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This hymn was written more than a century ago, back when more people were aware of how Early Modern English arranged its conjugations. But in the second verse, there appears to be an inconsistency between two otherwise identical instances of "watch" — tense, person, meter, and so on are all the same.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth,
Changeth never, nevermore;
How He watches o’er His loved ones,
Died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth,
Watcheth o’er them from the throne.

Mostly this is using -eth, including the last occurrence of "watch", as one would expect. But the one in the middle is really strange. It's not an accident either; the version with -eth corrected is an order of magnitude less common than the one I quoted. Is there some hidden meaning to this difference?

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    This was written long after -eth was archaic. I suspect part of the reason for -eth was to make it scan; loves and intercedes wouldn't have enough syllables to fit the tune. – Peter Shor Dec 17 '16 at 0:02
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    @PeterShor: Sure, but in one place, "watcheth" (two syllables) is used, and in another place "watches" (two syllables) is used. That's the inconsistency I'm wondering about. – Nathan Tuggy Dec 17 '16 at 0:06
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    One can over-analyse song lyrics. However, Francis may have chosen watches to match the sibilance of ones at the end of the same line, and watcheth to match intercedeth on the preceding line. I'm assuming that this is the lyricist's version. Hymnal editors are (and were) notorious for meddling with lyrics. I choke on practically every old hymn that I am expected to sing these days. New hymns, I refuse to sing, they are so bad. – Mick Dec 17 '16 at 0:32
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    @Mick I think it's more likely that he was trying to cut down on the aspirants. How he watcheth o'er is just one aitch too many. The earlier line How he loveth, ever gets away with it, perhaps because of the comma after loveth. Still makes the verse a bit odd, though. – BoldBen Dec 17 '16 at 8:44
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According to the Wikipedia article on "O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus," Samuel Trevor Francis wrote the lyrics to the hymn in 1875, which was subsequently set to the Welsh melody "Ebenezer" by Thomas John Williams. Google Books finds a 1926 edition of Francis's O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus: And Other Sacred Poems (1926), but doesn't provide a preview or a snippet view of the contents of the volume, so we can't see how Francis himself worded the lyrics.

The earliest version of the hymn that I've been able to find is from Charles Alexander, Victorious Life Hymns (1919), which offers this version of the second verse of the lyrics:

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,

Spread His praise from shore to shore;

How He loveth, ever loveth,

Changeth never, never more;

How He watches o'er His loved ones,

Died to call them all His own;

How for them He intercedeth,

Watcheth o'er them from the throne.

Clearly, the conflict in this verse isn't merely watches versus watcheth three lines later, but watches versus loveth, loveth, changeth, intercedeth, and watcheth in the five lines surrounding it.

The remainder of the song verbeth not in the archaic style. Nevertheless, the first verse includes this specimen of third-person present singular usage:

Underneath me, all around me,

Is the current of Thy love;

and the third verse is rife with relevant instances:

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,

Love of ev'ry love the best:

'Tis an ocean vast of blessing,

'Tis a haven sweet of rest.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,

'Tis a Heav'n of heav'ns to me;

And it lifts me up to glory,

For it lifts me up to Thee.

From these instances, it appears that Jesus in person loveth, changeth never, intercedeth, and watcheth, whereas the current of Jesus's deep, deep love is (not be) all around, and the deep, deep love itself is an ocean, is a haven, is a heaven, and lifts the singer up to glory (and to Jesus).

On this record, it seems clear that only Jesus in person jusitifieth and deserveth the regal archaiasm of an -eth verb ending; his deep love more pedestrianly merits and receives the plain third-person present form. But that being the case, it is almost impossible to see the phrase "How He watches" amidst the antient dignitie of loveth, changeth, &c., and not conclude that someone—either Francis himself or the publisher of the conjoined music and words—hath blown it. There is not a scintilla of difference in functional meaning between watches and watcheth as used in this hymn.

The more specific circumstances surrounding the occurrences of watches and watcheth here bolster this conclusion. Perhaps most significantly, both verbs are followed by o'er, so it can hardly be argued that watcheth was too difficult to enunciate in the first instance but not in the second.

As scored in Alexander's hymn book, watches sounds as two quarter notes (A–A or C–C or both), while watcheth sounds as either two quarter notes (F–F) or as a quarter note and an eighth-note triplet (D–C-D-E). Either way, I don't see ease of pronunciation as being relevant to the choice of watches in the first instance.

