Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Where Are My Winged Words?

The following three English translations each add a bit of flavor to the words of an aged patristic theologian and poet, Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 329 - 379/380).

Elizabeth Rundle Charles, The Voice of the Christian Life in Song: Or, Hymns and Hymn-Writers of Many Lands and Ages, pp. 65-67:

One other hymn of Gregory's may be given, at least in part. It is a voice from those eight years which he spent in retirement. When his work was done, the Church of Anastasia had arisen, and father, mother, brother, and sister, all were dead. In the depths of its natural fears, and the firmness of the hope to which at last it rises, it tells the history of those solitary years, and echoes well the music of those ancient psalms, which soar so often "out of the depths" in to the light of God.

To Himself.

Where are the wing'd words? Lost in the air.
Where the fresh flower of youth and glory? Gone.
The strength of well-knit limbs? Brought low by care.
Wealth? Plunder'd; none possess but God alone.
Where those dear parents who my life first gave,
And where that holy twain, brother and sister? In the grave.

My fatherland alone to me is left,
And heaving factions flood my country o'er;
Thus, with uncertain steps, of all bereft,
Exiled and homeless, childless, aged, poor,
No child of mine age to soothe with service sweet,
I live from day to day with ever-wandering feet.

What lies before me? Where shall set my day?
Where shall these weary limbs at length repose?
What hospitable tomb receive my clay?
What eyes will watch me? -- Eyes with pity fraught?
Some friend of Christ? Or those who know Him not?

Or shall no tomb, as in a casket, lock
This frame, when laid a weight of breathless clay?
Cast forth unburied on the desert rock,
Or thrown in scorn to birds and beasts of prey;
Consumed and cast in handfuls on the air,
Left in some river-bed to perish there?

This as Thou wilt, the Day will all unite
Wherever scatter'd, when Thy word is said:
Rivers of fire, abysses without light,
Thy great tribunal, these alone are dread.
And Thou, O Christ, my King, art fatherland to me,
Strength, wealth, eternal rest, yea, all I find in Thee!

Thus, in the old Ionic tongue, the wail of feeble mortality went forth once more, but with a close the old Ionic music never knew; for Christ had died, and risen from the dead, and the other world was a region of melancholy shades no longer, for He is there.

Elizabeth Barret Browning, The Greek Christian Poets and the English Poets, pp. 39-40:

The passage we shall venture to translate, is rather a cry than a song --

Where are my winged words? Dissolved in air.
Where is my flower of youth? All withered. Where
My glory? Vanished. Where the strength I knew
From comely limbs? Disease hath changed it too,
And bent them. Where the riches and the lands?
GOD HATH THEM! Yea, and sinners' snatching hands
Have grudged the rest. Where is my father, mother,
And where my blessed sister, my sweet brother?
Gone to the grave! -- There did remain for me
Alone my fatherland, till destiny,
Malignly stirring a black tempest, drove
My foot from that last rest. And now I rove
Estranged and desolate a foreign shore,
And drag my mournful life and age all hoar
Throneless and cityless, and childless save
This father-care for children, which I have,
Living from day to day on wandering feet.
Where shall I cast this body? What will greet
My sorrows with an end? What gentle ground
And hospitable grave will wrap me round?
Who last my dying eyelids stoop to close--
Some saint, the Saviour's friend? or one of those
Who do not know Him? The air interpose,
And scatter these words too.

Philip Schaff, Christ in Song: Hymns of Immanuel, Selected From All Ages, With Notes, Vol. 2, pp. 233-234:

My Home in Heaven Alone

My home in heaven alone to me remains,
The floods of faction o'er my country sweet;
For my uncertain feet, the land retains
No resting-place, no friend to weep;
No child to soothe the homeless poor forlorn;
I wander day by day with trembling limbs and torn.

What lot awaits me? What my mortal doom?
Where shall this jaded body find its rest?
Shall this poor trembling flesh e'er find a tomb?
By whom shall these dim eyes in death be blest?
Will any watch? Will any pity me?
Will they be Christian watchers? Or shall sinners see?

Or shall no grave inclose this mortal frame,
When laid a heavy breathless corpse of clay?
Cast on the rock uncovered and in shame,
Or tossed in scorn to birds and beasts of prey?
Or burnt to ashes, given to the air?
Or thrown into the weedy deep to perish there?

Thy will be done, O Lord! That day shall spring,
When at Thy word this clay shall re-appear!
No death I dread but that which sin will bring;
No fire or flood without Thy wrath I fear;
For Thou, O Christ, my Lord! art fatherland to me,
My wealth and might and rest; my all I find in Thee.

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