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.

 *          *          *          *          *

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)


About middlingpoet

From the Gawain poet to Rainer Maria Rilke: I love traditional poetry.
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