More Gerhardt

What can I say? Gerhardt is a poet for trying times.

Commit Whatever Grieves Thee

Commit whatever grieves thee
Into the gracious hands
Of Him who never leaves thee,
Who Heaven and earth commands,
Who points the clouds their courses,
Whom winds and waves obey,
He will direct thy footsteps
And find for thee a way.

Thy truth and grace, O Father,
Most surely see and know
Both what is good and evil
For mortal man below.
According to Thy counsel
Thou wilt Thy work pursue;
And what Thy wisdom chooseth
Thy might will always do.

Thy hand is never shortened,
All things must serve Thy might;
Thine every act is blessing,
Thy path is purest light.
Thy work no man can hinder,
Thy purpose none can stay,
Since Thou to bless Thy children
Wilt always find a way.

Then hope, my feeble spirit,
And be thou undismayed;
God helps in every trial
And makes thee unafraid.
Await His time with patience,
Then shall thine eyes behold
The sun of joy and gladness
His brightest beams unfold.

O faithful child of Heaven,
How blessèd shalt thou be!
With songs of glad thanksgiving
A crown awaiteth thee.
Into thy hand thy maker
Will give the victor’s palm,
And thou to thy deliverer
Shalt sing a joyous psalm.

Give, Lord, this consummation
To all our heart’s distress;
Our hands, our feet, e’er strengthen,
In death our spirits bless.
Thy truth and thy protection
Grant evermore, we pray,
And in celestial glory
Shall end our destined way.

~ Paul Gerhardt (1656), composite translation. These verses only constitute half the hymn. They’re usually sung to the Passion Chorale, which is more familiar to most of us as “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.”

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And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara:*  for the Almighty hath dealt with me bitterly.

*Hebrew:  mara (bitter), naomi (sweet)

Sweet was the light of the sun,
Sweet was the green of the plains,
Sweet were the dews and the rains,
Sweetly the rivers had run.

Lord, at Thy word the great sun
Burnt all the wheat in the plains,
Dried up the dews and the rains,
Struck every stream that had run.

Sorrow I drink and I eat,
Sorrow in all that was dear.
Far is the joy that was near,
Bitter is all that was sweet.



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To the Winds

Give to the winds thy fears,
Hope and be undismayed,
God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears,
God shall lift up thy head.

Through waves and clouds and storms,
He gently clears thy way;
Wait thou his time, so shall this night
Soon end in joyous day.

Still heavy is thy heart,
Still sink thy spirits down;
Cast off the weight, let fear depart,
And every care be gone.

What though thou rulest not,
Yet heaven, and earth, and hell,
Proclaim: “God sitteth on the throne,
And ruleth all things well.”

Leave to his sovereign sway
To choose and to command,
So shalt thou wondering own his way,
How wise, how strong his hand!

Far, far above thy thought
His counsel shall appear,
When fully he the work that wrought,
That caused thy needless fear.

Thou seest our weakness, Lord,
Our hearts are known to thee;
O lift thou up the sinking heart,
Confirm the feeble knee.

Let us in life, in death,
Thy stedfast truth declare,
And publish with our latest breath
Thy love and guardian care.

~ Paul Gerhardt (1656), trans. John Wesley

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More Wesley

It turns out that John Wesley did much more translating of German poetry than I thought. See this hymn, originally by Tersteegen, or this one by Gerhardt. Here is a famous Reformation hymn by Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf—one which I remember singing as a child, though I didn’t know Wesley was the translator. And then of course there is the poem by Johannes Scheffler that I posted earlier this week.

Gerhardt and Tersteegen and Scheffler: all old favorites of mine. Wesley must have been fond of the German poets. It’s a peculiar thing when you discover that you have the same odd tastes as someone who lived 300 years ago. C. S. Lewis says somewhere that friendships arise when two people suddenly realize that they both love the same things. Can that happen when people live three centuries apart?

The only thing lacking in Wesley’s translations is Rainer Maria Rilke. That’s hardly Wesley’s fault, as Rilke wasn’t born until a century after Wesley’s death. And Rilke wasn’t exactly a Christian poet.  But for lyrical German verse, Rilke can’t be beat.  Perhaps one of the things that will occupy both Wesley and Scheffler in the new life will be the reading of Rilke’s poetry and the translation into heavenly tongues of the best of it.

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The Wesleyan Scheffler

Who’d have known?  John Wesley, an English poet I much admire, once translated a poem by Johannes Scheffler, a German poet I much admire.

