. Also, it was set to a different melody — not a great one, but much more singable than the one in STLT. I had never paid much attention to this hymn before — thanks for shining a light on it, especially in these times! 🙂

  2. I have used it to the tune “Coolinge” (the same as “Seek Not Afar for Beauty”). It has the right number of syllables, but it doesn’t scan quite right; the accents fall in the wrong place, so you get “KnowLEDGE, they say, drives wonder from the world . . . ” Not perfect. But it does make this lovely hymn singable.

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