Aleteia

Hymn of the week: “The King of Love”

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A beautiful Irish melody for the Good Shepherd

Perverse and foolish, oft I strayed,
But yet in love He sought me,
And on His shoulder gently laid,
And home, rejoicing, brought me.

This gentle hymn is a poetic reflection on the love of Christ. “The King of Love My Shepherd Is” was written by H.W. Baker in 1868, and is most appropriately sung on the fourth Sunday of Easter. It is based on Psalm 23, and in fact the six stanzas of the hymn correlate to each of the six verses in the Psalm.

Baker wrote the text following the theme of Christ the Good Shepherd and it is an excellent example of his style as a poet, which has been described as “tender sadness, brightened by a soft calm peace.” Baker considered this one of his finest works and the hymn must have held special meaning for him, as the 3rd verse (highlighted above) became his last words on his death bed.

The tune of the hymn is an unattributed Irish melody known as “ST. COLUMBA.” The sweetness of this melody is perfectly suited to Baker’s beautiful text; however his words are also popularly sung to a melody by the English composer John Bacchus Dykes. This tune, known as “DOMINUS REGIT ME,” is much more influenced by the Romantic style of the 19th century, with much grander instrumentation.