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Commentary

The earliest known English translation of Gerhardt's Passiontide hymn is that of J. Gambold, published in 1752.162162Cf. p. 92. It is written in his characteristic vein. Gambold has made no effort to do more than reproduce in doggerel the main ideas of the original without even attempting to gloss over the indelicate expressions which Gerhardt introduced from the Latin of Bernard. The "facie sputis illita" which in Gerhardt is modified to "Wie bist du so bespeit" (line 12) is given by Gambold with extreme literalness. His style becomes often ridiculous if indeed not wholly flippant when he attempts to imitate Gerhardt's familiarity163163Cf. p. 18. in addressing the Savior.

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Witness the first quatrain of stanza 7:

It gives me solid pleasure
My heart does not recoil
When I dive in some measure
Into thy Pangs and Toil.164164Cf. lines 49-52:Es dient zu meiner Freuden Und kömmt mir herzlich wol, Warm ich in deinem Leiden, Mein Heil, mich finden soll.

It is easy to understand why this hymn should be printed in full in the crude Morazian Hymn Book of 1754 and even in later editions, but it is also obvious that more recent hymnals should have made drastic alterations and judicious omissions. Of the centos adapted from Gambold's unpolished verses, that in Reid's Praise Book (1872) will show how changes were made to suit the more refined taste of the century following the early Moravian period. The quatrain cited above appears in Reid as follows:

And oh! what consolation
Doth in our hearts take place,
When we Thy toil and passion
Can joyfully retrace.

An English writer who faithfully transplanted Germany's best hymns and made them bloom with fresh beauty in their new gardens was Catherine Winkworth. Her two renderings of this hymn are well adapted to awaken responsive feelings in Christian readers. It would be difficult to judge between the two versions as to which the more successfully retains the force of the German. In both versions she has omitted stanza VI beginning "Ich will hie bei dir stehen." The earlier one (1855) does not preserve the metre of the original, while the later one (1863) was written for her Chorale Book with the accompanying melody. In general it may be said that the earlier version with the expanded third and seventh lines follows more closely the fervent thought of Gerhardt, an effect made possible in the longer stanza, as the English can rarely be expressed as concisely as the German. A comparison of the first quatrains of the two versions of the final stanza illustrates this:

1855.   1863.
(Version for church singing.)
Come to me ere I die,
My comfort and my shield;
Then gazing on Thy cross can I
Calmly my spirit yield.
Appear then, my Defender,
My Comfort, ere I die
This life I can surrender
If I but see Thee nigh.

Of the twenty or more forms in which this hymn is familiar to English and American readers that of Dr. Alexander has found most general 91 acceptance for church use. The reason is not far to seek. The music to which the hymn is usually sung is the original melody for the hymn "Herzlich tut mich verlangen"165165By Cristoph Knoll, 1563-1650. Cf. p. 87. and was, as has been stated, written for a secular song, though thoroughly suitable for the expression of the awfulness of Christ's passion. Alexander's version is without question the one which best suits the cadence of this melody. In the version, for example, of Jackson, the stress would fall upon "tortured"166166Cf. p. 94. in line 2 and, as the music repeats for the third and fourth lines, also on "a" in line 4. This, then, would not be selected as a satisfactory version for church singing. Aside from this feature, however, the flow of Gerhardt's language is more successfully imitated and the deep fervor of the German more effectively brought forth in Alexander's hymn than in any of the other translations unless we except the earlier one of Miss Winkworth.

While Gerhardt's hymn is more searching and profound than its Latin prototype, and an English translator would not ordinarily refer to the original of Bernard, still there seem to be in the phraseology of the Jackson and Winkworth translations evidences that these authors were at least familiar with it. Such lines as "Death triumphs in his pallour"167167Stanza 3, line 7, Winkworth, 1863. and "The pallor of the dead"168168Stanza 3, line 4, Jackson, 1873. are quite suggestive of the Latin: "Totus versus in pallorem";169169Line 9, Bernard, p. 86. and "Redeemer spurn me not"170170Stanza 4, line 8, Winkworth, 1863. of the Latin "Non me reum asperneris."171171Line 26, Bernard, p. 87.

A short paraphrase by Sir H. W. Baker contains several ideas taken from the Latin which Gerhardt has omitted. Stanza 1 lines 7, 8:

Yet angel hosts adore thee
And tremble as they gaze

are evidently suggested by:

Totus versus in pallorem
Quem coeli tremit curia. (lines 9, 10)

and

O Love to sinners free!
Jesu all grace supplying,
Oh turn thy face to me. (stanza 2)

follows the idea in

Peccatori tam indigno
Cum amoris intersigno
Appare clara facie. (lines 18-20)
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The same is true in the first quatrain of Baker's stanza 3, with the idea of the word "indigno" above brought into these later lines:

In this thy bitter passion,
Good Shepherd, think of me,
With thy most sweet compassion,
Unworthy though I be.172172In hac tua passioneMe agnosce, pastor bone. Lines 21, 22.

In 1860 Bishop Ryle selected and arranged Three hundred and sixty-six Hymns and Spiritual Songs--a song for every day in the year. His 166th poem is a cento of this Passiontide hymn and is assuredly deserving of mention, although he omits the first four stanzas entirely, and for no apparent reason changes the order of the others, arranging them as follows:

Ryle: 1 2 3 4 5 6
Gerhardt: VIII VI VII V IX X.

His first quatrain of Gerhardt's stanza VII is almost identical with that given in Reid's Praise Book as an alteration of the old Gambold version.

What heavenly consolation
Doth in my heart take place,
When I Thy toil and passion
Can in some measure trace.

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