The third1 hymn of Gerhardt which Jacobi included in his Psalmodia Germanica2 is “Wach auf, mein Herz, und singe.” As this song of trust is one of Gerhardt’s oldest pieces and may be said to set the key for all the later hymns, it is appropriate that Jacobi should find for it a place in his very limited selection.
The eighteenth century English versions of German hymns invariably abound in extravagant figures. just why in this instance the translator has chosen to add to the text, where no mention is made of a “lion,” the idea of such an animal in the verse, “Nay, when that Lyon’s Fury,” is difficult to explain. Possibly to his own mind that creature was more terrifying than Satan himself. Still less pardonable is the distortion in stanza IV:
Du sprachst: Mein Kind, nun liege
Trotz dem, der dich betriege!
Schlaf wol, lasz dir nicht grauen,
Du sollt die Sonne schauen.
Thou saidst: my Child, be easy,
My presence shall release Thee
From frightful Pain and Evil,
In spite of Hell and Devil.
Such alterations of the original, always with the idea of bringing a more terrible picture to the mind of the reader, can be justified on no ground whatever, and accounted for only by saying that the translator probably regarded this as one of the methods of “resolving all the jarring Discords of Self-love into the heavenly Concords of Mutual Love and Affection. If this be not effected here below, we shall never be worthy to hear the glorious Anthems of the Seraphic Quire above.”3
The singularly inapt paraphrase of the couplet in stanza 3
Thy gracious Condescension,
Has crossed his sore Intention
appears to slightly better advantage in stanza 7:
In gracious Condescension
Despise not my Intention;
Nor Body, Soul, nor Spirit
Can boast of any Merit.
Another characteristic of the English versions of this period is the emphasizing of the tortures of Hell and the Devil. just as in stanza 4 above, we are not surprised to read in stanza 8:
From Satan’s woeful doings,
although there is in the German no suggestion whatever of Satan or his deeds. Similarly, the concluding stanza, after the pleasing opening lines, causes something of a shock by its abrupt descent to the grotesque:
Thy Bliss be my Salvation,
My Heart thy Habitation;
Thy Word my Food and Relish, Till thou destroy’st what’s Hellish.
Except for the imperfect rhymes in most of his stanzas Kelly’s version is unusually good both as a scrupulously faithful rendering and a successful attempt to keep the simple language and reproduce the characteristic touches of Gerhardt. The line:
The sunlight shall delight thee,
takes on a new significance when compared with
Du sollt die Sonne schauen,
and strophe 8 is particularly well done in that it has so large a predominance of Anglo-Saxon words:
So wollst du nun vollenden
Dein Werk an mir und senden
Der mich an diesern Tage
Auf seinen Händen trage.
Thou wilt, O Lord! be ending
Thy work in me and sending
Who in his hands will take me,
Today his care will make me.