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 imperfect 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 hymns from the German. The correspondence of strophes is as follows:

Gerhardt (Moravian Hymn Book): 1 (1), 2 (2), 7/6 (3), 7/8 (4), 6/9 (5), 11 (6), 20 (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 chose to be (stanza 3),


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 11 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,”1 Miss Winkworth gives the following arrangement of her ten-stanza version:

Gerhardt (Winkworth): 1 (1), 2 (2), 3 (3), 5 (4), 6 (5), 9 (6), 7 (7), 18 (8), 19 (9), 20 (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 19)

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.    

Winkworth (stanza 9)

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 20) for Gerhardt’s favorite expression “für und für” we find a very happy equivalent, and also an exact rhyme which the German lacks:

Gerhardt (stanza 20)

Ich will dein Alleluja hier
Mit Freuden singen für und für,
Und dort in deinem Ehrensaal
Solls schallen ohne Zeit und Zahl.    

Winkworth (stanza 10)

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 (Cox): 1 (1), 2 (2), 3 (3), 5 (4), 6 (5), 7 (6), 18 (7), 19 (8), 20 (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 18) “Du bist mein Haupt” (stanza 19) and “Ich will dein Alleluja” (stanza 20), 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 7)

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.    

Cox (stanza 6)

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!

Selected Stanzas

From the Moravian Hymn Book, 1754.

  1. We sing to thee Immanuel!
    Thou Prince of life, salvation’s well!
    Thou Morning-star, thou Eden’s Flow’r
    The Lord of Lords whom Mary bore!  Hallelujah.

  2. We sing thee ‘midst thy chosen race
    With all our strength we give thee praise;
    That thou so long expected guest
    Didst come to visit us at last.

Frances Elizabeth Cox, 1864, in the Schaff-Gilman Library of Religious Poetry.

  1. We sing to thee, Emmanuel,
    The Prince of life, salvation’s well,
    The plant of heaven, the star of morn,
    The Lord of Lords, the virgin-born!

  2. All glory, worship, thanks, and praise,
    That thou art come in these our days!
    Thou heavenly guest, expected long,
    We hail thee with a joyful song.

Miss Winkworth in her Lyra Germanica, 1865, p. 24.

  1. Thee, O Immanuel, we praise,
    The Prince of Life, and Fount of Grace,
    The Morning Star, the Heavenly Flower,
    The Virgin’s Son, the Lord of Power!

  2. With all Thy saints, Thee, Lord, we sing,
    Praise, honour, thanks to Thee we bring,
    That Thou, O long-expected guest,
    Hast come at last to make us blest!

  3. E’er since the world began to be,
    How many a heart hath longed for Thee;
    Long years our fathers hoped of old
    Their eyes might yet Thy Light behold.

  1. By Nicolaus Heermann (d. 1560)