The earliest known English translation of Gerhardt’s Passiontide hymn is that of J. Gambold, published in 1752. 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 familiarity in addressing the Savior.

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.

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:

Come to me ere I die,
My comfort and my shield;
Then gazing on Thy cross can I
Calmly my spirit yield.

1863 (Version for church singing)
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 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”1 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” 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”2 and “The pallor of the dead”3 are quite suggestive of the Latin: “Totus versus in pallorem”;4 and “Redeemer spurn me not”5 of the Latin “Non me reum asperneris.”6

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)


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)

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. 7

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.

Selected Stanzas

J. Gambold, 1752, in Some other Hymns and Poems.

  1. O Head so full of bruises,
    So full of pain and scorn,
    ‘Midst other sore Abuses
    Mock’d with a crown of Thorn!
    O head, e’er now surrounded
    With brightest Majesty,
    Now pitiably Wounded!
    Accept a kiss from me.

  2. Thou Countenance transcendent,
    At other times rever’d
    By Worlds on thee dependent
    With Spittle now besmeared!

J. W. Alexander, 1849, in the Schaff-Gilman Lib. of Religious Poetry.

  1. O Sacred Head, now wounded,
    With grief and shame bow’d down,
    Now scornfully surrounded,
    With thorns, Thy only crown.
    O Sacred Head, what glory
    What bliss till now was Thine
    Yet, though despised and gory,
    I joy to call Thee mine.

  2. (Gerhardt IV) What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered,
    Was all for sinner’s gain:
    Mine, mine was the transgression
    But Thine the deadly pain.
    Lo, here I fall, my Savior:
    ‘Tis I deserve Thy place;
    Look on me with Thy favour,
    Vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

  3. (Gerhardt VII) The joy can ne’er be spoken,
    Above all joys beside,
    When in Thy body broken
    I thus with safety hide.
    Lord of my life desiring
    Thy glory now to see,
    Beside Thy cross expiring
    I’d breathe my soul to Thee.

  4. (Gerhardt VIII) What language shall I borrow
    To thank Thee, dearest Friend,
    For this, Thy dying sorrow,
    Thy pity without end?
    O make me Thine for ever;
    And should I fainting be,
    Lord let me never, never
    Outlive my love for Thee.

  5. (Gerhardt X) Be near me when I’m dying,
    O show Thy Cross to me:
    And to my succour flying,
    Come, Lord, and set me free.
    These eyes new faith receiving,
    From Jesus shall not move;
    For he, who dies believing,
    Dies safely through Thy love.

Miss Winkworth, 1855, in her Lyra Germanica, 1st Series.

  1. Ah wounded Head! must Thou
    Endure such shame and scorn!
    The blood is trickling from Thy brow
    Pierced by the crown of thorn.
    Thou who wast crown’d on high
    With light and majesty,
    In deep dishonor here must die,
    Yet here I welcome Thee!

Miss Winkworth, 1863, in her Chorale Book.

  1. Ah wounded Head that bearest
    Such bitter shame and scorn,
    That now so meekly wearest
    The mocking crown of thorn!
    Erst reigning in the highest
    In light and majesty,
    Dishonored here Thou diest,
    Yet here I worship Thee.

A cento by J. C. Ryle, 1860, in his Spiritual Songs.

  1. (Gerhardt VIII) I give Thee thanks unfeigned,
    O Jesus, Friend in need,
    For what Thy soul sustained
    When Thou for me didst bleed.
    Grant to lean unshaken
    Upon Thy faithfulness,
    Until I hence am taken
    To see Thee face to face.

Cento from J. Gambold’s version, in Reid’s Praise Book, 1866.

  1. O Head! so full of bruises,
    So full of pain and scorn;
    Midst other sore abuses,
    Mock’d with a crown of thorn!
    O Head! ere now surrounded
    With brightest majesty,
    In death once bow’d and wounded,
    Accursed on a tree!

  2. Thou countenance transcendent,
    Thou life-creating Sun
    To worlds on Thee dependent,
    Yet bruised and spit upon!

J. Kelly, 1867, in his Paul Gerhardt’s Spiritual Songs.

  1. Oh! bleeding head and wounded,
    And full of pain and scorn,
    In mockery surrounded
    With cruel crown of thorn!
    O Head! before adornèd
    With grace and majesty,
    Insulted now and scornèd,
    All hail I bid to Thee!

S. M. Jackson, 1873, 1890, in Schaff-Gilman Lib. of Religious Poetry.

  1. O Head, blood stained and wounded,
    Tortured by pain and scorn!
    O Head in jest surrounded
    By a rude crown of thorn!
    O Head, once rich adorned
    With highest laud and lays,
    But now so deeply scorned,
    To thee I lift my praise!

Sir H. W. Baker in Schaff-Gilman Lib. of Religious Poetry.

  1. O Sacred Head, surrounded
    By crown of piercing thorn!
    O bleeding Head so wounded,
    Reviled and put to scorn!
    Death’s pallid hue comes o’er Thee,
    The glow of life decays,
    Yet angel-hosts adore thee
    And tremble as they gaze.

Miss Margarete Münsterberg, in her Harvest of German Verse, 1916.

  1. Oh, wounded head and bleeding,
    By pain and scorn bowed down!
    Oh head, the gibes unheeding,
    Bound with a thorny crown!
    Oh head, once decorated
    With honors gloriously,
    Now tortured so and hated,
    I greet and worship Thee!
  1. By Cristoph Knoll, 1563-1650. Cf. p. 87. 

  2. Stanza 3, line 7, Winkworth, 1863. 

  3. Stanza 3, line 4, Jackson, 1873. 

  4. Line 9, Bernard, p. 86. 

  5. Stanza 4, line 8, Winkworth, 1863. 

  6. Line 26, Bernard, p. 87. 

  7. In hac tua passione Me agnosce, pastor bone. Lines 21, 22.