Fifth Rate Poetry Set to Sixth Rate Music

In the view of my rantings last week about hymns that I hate, I paid close attention when I read another blogger referring to C.S. Lewis' famous quote about certain hymns being "fifth rate poetry set to sixth rate music." And that was before the "modern worship" explosion of the 1980s and the industry that produces the poppy praise pap of today.
But reading the quote sent me scurrying back to find the context for it... his book of semi-catechetical essays entitled "God in the Dock", where he writes of his experience in gospel halls shortly after his conversion, a salutory lesson to any social, spiritual or aesthetic snobs (not that I would fit into any such category):

"I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered fifth rate poetry set to sixth rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren't fit to clean those boots."

The issue isn't the quality of the hymns (and anyway, who am I to judge whether the tunes and poetry are first, second, third or thirtieth rate... I'm musically incompetent and you've read my poetry), but the heart of the hymn-singer.

But it still won't stop me having a go at carols that I hate later in the week!


whynotsmile said…
NO! I'm planning a post on Carols We Hate this week!!! Aaargh!!!

Excellent post, though; CS Lewis always nails it...
Oh I am sure there are plenty to go round!!
scrabopower said…
I used to think many recent worship songs were more like fifth-form poetry set to sixth-forum music but realised maybe this would be harsh on GCSE students!

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