Hymn: “O Morning Star, how fair and bright”

We’re nearly a fortnight into the Epiphany season, and after my annual Advent digression and year-end posts (at the end of both the liturgical and civil years), I’ve resumed my usual schedule. Today we look at one of my favorite hymns, a German chorale particularly suitable for the Epiphany season.

O Morning Star! how fair and bright
Thou beamest forth in truth and light!
O Sovereign meek and lowly,
Thou Root of Jesse, David’s Son,
My Lord and Master, thou hast won
My heart to serve thee solely!
Thou art holy,
Fair and Glorious,
All victorious,
Rich in blessing,
Rule and might o’er all possessing.

Thou Heavenly Brightness! Light Divine!
O deep within my heart now shine,
And make thee there an altar!
Fill me with joy and strength to be
Thy member, ever joined to thee
In love that cannot falter;
Toward Thee longing
Doth possess me,
Turn and bless me,
Here in sadness
Eye and heart long for thy gladness.

But if Thou Look on me in love,
There straightways falls from God above
A ray of purest pleasure;
Thy word and Spirit, flesh and blood,
Refresh my soul with heavenly food,
Thou art my hidden treasure;
Let Thy grace, Lord,
Warm and cheer me.
O draw near me;
Thou hast taught us
Thee to seek since Thou hast sought us!

Here will I rest, and hold it fast,
The Lord I love is First and Last,
The End as the Beginning!
Here I can calmly die, for Thou
Wilt raise me where Thou dwellest now,
Above all tears, all sinning:
Amen! Amen!
Come, Lord Jesus,
Soon release us,
With deep yearning,
Lord, we look for Thy returning!

The last two of these four verses are utterly new to me, ones I didn’t know of until I started looking for an electronic version of this text (to save typing) while preparing this post. And they make clear that this is not only an Epiphany hymn—they extend the sense from the second verse that this is if anything an Advent hymn. (If I’d known the extra verses, I might well have used this in this past Advent’s series on Advent hymns, or saved it until next Advent.) But the opening lines still make it particularly suitable for this season.

This is another hymn for which the English-speaking Church can and should be grateful to Catherine Winkworth, who translated this German Lutheran chorale, along with many others, into English and introduced it and them into English hymnody. One may presumably quibble with her translations—while I don’t know enough German to say, she herself did multiple slightly (or more) different translations of some texts, possibly including this one—but translating verse into verse while preserving the meaning is hard if not impossible, especially translating into the same meter.

But whether or not this hymn is, or her hymns in general are, “precise enough” equivalents of the German original(s) to satisfy pedants of that field, I love this text even as a merely English hymn. It combines the joy and longing of the Christian life—two of my favorite hymn themes—and sets them in beautiful verse to a beautiful but melodically and harmonically interesting tune: a delight to hear and a delight to sing. (It even, like the best chorales, has passages where the “melody” has a simpler line and one or another of the “harmony” parts gets a melodically-interesting line; the most obvious example in this hymn is the part which, in the first verse, the lines “Fair and glorious / All-victorious” are set, as you can see in the scanned pages at Hymnary.org—where you can also explore wildly divergent versions of the hymn.)


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