Unsung II

The poem Stille Nacht has six verses, though we typically only sing three of them. A website lists the original six verses in German:

1. Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hoch heilige Paar.
Holder Knab’ im lockigen Haar,
|: Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh! :|

2. Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb’ aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund’.
|: Jesus in deiner Geburt! :|

3. Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Die der Welt Heil gebracht,
Aus des Himmels goldenen Höhn,
Uns der Gnaden Fülle läßt sehn,
|: Jesum in Menschengestalt! :|

4. Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Wo sich heut alle Macht
Väterlicher Liebe ergoß,
Und als Bruder huldvoll umschloß
|: Jesus die Völker der Welt! :|

5. Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Lange schon uns bedacht,
Als der Herr vom Grimme befreit
In der Väter urgrauer Zeit
|: Aller Welt Schonung verhieß! :|

6. Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Alleluja,
Tönt es laut bei Ferne und Nah:
|: “Jesus der Retter ist da!” :|

My German is pretty awful, so I’m just going to rely on an available translation, also at that website:

Silent Night! Holy Night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon godly tender pair.
Holy infant with curly hair,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent Night! Holy Night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth
Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

Silent Night! Holy Night!
Brought the world gracious light,
Down from heaven’s golden height
Comes to us the glorious sight:
Jesus, as one of mankind,
Jesus, as one of mankind.

Silent Night! Holy Night!
By his love, by his might
God our Father us has graced,
As a brother gently embraced
Jesus, all nations on earth,
Jesus, all nations on earth.

Silent Night! Holy Night!
Long ago, minding our plight
God the world from misery freed,
In the dark age of our fathers decreed:
All the world redeemed,
All the world redeemed.

Silent Night! Holy Night!
Shepherds first saw the sight
Of angels singing alleluia
Calling clearly near and far:
Christ, the saviour is born,
Christ the Saviour is born.

(Is that translation any good? What does our Germanophone contingent — Jonathan, Kristine, John, others — think?)

Franz Gruber’s melody was written for guitar. The tune has changed some over time, but still follows many of the same basic contours as Gruber’s guitar tune from two centuries past.

10 comments for “Unsung II

  1. I just sang all six of these verses in German last night at a midnight mass, accompanied by an orchestra and a choir (who did the most amazing descant during the last two verses). It was truly beautiful.

  2. Once my late father-in-law learned to sing Silent Night in German, he never sang it in English again. All around him would be singing in English, but he insisted in singing (not very well) in German. At the time, it annoyed the heck out of me. Now that he’s gone, I smile at the memory.

  3. The German Gesangbuch uses verses one, six and two in that order. I do notice a few typos on the linked site and slight textual differences between their version and the hymnbook version.

    It is a beautiful song in both German and English. I like this more literal translation of the original German, but it would be an unnecessary uphill battle to convert the English-speaking world to a different text of this most beloved of Christmas carols.

    I’ve never seen the additional verses, so thank you for the post!

  4. When I attended Midnight Mass with my in-laws Christmas Eve, we sang Silent Night (how appropriate it was) as the dismissal hymn. The hymnal contained the German translation; the congregation sang in English; I sang in Portugese.

  5. 1. Silent night! Holy night!
    All are asleep, the lonely awake are
    Only the trusted high Holy pair
    Receiving the boy with curly hair.
    Sleep in Heavenly peace!

    2. Silent night! Holy night!
    God’s Son, oh how he laughs
    Love out of His Godly mouth
    There the saving hour strikes us.
    Jesus at His birth!

    3. Silent night! Holy night!
    Those who brought welfare to the world
    From Heaven’s golden heights
    The grace long remains with us,
    Of Jesus in the form of man.

    4. Silent night! Holy night!
    Where today all power
    Of the paternal ones love is poured,
    And as a brother hugs
    Jesus the peoples of the world!

    5. Silent night! Holy night!
    He is mindful of us enough,
    That the Lord has released us from the fury
    In the Father’s (or “Of our fathers’”) original dismal time
    Indulgence is promised to the whole world!

    6. Silent night! Holy night!
    The first declaration to the herdsmen
    Of the angels’ Alleluia,
    Sounds loud, near and far:
    “Jesus the Savior is here.”

  6. I’ve always loved this hymn in the original German. This has to do with the sustained long vowels — the long ahhhhs and ooooo of Nacht and Ruh as opposed to the hard diphthongs and eeeees of “night” and “peace” (especially when people slide up that interval on the word peace, which is just an ugly sound). The English translation may be literally correct, but the German with its many ahhhs and oooohs is so much more, well peaceful.

  7. I’m an original-language purist to begin with, and this carol definitely is better in the original German. I have to agree with Carolyn (7) that the long vowels in the German song create a warmer feel, especially the “Ruh.” (My German professor always compared Edgar Allan Poe’s eerie “nevermoooore” with a potential German translation of a much brighter and quicker “nimmermehr” — it just doesn’t work.)

    Kaimi, the translation you posted is a decent rhyming version, and Eric’s (6) appears to be an accurate direct translation.

    It’s also interesting to note that the original melody was influenced quite a bit by the local folk music — it has a bit of an Austrian yodel feel to it. If you can make it out from this image (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/eb/Stille_nacht.jpg) you can catch a trill or a run here or there, especially in the last line. Far from being a solemn, pious, sacrament-service hymn, it’s a bit of a funner tune that you might hear coming from a child’s hand-carved music box (Spieldose). It’s a bit unnerving for the average listener who’s used to the modern version, but it reminds me of the quaint setting that the text and music was written in.


  8. Translating is always problematic, particularly poetry where you just have to choose between translating the idea and creating a poem that works in the target language.

    The German makes a reference to Joseph that I like, speaking of a pair specially selected and set apart by God to serve the needs of this special infant and await his coming, all alone.

    I love the image of the burbling laughter of an infant dispensing the love of God to mankind. It is better by far than the “radiant beams” coming from the face of the child, Light of the World though he be.

    “Huldvoll umschloß” I decyphered as “held-full encircled” which could only be a brotherly hug. I might have said embrace, which is a fancier word with the same meaning, I did not think of it, though it was right there in the other translation, yet somehow I like the idea of brotherly bear hug from the Savior as being more comforting. An embrace sounds more formal and less brotherly.

    The fifth verse is talking about salvation, talking about a time of grayness which I thought was the doom pronounced on men in this world at the fall: the grim sentence of the Father. My alternate translation was the greyness of the time of earlier generations who did not have knowledge of the saving grace of Christ. Either works for me. The former seems more traditionally Protestant, the latter more Latter-day, but the other translation obviously leans that way too.

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