15 October 2020

Mein Jesu, was vor Seelenweh

Here is my translation of the text “Mein Jesu, was vor Seelenweh” (G. C. Schemelli or F. S. Schultze, 1736), focusing on Jesus' suffering in the garden of Gethsemane. The text is featured in Bach’s chorale (BWV 487) of the same name. The metrical form clearly follows that of Philipp Nicolai’s famous chorale melody from 1599, “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern” but it was given a new sacred melody in 1736. The source for this text is the Bach Cantatas Website. The German text can be found there, as can the special music for this chorale melody—it is not well suited for congregational singing. There are good, easier options in keeping with the tragic tone of the text (Nicolai’s would perhaps not fit best that tone). In a parish setting, the melody for “O Jesu, wie ist dein Gestalt” (M. Franck, 1628; text pub. 1631) seems best suited, and indeed, that hymn, treating the Passion, may perhaps have inspired the choice of meter here.


MY JESUS! What deep agony
Thou bearest in Gethsemane,
What grief of soul abounding!
With mortal fear and pangs of hell,
Belial’s brooks Thy life would quell,
In sorrow Thee surrounding:
Thou dost quiver
Trembling ever
Deeply riven,
Reaching forth Thy hands to heaven.

2 Thou prayest, “Father, look and see,
If Thou art willing, spare Thou Me
This agony heart-rending;
If Thou art willing, take away
This cup of cross, this torment stay,
And grant this pain an ending!
Hear My
Heart’s cry;
Yet Thy holy
Will is solely
All My pleasure.
Father, fill th’ appointed measure!”

3 Thou sweatest, Lord, great drops of blood,
Like burning coals the wrath of God
Still on Thy soul increasing;
Thou sighest in Thy misery
The angels come and strengthen Thee,
The Maker’s torments easing.
Oh, what
Is that?
What sad mourning,
What great burning,
What despairing
Must my Savior here be bearing?

4 Shall I, a wretched sinner, ask?—
My own transgression wrought this task—
This fury and affliction;
I am the one, this pain who earned—
I ought to be thus ever burned
With grief and hell’s conviction.
Sore travailing,
Hell unfailing
Flames undying
Should upon my soul be lying.

5 Most faithful God, Immanuel!
Thou loosest me from pains of hell
And all these plagues infernal.
The mighty anguish of Thy soul—
When, wrestling death, Thou paid’st my toll,—
Brings me a crown supernal!
Oh, heart,
How art
Thou rejoicing,
Leaping, voicing
Jesus’ praises,
Who thyself so highly raises.

6 Forever, Christ, be Thou adored!
My heart with thy free Spirit, Lord,
Uphold with might and wonder;
On Thy deep woe and agony
And on Thy dread Gethsemane
May I forever ponder,
Till I
Shall fly
From all sadness
To Thy gladness,
And shall meet Thee
And beyond all striving greet Thee.

Tr. © 2020 Matthew Carver.