Why is that surprising?  Johannes Scheffler (aka Angelus Silesius) was a counter-Reformation fireball.  Which is to say, he was as anti-Protestant as an entrenched Papist can be.  The Wesleys, of course, lived a century later as happy Methodist-Anglicans.

I discovered this surprising relationship a few days ago while singing Wesley’s translation of Ich will dich lieben, meine Stärke in church.  It was like discovering that two of my best friends from two warring countries knew each other, and were also friends.

Not that Johannes Scheffler would have been personal friends with Wesley in his earthly life, of course. But I do think he would have happily translated the best of Wesley’s hymns into German, between his bouts of virulent anti-Protestant polemics.  How do I know that?  Because of what they both say in the hymn below.

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Thee will I love

Thee will I love, my strength, my tower,
Thee will I love, my joy, my crown,
Thee will I love with all my power,
In all Thy works, and Thee alone;
Thee will I love, till the pure fire
Fill my whole soul with chaste desire.

Ah, why did I so late Thee know,
Thee, lovelier than the sons of men!
Ah, why did I no sooner go
To Thee, the only ease in pain!
Ashamed, I sigh, and inly mourn,
That I so late to Thee did turn.

In darkness willingly I strayed,
I sought Thee, yet from Thee I roved;
Far wide my wandering thoughts were spread,
Thy creatures more than Thee I loved;
And now if more at length I see,
’Tis through Thy light and comes from Thee.

I thank Thee, uncreated sun,
That Thy bright beams on me have shined;
I thank Thee, who hast overthrown
My foes, and healed my wounded mind;
I thank Thee, whose enlivening voice
Bids my freed heart in Thee rejoice.

Uphold me in the doubtful race,
Nor suffer me again to stray;
Strengthen my feet with steady pace
Still to press forward in Thy way;
My soul and flesh, O Lord of might,
Fill, satiate, with Thy heavenly light.

Give to mine eyes refreshing tears,
Give to my heart chaste, hallowed fires,
Give to my soul, with filial fears,
The love that all Heaven’s host inspires;
That all my powers, with all their might,
In Thy sole glory may unite.

Thee will I love, my joy, my crown,
Thee will I love, my Lord, my God;
Thee will I love, beneath Thy frown,
Or smile, Thy scepter, or Thy rod;
What though my flesh and heart decay?
Thee shall I love in endless day!

~ Johannes Scheffler, Heilige Seelenlust (1657); trans. John Wesley, Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739)

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Most Glorious Lorde of Lyfe

Most glorious Lord of life, that on this day
Didst make Thy triumph over death and sin,
And having harrowed hell, didst bring away
Captivity thence captive, us to win:

This joyous day, dear Lord, with joy begin,
And grant that we for whom Thou diddest die,
Being with Thy dear blood clean washed from sin,
May live for ever in felicity:

And that Thy love we weighing worthily
May likewise love Thee for the same again;
And for Thy sake, that all like dear didst buy,
With love may one another entertain.

So let us love, dear Love, like as we ought;
Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.

~ Edmund Spenser, c. 1522-99

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Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is probably the most used of all the psalms. It is short but says much; and what it says is nothing if not quieting and comforting. The psalm is light enough for any number of pastorally-themed greeting cards, bookmarks, and devotional materials, but grave enough for invariable use at funerals.

Interestingly, Psalm 23 is almost never used in a metrical form. People read and recite the prose translations as if they were sufficient.  The phrases are so well known, especially in the King James version, and they roll so well off the tongue, that there is hardly a need to metricize anything.

But a few metrical versions do exist. The following has to be among the most beautiful. It was sung at Princess Diana’s funeral to the tune “Dominus regit me.” Personally, I prefer the lovely Irish melody “St. Columba.”

*       *       *       *       *

The King of Love My Shepherd Is

The King of love my Shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never,
I nothing lack if I am His
And He is mine forever.

Where streams of living water flow
My ransomed soul He leadeth,
And where the verdant pastures grow,
With food celestial feedeth.

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love He sought me,
And on His shoulder gently laid,
And home, rejoicing, brought me.

In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
With Thee, dear Lord, beside me;
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy cross before to guide me.

Thou spread’st a table in my sight;
Thy unction grace bestoweth;
And O what transport of delight
From Thy pure chalice floweth!

And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise
Within Thy house forever.

~ Henry Baker, Hymns Ancient and Modern (1868)

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