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Commentary

Few of the English versions of German hymns which appear in the old Moravian hymn books rise above a mediocre grade; many on account of their crudity deserve only passing mention, others are interesting merely by way of comparison with later renderings. The editions up to that of 1886 published no authors' names and it is now largely a matter of conjecture as to who may have written these earlier versions. Rarely did the translators succeed in giving even a fair impression of the original, and we suspect that irnperfect knowledge of the exact meaning of the German or even indifference to the effect their versions produced may too often have been the cause of the crude and even grotesque language.

The translator of this Christmas hymn has, however, been a notable exception; choosing from Gerhardt's discursive strophes the most significant ideas, he has developed a poem of seven stanzas superior to most contemporary 112 hymns from the German. The correspondence of strophes is as follows:

Gerhardt: I II VII VI VII VIII VI IX XI XX
Mor. Hy. Bk.: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Especially happy are the epithets in lines 3 and 4:

Du Himmelsblum und Morgenstern,
Du Jungfrausohn Herr aller Herrn.
    Thou Morning-star, thou Eden's Flow'r
The Lord of Lords, whom Mary bore!

The modern reader will enjoy the orthography in the lines:

Dost thou a stranger chuse to be (stanza 3),
and     Thou cloathest all (stanza 3).

though he will recoil at the pronunciation of the first two lines of stanza 5:

Thou in a manger ly'st with beasts,
There thou a little Infant rest'st.

Stanza 6, a free paraphrase of stanza XI in the original, reproduces admirably the childlike confidence with which Gerhardt writes. The translator appreciates keenly the personal tone which pervades the poem when he sings:

I thank thee, loving Lamb! that thou
On my account didst stoop so low;
And as thy Spirit gives me grace,
I'll be thy Servant, if thou please.

In her Chorale Book and set to the old tune "Erschienen ist der herrlich Tag,"190190By Nicolaus Heermann (d. 1560). Miss Winkworth gives the following arrangement of her ten-stanza version:

Gerhardt: I II III V VI IX VII XVIII XIX XX
Winkworth: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Stanza 9 shows how successfully she can imitate Gerhardt's simplicity and fervor; even the alliteration finds a partial correspondence in her third line:

Gerhardt (stanza XIX). Winkworth (stanza 9).
Du bist mein Haupt; hinwiederum
Bin ich dein Glied und Eigentum
Und will, so viel dein Geist mir gibt,
Stets dienen dir, wie dirs geliebt.
    Thou art my Head, my Lord Divine,
I am Thy member, wholly Thine,
And in Thy Spirit's strength would still
Serve Thee according to Thy will.

So also in stanza 10 (Gerhardt XX) for Gerhardt's favorite expression "für und für" we find a very happy equivalent, and also an exact rhyme which the German lacks:

113
Gerhardt (stanza XX). Winkworth (stanza 10).
Ich will dein Alleluja hier
Mit Freuden singen für und für,
Und dort in deinem Ehrensaal
Solls schallen ohne Zeit und Zahl.
    Thus will I sing Thy praises here
With joyful spirit year by year;
And they shall sound before thy throne,
Where time nor number more are known.

Miss Cox, whose translation of Gellert's Easter hymn

Jesus lives, thy terror now
Can no longer, Death, appal us,

is so well known, has given us one of the best modern versions of this Christmas hymn of Gerhardt's. Her stanzas correspond as follows:

Gerhardt: I II III V VI VII XVIII XIX XX
Cox: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Miss Cox makes a less personal appeal to the worshipper and thereby loses much that is so excellent and characteristic of Gerhardt; instead of keeping the pronoun in the singular, "So fasz ich" (stanza XVIII) "Du bist mein Haupt" (stanza XIX) and "Ich will dein Alleluja" (stanza XX), she has respectively "Our love grows bold," "Thou art our Head," and "Our hallelujahs." If her poem is rather more polished, Gerhardt's is certainly the more direct, as witness these stanzas:

Gerhardt (stanza VII). Cox (stanza 6).
Du kehrst in fremder Hausung ein,
Und sind doch alle Himmel dein;
Trinkst Milch aus deiner Mutter Brust
Und bist doch selbst der Engel Lust.
    Thou who both heaven and earth dost sway,
In strangers' inn are fain to stay;
And though thy power makes angels blest,
Dost seek thy food from human breast.

The concluding stanza is inferior to the others and suffers by comparison with the excellent lines of Miss Winkworth cited above: it is a very free paraphrase and leaves the impression of having been hastily constructed:

As each short year goes quickly round,
Our hallelujahs shall resound;
And when we reckon years no more,
May we in heaven thy name adore!

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