Home History of Hymns: "Like the Murmur of the Dove's Song"

History of Hymns: "Like the Murmur of the Dove's Song"

"Like the Murmur of the Dove’s Song"
Carl P. Daw Jr.
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 544

Carl P. Daw Jr.

Like the murmur of the dove’s song,
like the challenge of her flight,
like the vigor of the wind’s rush,
like the new flame’s eager might:
Come, Holy Spirit, come.*

The Rev. Carl P. Daw Jr., an Episcopal priest and a hymn writer, was born in Louisville, Ky., and ordained in 1982. Dr. Daw, 66, recently retired as executive director of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada.

He also served as secretary and chair of the Standing Commission on Church Music of the Episcopal Church and as a consultant member of the text committee for The Hymnal 1982, to which he contributed a number of translations, metrical paraphrases and original hymns.

His hymns can be found in many English-speaking hymnals around the world. “Like the murmur of the dove’s song” has also been translated into Spanish for Albricias (1987), a collection of hymns published by the National Hispanic Office of the Episcopal Church.

Dr. Daw found his inspiration for this hymn from A Religion for Our Time by Louis Evely. In this 1969 book, Evely described the Holy Spirit saying, “the image of the dove was chosen not because of the shape of the bird, but because of the moan. The dove murmurs all the time. It is because the Holy Spirit moans all the time that he is represented under the form of a dove; it is a verbal and not a plastic image.”

Evely went on to quote Romans 8:26: “In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” Evely could have given further evidence by referring to Isaiah 38:14 or 59:11, which describe the moaning dove as a metaphor for praying in distress.

The first stanza portrays how the Spirit comes. There are both visual and aural aspects that present the dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. In addition, two traditional images of the Spirit—wind and fire—are found in this stanza. These images are intended to remind the reader or singer of the first Christian Pentecost (Acts 2:2-3). Also, the words “vigor” and “might” are presented to recall the Lucan emphasis on the power of the Spirit.

The second stanza turns to where the Spirit dwells and affirms that it is a corporate gift to the Church. There are several biblical references in this stanza. In A Year of Grace: Hymns for the Church Year (1990), Dr. Daw demonstrates that this hymn offers Pauline, Johannine and Lucan understandings of the Church—all of which share recognition of the Holy Spirit as a divine gift. Paul sees the Spirit in the body of Christ (Romans 12:4-5 and I Corinthians 12:12-13). The Gospel of John represents Christ as the true vine (John 15:1-5) and Luke reveals the work of the Spirit in the assembled community gathered in faith (Acts 2:1).

The third stanza clarifies why the Spirit works. The Holy Spirit comes for the purpose of reconciliation, prayer, divine power and a quiet confidence. Raymond Glover, editor of The Hymnal 1982 Companion, says the text is like the ancient hymn “Veni Sancte Spiritus” (“Come, Holy Spirit”), using the images of the Spirit and the people of God to suggest the scope of divine power and the depth of human need. We as humans need God, and the Holy Spirit is providing this need. This can be seen in Acts 1:8 and John 20:22-23.

This hymn is perfect for use on Pentecost Sunday. Because of the nature of the text, it can also serve other liturgical functions such as confirmation and ordination services. These two services call for the Holy Spirit to come down during the laying on of hands. The hymn can also be sung on Sundays when the gifts of the Spirit are the center of the service.

*© 1982 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Mr. St. Romain is a sacred music student of Dr. Michael Hawn at Perkins School of Theology, SMU.

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