I do see a possibility that because watches appears on a line with no -eth verb close by (changeth is six words away in one direction, and intercedeth 16 words away in the other), a careless author or transcriber might not have noticed the switch in diction at that point. In contrast, it would take a very poor author or transcriber indeed to miss the fact that watcheth appears immediately after intercedeth: even if the sense of the -eth forms were half-foreign to your ears, you could hardly let "He intercedeth, watches o'er them" slide.

A Hathi Trust search yields a copy of S. Trevor Francis, Whence-Whither an Other Poems (1898), which contains the poem "Love of Jesus." This edition came out 23 years after Francis first published the poem but 27 years before he died. Unlike the three-stanza hymn cited above, the poem runs an heroic eight stanzas and attaches two additional verbs directly to Jesus:

Yet He calleth me "His own";

and

When the Royal, Kingly Bridegroom

Hath His stately spotless Bride;

So it begins to look as though the fault is not in Francis's posterity but in himself. In any event, a number of subsequent printings of the lyrics have changed the watches to watcheth, by way of regularizing the diction. In doing so, they have logic and consistency on their side. Those who persist in watches have more than a century of precedent on their side—and not much else.

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    Good point about the use of lifts in other parts of the hymn. I'm not so sure that "is" and "'tis" are indicative of the register--my understanding is that these forms did not change between Early Modern English and present-day English. "Be" could sometimes replace "is" outside of subjunctive contexts, but it didn't have to, and according to Quuxplusone's answer to the following question indicative "be" was mostly used with plural subjects, at least in Shakespeare's time: Why “the powers that be”? – sumelic Mar 30 '17 at 3:16
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*Edit added to the end of original post.

I found an article about this that discusses various aspects of Biblical language versus modern language. According to the article's author, the -eth suffix is used to indicate an ongoing action, where the -es indicates a finite action.

  • "How He loveth, ever loveth," indicates that His love is ongoing.
  • "Changeth, never, never more;" could either refer to the previous line and indicate that His love is and will remain unchanging, or that He, Himself, is and will remain unchanging forever. (I'm not terribly familiar with hymns; please forgive my uncertainty.)
  • "How He watches o'er his loved ones," means that He is, at present, watching over His loved ones.
  • "How for them he intercedeth" indicates that He constantly intercedes on behalf of his loved ones; it is a never-ending, ongoing action.
  • "Watcheth o'er them from the throne." indicates that His watching from the throne is an ongoing, unending action.

"Watches" means He's watching right now; "watcheth" means He's watching not only right now, but constantly and unendingly.

EDIT

My suggestion here was inferred primarily from the following quote from the linked article:

None of us liveth to himself means that life is ongoing. Such a one is in the continual process of being alive. "No man dies to himself" means the act of dying, but this leaves us short of the meaning of the verse. Dieth tells us that he is in the continual process of dying.

I thought that perhaps this relates to the OP's question in that it differentiates between the modern -(e)s and the archaic -eth. My idea was that if the words carry different meanings, the hymn's lyricist might have deliberately chosen to use the -eth suffix where he did to indicate an ongoing action, as opposed to a present action that will terminate.

In retrospect, it was too big of a leap to make based on one source.

Thank you for the help and input, @sumelic and @Colin Fine.

  • You need to provide at least a link to the article, or somehow identify it. – Hot Licks Feb 16 '17 at 19:09
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    Yes, I'm sorry about that. I didn't mean to submit my answer right then; my finger just slipped. I didn't realize that the partial answer would still appear while I was editing it. Now I know to delete prior to editing if I make that mistake again. I apologize for my error. – NenyaQueen Feb 16 '17 at 19:25
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    I'm sorry, but that portion of the website is baloney. -(e)s and -(e)th are to all intents and purposes the same suffix: the -eth form was in the course of being replaced by the originally dialect -es form at the time of the KVJ (and Shakespeare). And in the same way that -(e)s is obligatory even today for the third person singular of present-tense verbs, -(e)st was obligatory for second person singular (the form with "thou"). – Colin Fine Feb 16 '17 at 22:20
  • sumelic - I made an inference from the article that the difference he stated between the archaic -eth and modern -(e)s was the reason the writer of the hymn chose to use the forms he used where he used them. I thought that perhaps the writer had deliberately chosen to use the -eth form in those specific places because he wanted to emphasize the constant nature of the actions in question. The article contains many examples of places where changing the suffix to the modern -(e)s would actually change the meaning of a verse. My suggestion was that the writer's verbiage was based on the same idea. – NenyaQueen Feb 17 '17 at 5:15
  • That is the part I was using. I will add that quote to the original answer right now. Thanks! – NenyaQueen Feb 17 '17 at 18:58

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