Home Worship Planning History of Hymns History of Hymns: "Tell Out, My Soul"

History of Hymns: "Tell Out, My Soul"

By C. Michael Hawn

"Tell Out, My Soul"
Timothy Dudley-Smith
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 200

Timothy Dudley-Smith

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!
Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice;
Tender to me the promise of God's word;
In God my Savior shall my heart rejoice.*

Timothy Dudley-Smith (b. 1926) has been a leading voice in British hymnody for more than five decades. Born in Manchester, England, Bishop Dudley-Smith was educated at Pembroke College and Ridley Hall, Cambridge. In 1950, he was ordained an Anglican priest. He has served as editor and secretary of several publications and societies, archdeacon of Norwich (1973-1981), and bishop of Thetford, Norfolk (1981-1991).

Bishop Dudley-Smith has written more than 400 texts. He is the author of four collections of hymns available from Hope Publishing Company. The four earlier collections of his hymns have been subsumed into a larger collection, A House of Praise (2003). Since then, three supplementary collections have appeared by this productive hymnwriter: A Door for the Word (2006), Praise to the Name (2009) and Beyond Our Dreaming (2012).

Bishop Dudley-Smith has received many honors since his retirement, including honorary vice-president of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland, a Fellow of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, and a Fellow in the Royal School of Church Music. He was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 2003 "for services to hymnody," and he received an honorary Doctor of Divinity from the University of Durham in 2009.

His father influenced his love of poetry, and his first and most widely sung hymn, "Tell Out, My Soul," was written while he was at Cambridge. He says of its conception, "I did not think of myself . . . as having in any way the gifts of a hymn-writer when in May 1961 I jotted down a set of verses, beginning 'Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord.' I was reading a review copy of the New English Bible New Testament, in which that line appears exactly as I have put it above; I saw in it the first line of a poem, and speedily wrote the rest." In an interview in 2006, the author acknowledged that this hymn was a "significant starting point" in the publication of his hymns.

The hymn was first published in The Anglican Hymnal (1965) with the tune TIDINGS. It was then paired in 100 Hymns for Today (1969) with its current tune, WOODLANDS, by Anglican church musician Walter Greatorex (1877-1949).

In the Anglican tradition, the Evening Prayer service usually includes two canticles, The Magnificat, Mary’s Song (Luke 1:46-55) and the Nunc Dimittis, Simeon’s Song (Luke 2:29-32). Choral settings of these texts abound. In addition, the canticles are often sung in a chant-style, a musical form that allows the choir and congregation to sing directly from the Scripture. Metrical paraphrases were less common in the Anglican Church. A metrical paraphrase draws out the salient themes and places them in stanzas and a structured poetic form.

The text is a metrical paraphrase of the Magnificat. The Magnificat is patterned after The Song of Hannah found in the second chapter of I Samuel. The similarities between the songs may be found especially in the praise of God's mighty acts and the liberation and salvation for the lowest of society.

The opening line is the expression of an exuberant young Mary, a contrast to the usual more subdued translation of the opening Latin phrase, Magnificat anima mea, "My soul magnifies the Lord." Mary sings this song after she learns of the conception and birth of Jesus from the angel Gabriel. This Scripture is found in the Revised Common Lectionary every year, either on the third or fourth Sunday of Advent.

Although this text is often read and proclaimed during the season of Advent, Bishop Dudley-Smith’s words are applicable at any time of the year. These words trumpet God's enduring love and ever-present power. They herald God's saving work, salvation that comes to all people through the birth of God into the world. This Savior comes into the world as a tiny baby in the poorest of estates, born to a mother who was willing to accept God's greatest call.

*©1962, Renewed 1990 by Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Dr. Hawn is distinguished professor of church music at Perkins School of Theology. He is also director of the seminary's sacred music program.

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