Let all the world in every corner sing


Fig. 1. The Temple (1633)

Text. An antiphon, in Western liturgical tradition, is a chant or musical setting intended as a response to a psalm or canticle. Antiphonal singing is a practice that involves alternation between two or more groups, or a soloist and a group. Both definitions involve one thing responding to another. This hymn by George Herbert (1593–1633) seems to work with both definitions, with its text labeled chorus and verse, and in its reference to singing psalms. Having only two verses (versicles, stanzas), it is a brief text, yet it is effective. The first verse tells how God is not too distant to hear the praises of his people; the second describes the urgency of praise and the manner by which it should be done—from the heart.

“Let all the world in every corner sing” was first published in The Temple (1633 | Fig. 1).



The tune most commonly associated with this text is LUCKINGTON by Basil Harwood, from the Oxford Hymn Book (1908 | Fig. 2). The setting encapsulates the verses between a chorus at the beginning and the end, similar to Herbert’s text, but yielding a form of ABAABA, versus Herbert’s ABABA. The melody involves some text painting. In stanza one, at “The heav’ns are not to high” and “His praise my thither fly,” the melody rises upward, whereas in “The earth is not too low,” the melody moves downward to its lowest point. The affect of this on the second stanza is not quite the same but is still intriguing. The wide range of the melody makes this tune potentially challenging for average singers and small congregations. 

Fig. 2. Oxford Hymn Book (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1908).


Another common tune setting is AUGUSTINE by Erik Routley (1917–1982), first published in Hymns for Church and School (London: Novello, 1964 | Fig. 3). Routley’s commentary on this tune was published posthumously in Our Lives Be Praise (Carol Stream, IL: Hope, 1990), as follows:

AUGUSTINE . . . was the direct result of one of my then young children expressing discontent with the tune we all knew for “Let all the world,” so I facetiously remarked that I would try to replace that jubilant piece with one in B-flat minor. What may be more important, however, is that this is the only tune current in Britain that sets the poem as George Herbert wrote it. Brent Smith of Lancing had composed one—and a good one—for the school in this form, but it never travelled beyond the school. . . . We used AUGUSTINE in the church after which it is named [Augustine-Bristo Church] from about 1962 onwards; and when Hymns for Church and School (1964) was being prepared, and John Wilson remarked on the absence of tunes that preserved George Herbert’s form, I sent him Brent Smith’s and mine; he and his colleagues kindly chose mine. It was picked up by the 1973 Church Hymnary, but there a boneheaded sub-editor altered it to the two-stanza form—an insult which was corrected in the second printing after the damage had been done (pp. xviii-xix).

Routley’s tune is more harmonically adventurous than other settings. The phrase “My God and King” is an homage to the stirring choral treatment by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958), from his Five Mystical Songs (1911).


Fig. 3. Hymns for Church and School (London: Novello, 1964), excerpt.



In the United States, some Methodist and Southern Baptist hymnals have relied on a tune by Robert G. McCutchan, ALL THE WORLD, written for The Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: Methodist Episcopal Church South, 1935 | Fig. 4). In the original printing, the author was given as John Porter, but this was a thinly veiled pseudonym, as the real author’s name was still credited with the copyright at the bottom of the page. In his commentary for Our Hymnody: A Manual of the Methodist Hymnal (2nd ed., 1937), he wrote:

LET ALL THE WORLD was written especially for this hymn. Its meter is peculiar, and other settings did not seem to make the right appeal. Herbert called this poem “Antiphon,” and wished the congregation to sing the first two lines as a chorus with the other four lines as a solo. This setting, being in unison, lends itself admirably to that treatment (p. 32).

In spite of his desire to be sensitive to the original text, the antiphonal quality is not clear, since the entire setting is in unison, rather than having the verses be in unison and the chorus in parts (for example). McCutchan follows the ABAABA model set by LUCKINGTON rather than the ABABA model found in AUGUSTINE. This melody has a modest range and small intervals, making it easier to sing than some other settings. 


Fig. 4. The Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: Methodist Episcopal Church South, 1935), excerpt. ©1962 Abingdon Press.


Other tune settings include MACDOUGALL by Calvin Hampton (Hymnal Supplement II, New York: Church Pension Fund, 1976), and UNDIQUE GLORIA by George Elvey (1816–1893).

from Hymnology Archive
9 August 2018

Related Resources:

Robert Guy McCutchan, “Let all the world in every corner sing,” Our Hymnody: A Manual of the Methodist Hymnal, 2nd ed. (Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1937), p. 32.

Carl P. Daw Jr., Robin A. Leaver, & Raymond F. Glover, “Let all the world in every corner sing,” The Hymnal 1982 Companion, vol. 3B, nos. 402-403 (New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1994).

“Let all the world in every corner sing,”

Robert Gullifer, “Let all the world in every corner sing,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology: