The first hymn in the Psalmodia Germanica of Jacobi (1722) is a translation of Luther’s “Nun kommt der Heiden Heiland” (“Now the Savior comes indeed”). The second place in the book is given to Gerhardt’s “Wie soll ich dich empfangen” which is translated as “ How shall I meet my Savior.” In a rather quaint preface Jacobi writes:
“The present Specimen hopes for a charitable Allowance from those, that may happen to use it. A Version of this Kind lies under various Disadvantages, known only to those, who in any degree are acquainted with any Poetical Translations of this Kind. A great Deal is lost of the Life and Spirit of an Hymn, when it appears in another Language.”
In this effort as well as in the case of “Befiehl du deine Wege” Jacobi has left out so much, and incorporated so many ideas of his own which are at variance with Gerhardt’s theme that it is difficult to recognize its kinship with the original. The effect Gerhardt produces in the first line by the use of the direct form of address is entirely lost by Jacobi; also the translator creates an unpleasant impression by abruptly changing from the third person in the opening line to the second person in the next line.
Bishop Ryle has altered the last quatrain to this form:
I wait for Thy salvation;
Grant me Thy Spirit’s light,
Thus will my preparation
Be pleasing in Thy sight.
Again, the diction of stanza two is particularly strange, at least to modern readers.
I’ll raise with all my Powers
More Notes than Unison,
would be quite bewildering if we did not have at hand the German which is so forceful in its very simplicity:
Mein Herze soll dir grünen
In stetem Lob und Preis.
It is plain that Jacobi had not much appreciation of the spirit of Gerhardt, for the distinctive touches of alliteration, repetition for emphasis, the prevailing note of joy and peace accompanying the Savior’s advent are certainly not adequately reproduced. In fact the impression he leaves is almost one of gloom!
Contrast with this the translation by A. T. Russell, a cento of which (stanzas 1, 2, 7, 8, 10) is given in most American hymnals. Far more cheerful and more appropriate for the Advent season than anything in Jacobi are such lines as:
My heart to praise awaking,
Her anthem shall prepare, (stanza 2)
That in the light eternal our
Joyous home may be. (stanza 5)
It is apt renderings like these that have won for Gerhardt a place in English hymnody. Kelly’s rendering (1867) is characteristically accurate, but, excepting such lines as:
My heart shall blossom ever
O’erflow with praises new (stanza 2)
O come Thou Sun and lead us
To everlasting light, (stanza 10)
it is uninspired and lacking in fervor.
Of the 20 hymns of Gerhardt which Miss Winkworth translated there are three for which she has made two renderings: “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden,” “Nun ruhen alle Wälder,” and for this Advent hymn. The earlier version (1855) of the Advent hymn omits only the third stanza (“Was hast du unterlassen”). The later one (1863) is written in the original metre for church use to be sung to the traditional melody “Wie soll ich dich empfangen” by Johann Crüger157 (1653) and contains but six stanzas. As Miss Winkworthwas so thoroughly at home in the German she was able to reproduce a surprising number of details. Even the alliteration and repetition for emphasis of which Gerhardt is so fond find in her poem at least a partially corresponding place:
In heavy bonds I languished long (1855, stanza 3, 1)
This weary world and all her woe (1855, stanza 4, 5)
And labor longer thus (1855, stanza 6, 2)
The original has been characterized as the best German Advent hymn and Miss Winkworth has transfused it in her earlier version undiminished into her own language so that it reads like an original poem. Her final quatrain is worthy of Gerhardt:
O Sun of Righteousness! arise,
And guide us on our way
To yon fair mansion in the skies
Of joyous cloudless day.
C. Jacobi, 1722, in Psalmodia Germanica. To the Tune: commit thy ways and goings.
- How shall I meet my Savior?
How shall I welcome Thee?
What manner of Behavior
Is now requir’d of me?
Lord, thine Illumination
Set Heart and Hands aright,
That this my Preparation
Be pleasing in thy Sight.
A. T. Russell, 1851, in his Psalms and Hymns.
- O how shall I receive Thee, How meet Thee on Thy way;
Blest hope of every nation, My soul’s delight and stay?
O Jesus (Jesu), Jesus (Jesu), give me Now by thine (Thy) own pure light,
To know whate’er is pleasing And welcome in Thy sight.
- Thy Zion (Sion) palms is strewing, With (and) branches fresh and fair;
My soul in praise (My heart to praise) awaking, Her anthem shall prepare.
Perpetual thanks and praises Forth from my heart shall spring.
And (I) to Thy Name the service Of all my powers I (will) bring.
- (3.) Ye who with guilty terror Are trembling, fear no more:
With love and grace the Savior Shall you to hope restore.
He comes, who contrite sinners Will (shall) with the children place,
The children of His Father, The heirs of life and grace.
Miss Winkworth, 1855, in her Lyra Germanica.
- How shall I meet Thee? How my heart
Receive her Lord aright?
Desire of all the earth Thou art!
My hope, my sole delight!
Kindle the lamp, Thou Lord, alone,
Half-dying in my breast,
And make Thy gracious pleasure known
How I may greet Thee best.
Miss Winkworth, 1863, in her Chorale Book.
Ah! Lord, how shall I meet Thee,
How welcome Thee aright?
All nations long to greet Thee
My hope, my sole delight!
Brighten the lamp that burneth
But dimly in my breast,
And teach my soul, that yearneth
To honour such high guest.