The unusual figures in this Passion Hymn have prevented its receiving in English-speaking countries the wide popularity attained by O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden. Yet because of its dealing with a theme that appealed so strongly to Gerhardt and its being so characteristic of his piety and simplicity, a glimpse into the treatment accorded it by English translators should not be without interest. With hardly less depth of feeling than in “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden” but with stranger imagery Gerhardt portrays the passion of Christ and reflects upon its significance, and the comfort the Christian derives from it.
The Moravian Hymn Book contains Gambold’s translation in Gerhardt’s metre of nine of the ten stanzas; the seventh, which abounds in metaphors, he has omitted. Mention has elsewhere been made of Gerhardt’s familiarity of tone in addressing the Savior. Gambold equals his master in this respect; witness stanza 5:
Whilst I live here, I never shall
Forget thy Grace amazing;
Our love shall be reciprocal,
I also Thee embracing.
My heart’s Light thou shalt be always,
And when it breaks once (as one says)
Thou’lt be my Heart thenceforward…
The figure in the concluding stanza of the bride clothed in purple is rather spoiled by Gambold by the baldness of the couplet:
Thy Blood shall of my Wedding-dress
Be then the only splendor.
Nor have we in the German anything to suggest the final lines:
Then will the Mother, who bore me,
And nursed me up, my Lamb, for thee,
Present me as thy Purchase.
Russell’s short version of two stanzas presents an effective paraphrase of the last three lines of Gerhardt’s stanza IV:
O süszes Lamm, was soll ich dir
Erweisen dafür, dasz du mir
Erweisest so viel Gutes?
O Lamb beloved! How shall I Thee
Requite for all, thus unto me
Such wondrous goodness showing?
Under the title “The sin-bearing Lamb” Dr. Guthrie gives in his Sacred Lyrics perhaps the most readable English translation, as it combines Gerhardt’s beautiful piety and spiritual simplicity; it is also unique among translations from the German, in that it introduces more of the direct address than is usual, translators preferring as a rule to render quotations in the indirect form: “Give me,” he says, “the wreath of thorn,” etc.
Stanza 7, which Gambold omitted entirely, is the beginning of a hymn in Reid’s Praise Book. It is a cento taken from Mrs. Charles’ very free translation (1858) and is cited here to illustrate the liberties often taken by translators. Here, of course, the free paraphrase is reasonably justifiable:
Erweitre dich, mein Herzensschrein,
Du sollt ein Schatzhaus werden
Der Schätze, die viel gröszer sein
Als Himmel, Meer und Erden.
Weg mit dem Gold Arabia!
Weg Calmus, Myrrhen, Casia!
Ich hab ein Bessers funden.
Mein groszer Schatz, Herr Jesu Christ
Ist dieses, was geflossen ist
Aus deines Leibes Wunden.
Gate of my heart, fly open wide—
Shrine of my heart, spread forth;
The treasure will in thee abide
Greater than heaven and earth:
Away with all this poor world’s treasures,
And all this vain world’s tasteless pleasures,
My treasure is in heaven;
For I have found true riches now,
My treasure, Christ, my Lord, art Thou,
Thy blood so freely given!