Sunday 12 June 2011

Veni Creator Spiritus: Various Translations

For Whitsun (aka Pentecost, but let's be medieval here), here's the hymn 'Veni Creator Spiritus', as translated by various English poets over the course of six centuries. This is one of the most popular of the Church's hymns and there's a plethora of translations (which is rather appropriate, considering what happened at Pentecost...). It was probably written in the 9th century by Rabanus Maurus, and it sounds like this:

Here's the Latin (for ease of comparison between the translations, I've numbered the verses):

1. Veni, Creator Spiritus,
mentes tuorum visita,
imple superna gratia
quae tu creasti pectora.

2. Qui diceris Paraclitus,
altissimi donum Dei,
fons vivus, ignis, caritas,
et spiritalis unctio.

3. Tu, septiformis munere,
digitus paternae dexterae,
Tu rite promissum Patris,
sermone ditans guttura.

4. Accende lumen sensibus:
infunde amorem cordibus:
infirma nostri corporis
virtute firmans perpeti.

5. Hostem repellas longius,
pacemque dones protinus:
ductore sic te praevio
vitemus omne noxium.

6. Per te sciamus da Patrem,
noscamus atque Filium;
Teque utriusque Spiritum
credamus omni tempore.

7. Deo Patri sit gloria,
et Filio, qui a mortuis
surrexit, ac Paraclito,
in saeculorum saecula.

Now a Middle English version by William Herebert (d.1333), Francisan friar and translator of many Latin hymns into English verse (I've previously posted about his translations of hymns for Epiphany and Palm Sunday).

1. Com, Shuppere, Holy Gost, ofsech oure þouhtes;
Vul wyth grace of heuene heortes þat þou wrouhtest.

2. Þou, þat art cleped uorspekere and ȝyft vrom God ysend,
Welle of lyf, vur, charite, and gostlych oynement,

3. Þou ȝyfst þe seuene ȝyftes, þou vinger of Godes honde,
Þou makest tonge of vlesȝe speke leodene of uche londe.

4. Tend lyht in oure wyttes, in oure heortes loue,
Þer oure body is leoþewok ȝyf strengþe vrom aboue.

5. Shyld ous vrom þe veonde, and ȝyf ous gryth anon,
Þat wœ wyten ous vrom sunne þorou þe lodesmon.

6. Of þe Uader and þé Sone þou ȝyf ous knoulechinge,
To leue þat of boþe þou euer boe Louinge.

7. Wœle to þe Uader and to þe Sone, þat vrom deth aros,
And also to þe Holy Gost ay boe worshipe and los.

It may help in reading this if you know that all those words beginning v- are spelled in Standard English with f-, i.e. vrom = from, veonde = fiend, vinger = finger, etc. This is still a feature of the West Country dialect (Herebert was from Hereford).

I think my favourite detail of Herebert's translation is his use of the word 'shuppere' to translate 'creator'; this is a descendant of the usual word in Old English for 'creator', 'scyppend' (it's related to Modern English 'to shape'). 'Shuppere' may already have seemed an archaic choice in Herebert's time (the OED's last citation of the word is from c.1275) and the word 'creator' was probably available to him (the first citation is from c.1300). But perhaps it didn't feel like a translation to simply borrow the Latin word which was in his source-text...

Note that he translates 'Paraclete' as 'For-speaker', literally the 'advocate'; and instead of 'peace' he uses the word 'grith', a word with connotations of a truce or the kind of safe-conduct offered by a king.

Now for some later translations. Here's one I particularly like, by Bishop John Cosin, from 1627:

1. Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
and lighten with celestial fire.
Thou the anointing Spirit art,
who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.

Thy blessed unction from above
is comfort, life, and fire of love.
Enable with perpetual light
the dullness of our blinded sight.

Anoint and cheer our soiled face
with the abundance of thy grace.
Keep far from foes, give peace at home:
where thou art guide, no ill can come.

Teach us to know the Father, Son,
and thee, of both, to be but One,
that through the ages all along,
this may be our endless song:

Praise to thy eternal merit,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This is often sung to an adapted form of the Gregorian chant, as beautifully here:

From another strand of 17th-century poetic fashion, here's John Dryden's rather more ornate version, from 1693:

Creator Spirit, by Whose aid
The world’s foundations first were laid,
Come, visit every pious mind;
Come, pour Thy joys on human kind;
From sin, and sorrow set us free;
And make Thy temples worthy Thee.

