Saturday, 23 February 2013

A Prayer for the Evening

In manus tuas. Lord, I bitake in to thine hondes, and in to thine hondis of thine halwen, in this nyght my soule and my bodi, myne bretheren and myne sustren, myne frendes, myne cosines, myne kynrede, my goode dedes doares, and alle cristen folk: kepe vs, lord, this nyght, bi the medes and the prayeres of the blessede mayde marie, and of alle halwen, fram vices and couertises, fram sinnes and fram the fendes fondinges, and fram the sodayn deth, and the peynes of helle. Alyghte myne herte of the holi gost, and of thin holi grace: and make me for to ben more bouxom to thi comaundemens, and let me neuere more ben be departed fro the: so be it.

This is a medieval night prayer, preserved in a fourteenth-century manuscript from East Anglia.  Despite its simplicity it has a striking beauty, produced by the rhythmic effect of its calm, measured repetition: fram vices and couertises, fram sinnes and fram the fendes fondinges, and fram the sodayn deth...  It's a style which reached its pinnacle in the elegant collects of the Book of Common Prayer.  And there are some items of vocabulary which delight the ear, too: 'good-deed-doers' as a very literal Englishing of benefactors is perhaps my favourite, but I'm always pleased to see buxom in its original meaning of obedient.

A translation:

Into thy hands. Lord, I commit into thy hands, and into the hands of thy saints, in this night my soul and my body, my brothers and my sisters, my friends, my relations, my family, my benefactors, and all Christian people: protect us, Lord, this night, by the merits and the prayers of the blessed maiden Mary, and of all saints, from vices and desires, from sins and from the fiend's temptations, and from sudden death, and the pains of hell. Illuminate my heart with the Holy Ghost, and with thy holy grace: and make me to be more obedient to thy commandments, and let me never more be parted from thee: Amen.

Two men preparing for bed, from an illustration at the beginning of prayers for Compline,

For more translations of hymns and prayers for the night, see also:

Te lucis ante terminum: Various Translations
Christe qui lux es et dies
'I dwell, laid up in Safety's nest'
'Hail, gladdening light'
Rerum, Deus, tenax vigor

This is a setting of the Compline responsory 'In manus tuas' by John Sheppard (c.1515-1558):

1 comment:

Steffen said...

Thank you for a beautiful prayer. Like all heartfelt prayers this is poetry of the best kind, and I was reminded how sublimely beautiful the evening prayers can be. One of my favourite Latin poems - though I should not claim I know too many of them - is Te Lucis Ante Terminum. I'm sad to notice that the most widely disseminated translation is an end-rhyme translation with a certain Victorian touch. To my ear, the end rhyme breaks the sullen, serious cadence which brings the Latin so beautifully to the listener.