Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Veni Redemptor Gentium

As one who has tried his hand at translating Latin breviary hymns into rhymed English verse, I am in awe of the 19th century Englishmen who did the same but made it look effortless. Here is an example of the astounding cleverness and sensitivity of John Mason Neale: his translation of Veni Redemptor Gentium of St. Ambrose of Milan, the hymn appointed for the Office of Readings in the latter part of Advent. He has managed to omit nothing of the Latin's content in verses that scan perfectly, rhyme, and sing well. Nothing is forced or artful; nothing hints that the English is a translation. Art concealeth art. Or, as we say today: You da man.

VENI, redemptor gentium,
ostende partum Virginis;
miretur omne saeculum:
talis decet partus Deum.
COME, Thou Redeemer of the earth,
and manifest thy virgin-birth.
Let every age adoring fall:
such birth befits the God of all.
Non ex virili semine,
sed mystico spiramine
Verbum Dei factum est caro
fructusque ventris floruit.
Begotten of no human will
but of the Spirit, Thou art still
the Word of God in flesh arrayed,
the promised fruit to man displayed.
Alvus tumescit Virginis,
claustrum pudoris permanet,
vexilla virtutum micant,
versatur in templo Deus.
The Virgin's womb that burden gained,
With virgin honor all unstained.
The banners there of virtue glow;
God in his temple dwells below.
Procedat e thalamo suo,
pudoris aula regia,
geminae gigas substantiae
alacris ut currat viam.
Forth from His chamber goeth He,
That royal home of purity
a giant in twofold substance one,
rejoicing now His course to run.
Aequalis aeterno Patri,
carnis tropaeo cingere,
infirma nostri corporis
virtute firmans perpeti.
O equal to the Father, Thou!
gird on Thy fleshly mantle now;
the weakness of our mortal state
with deathless might invigorate.
Praesepe iam fulget tuum
lumenque nox spirat novum,
quod nulla nox interpolet
fideque iugi luceat.
Thy cradle here shall glitter bright,
and darkness breathe a newer light
where endless faith shall shine serene
and twilight never intervene.
Sit, Christe, rex piissime,
tibi Patrique gloria
cum Spiritu Paraclito,
in sempiterna saecula. Amen.
O Jesu, Virgin-born, to thee
Eternal praise and glory be,
Whom with the Father we adore
And Holy Spirit, evermore. Amen.
P.S. One stanza is left out because by the time I figured out how to do tables I was near tearing my hair out with rage.

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