O Source of uncreated Light,
The Father’s promised Paraclete!
Thrice holy Fount, thrice holy Fire,
Our hearts with heav’nly love inspire;
Come, and Thy sacred unction bring
To sanctify us, while we sing!

Plenteous of grace, descend from high,
Thou strength of His almighty hand,
Whose pow’r does Heav’n and earth command:
Proceeding Spirit, our Defense,
Who dost the gift of tongues dispense,
And crown’st Thy gift with eloquence!

Refine and purge our earthly parts;
But, oh, inflame and fire our hearts!
Our frailties help, our vice control;
Submit the senses to the soul;
And when rebellious they are grown,
Then, lay Thy hand, and hold them down.

Create all new; our wills control,
Subdue the rebel in our soul;
Make us eternal truths receive,
And practice all that we believe;
Give us Thyself, that we may see
The Father and the Son by Thee.

Immortal honor, endless fame,
Attend th’almighty Father’s Name:
The Savior Son be glorified,
Who for lost man’s redemption died:
And equal adoration be,
Eternal Paraclete, to Thee.

Skipping another few centuries, Edward Caswall's 19th-century version:

1. Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,
Vouchsafe within our souls to rest;
Come with Thy grace and heavenly aid
And fill the hearts which Thou hast made.

2. To Thee, the Comforter, we cry,
To Thee, the Gift of God Most High,
The Fount of life, the Fire of love,
The soul's Anointing from above.

3. The sevenfold gifts of grace are Thine,
O Finger of the Hand Divine;
True promise of the Father Thou,
Who dost the tongue with speech endow.

4. Thy light to every thought impart
And shed Thy love in every heart;
The weakness of our mortal state
With deathless might invigorate.

5. Drive far away our wily Foe
And Thine abiding peace bestow;
If Thou be our protecting Guide,
No evil can our steps betide.

6. Make Thou to us the Father known,
Teach us the eternal Son to won
And Thee, whose name we ever bless,
Of both the Spirit, to confess.

7. Praise we the Father and the Son
And Holy Spirit, with them One;
And may the Son on us bestow
The gifts that from the Spirit flow!

And finally, a translation by Robert Bridges, from 1899:

1. Come, O Creator Spirit, come,
and make within our heart thy home;
to us thy grace celestial give,
who of thy breathing move and live.

2. O Comforter, that name is thine,
of God most high the gift divine;
the well of life, the fire of love,
our souls' anointing from above.

3. Thou dost appear in sevenfold dower
the sign of God's almighty power;
the Father's promise, making rich
with saving truth our earthly speech.

4. Our senses with thy light inflame,
our hearts to heavenly love reclaim;
our bodies' poor infirmity
with strength perpetual fortify.

5. Our mortal foes afar repel,
grant us henceforth in peace to dwell;
and so to us, with thee for guide,
no ill shall come, no harm betide.

6. May we by thee the Father learn,
and know the Son, and thee discern,
who art of both; and thus adore
in perfect faith for evermore.

As a bonus, here's the choir of Peterborough Cathedral singing the hymn, in Cosin's translation, from 1934:


Svoboda said...

Quite beautiful. Thank you for offering this. All the best to you.

Clerk of Oxford said...

Thank you, Svoboda, and to you too - and thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. I am looking for a word-for-word literal translation of this text. Can you post or point me in the right direction? My internet searches have been vexing and fruitless!

Clerk of Oxford said...

The one in this book is the most literal I can find, and accurate:

Hope that helps!

Claire Christina said...

That Eald Englisc translation is one of the coolest things I've seen in weeks! Thanks for making my day! :D

Clerk of Oxford said...

Excellent! :D You're most welcome.

SGFE said...

I don't get the ME line, "þat woe wyten," at least not this phrae.

Clerk of Oxford said...

I think it's ME witien, 'to protect, defend'(, so it means something like 'that we may shield ourselves from sin'.

If you're interested, I posted a translation of Herebert's version here:

Rachel said...

Thanks for all those great translations, and for giving a link to the literal translation (I was looking for one too)!

Anonymous said...

yes, thank you for the link to literal translation!!!