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.