24 November 2007

Alt. Strikes Again

As one raised on German hymns, this time of year cannot but help remind me of Philipp Nicolai's grand Wachet Auf. The lyric and tune, to my mind, are perfectly wedded. No English translation seems to understand this better than Catherine Winkworth's, which first appeared in Lyra Germanica: Second Series. (See the end of this paper for a more astute analysis than I can give.)

Yet nowhere does Winkworth's original translation appear in modern hymnals. Someone always feels the need to tinker. To be sure, Winkworth is almost slavish in her desire to retain the meter and original thought which, I opine, leads to some rather "clunky" phrasing. However, the ever-present alt. that appears at the end of the references to her name tinker not only with poetry, but also with the theology. Most frequently, the Eucharistic references, which hearken to the Apocalypse (i.e., the book of the Revelation) are written out.

Over the years, I've read numerous reviews that have suggested why Winkworth's translation is altered. I've also read various translations not by Winkworth (or claiming, tenuously, to be based on Winkworth's work). The weakest of these, I find, are in various American Episcopal hymnals.

None of this qualifies me for what comes next--my feeble attempt at tinkering with Winkworth. Perhaps you'll see it as just one more disposable alt. among many. (Those familiar with The Lutheran Hymnal will no doubt see the dependence on and preference for its alt. version.)

“Wake, awake, for night is flying,”
The watchmen on the heights are crying;
“Awake, Jerusalem, arise!”
Midnight hears the welcome voices
And at the thrilling cry rejoices:
“Oh, where are ye, ye virgins wise?
The Bridegroom comes, awake!
Your lamps with gladness take!
With bridal care
Yourselves prepare
To feast with Him, Your Bridegroom, there.”

Zion hears the watchmen singing,
And all her heart with joy is springing,
She wakes, she rises from her gloom;
For her Lord comes down all-glorious,
The strong in grace, in truth victorious,
Her Star is ris’n, her Light is come.
“Now come, Thou Blessed One,
Lord Jesus, God’s own Son,
Hail! Hosanna!
We follow Thee,
The halls we see
Where Thou hast bid up sup with Thee!”

Now let all the heav’ns adore Thee,
Let men and angels sing before Thee,
With harp and cymbal’s clearest tone.
Of one pearl each shining portal,
Where we are with the choir immortal
Of angels round Thy radiant throne.
No vision ever brought,
No ear hath ever caught,
Such great glory;
Therefore will we
Sing hymns of praise and joy to Thee.

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