Hymn: “Hosanna, loud hosanna”

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, so today it’s fitting to add a Palm Sunday hymn to my occasional series of old and favorite hymns.

Hosanna, loud hosanna
the little children sang;
through pillared court and temple
the lovely anthem rang.
To Jesus, who had blessed them,
close folded to his breast,
the children sang their praises,
the simplest and the best.

From Olivet they followed
mid an exultant crowd,
the victor palm branch waving,
and chanting clear and loud.
The Lord of earth and heaven
rode on in lowly state,
nor scorned that little children
should on his bidding wait.

“Hosanna in the highest!”
That ancient song we sing,
for Christ is our Redeemer,
the Lord of heaven, our King.
O may we ever praise him
with heart and life and voice,
and in his blissful presence
eternally rejoice.

There’s so much that I like about this hymn. It’s evocative and clear, full of lovely details and memorable turns of phrase. It’s not so brief that it needs to be repeated to do it justice or to fill alloted time, but it’s not so long that even “non-liturgical” churches aren’t likely to skip any of the verses, or that we couldn’t reasonably repeat it if we like. And it’s long enough to sufficiently cover several facets of its subject, but short enough that I could wish it were longer.

Like so many of my favorite hymns, this recounts past events at some length, then connects those events to us who are singing it in this age. In this hymn, the children, praising Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem as its King, parallel us, praising him today as he sits in heaven as our King.

I mentioned “lovely details and memorable turns of phrase.” The best examples of both in this hymn, I think, are in the second stanza. First, one might think that “victor palm branch” is just a way to fill out the line—but in fact, from what I’ve read in several places, the people chose to lay palm branches before him because they were a nationalistic symbol, a symbol of national victory, used by the Maccabees and in yet earlier times. And second:

The Lord of earth and heaven
rode on in lowly state,
nor scorned that little children
should on his bidding wait.

That’s the sort of apt phrasing that, as a poet, I strive (or at least long) for but rarely manage.

Other reasons I love this hymn have more to do with its tune. “Ellacombe” is usually sung with either this or “I sing the mighty power of God,” another great old and favorite hymn. And it’s especially suitable for this hymn: a processional anthem fits a celebration of Jesus’ triumphal procession.

In most harmonizations of the tune that I have sung, the first half or so of the first, third, and seventh lines of each verse are in unison, and then the lines break into parts. At one time in my life, I didn’t like that (perhaps because it meant there was no one good octave for me to sing the hymn in), but now I like the movement from simple unison to more complex harmony—and especially the opportunity the chord progression offers to add in little “twiddles.”

There are some “seasonal” hymns that I suspect I wouldn’t like so much if they came to mind more often than once a year. (Especially some Christmas carols—even some of my favorites.) But I think that “Hosanna, loud hosanna!” is one that bears singing more often than just Palm Sunday—though I’m grateful for the reminder to sing it.


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