Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Dies Irae

Gornahoor Link
Thanks to Cologero for letting me post poetry at Gornahoor.

A Transliteration & Addition to the Latin Dies Irae

The Dies Irae was authored by Friar Thomas Celano, biographer of Saint Francis, and its view of God is conditioned by the emergent Holy Roman Empire, whose peripatetic king would visit his manors all across the West in a movable judgement that brought even the mightiest count or duke to the bar, before the sacral emperor. It has been praised as a hymn of “singular awe and piety”, though to modern ears its vision of a vengeful God is alienating and crude. Its triple-rhymed Latin is about as far from a modern sound as one can achieve, yet there is something modern about it, perhaps its lack of classical elegance and folk (we would say pop or popular) origin. It was chanted at All Soul’s Day, and Catholic scholars seem fairly unanimous in regarding it as the greatest specimen of sacred poetry in the Middle Ages (excluding, of course, Dante’s Inferno, whose worldview is remarkably consistent with the Dies Irae).

Note: I have given, here, a more modern, non-rhyming version of the poetic thoughts in the poem, although I also have done a more literal translation. Knowing even a little Latin, nothing can really compare with the Latin chant. So this is merely a loose paraphrasing from the text of the Graduale Seraphico-Romano and Roman Breviary. I should also note that any who want to read an in depth treatment of how the Holy Roman Empire founded Europe ought to consult Rosenstock-Huessy’s Out of Revolution or Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies. The only disclaimer is that these are secular, but relatively accurate and scholarly collections of data about the overwhelming pre-eminence of the early German emperors in Europe’s foundations. On a personal note, I will say that this was done when I was “less traditional”, & therefore, the traditional note is all the more obvious against the Semitic influence; the Dies Irae naturally breaths the air of transcendence, even with its heavy Christian piety.

A Thoroughly Modern Day of Wrath
Melting skies in the wolf-day, world-dissolving!
The Sky-breaker clenches our globe,
And coals tumble from a note-singing trumpet,
Horrible comets that heat stone to ashes,
Just as David sang a black psalm on the lyre,
Or the blind Sybil read from demon lips.

The Strong-Sustainer hurls fire down,
And that thick book enscripted at dawn,
The pregnant dawn containing all things.
Our whole earth gapes like a rotten fruit,
And every thing crawls to the king of gods.
The trumpet astonishes the brute dead,
And lashes dead souls with quick fear,
Fear that shrieks at the roots of the mountains,
Shaking the silver tears of Mother Nature,
Stupefying that tyrant, shockless Death.
All ooze and flesh and dust awake to flame,
All hidden things quake at the brassy throne,
Shame is the garment of the unjust,
When invisible vengeance appears at the last.
Down sits the Mighty Judge and Lord,
His judgment accomplishing itself and done
Before He draws the sword and strikes,
Written already in the book of doom.
What shall the miserable wretch plead,
What great patron shall intervene?
The just and good are scarcely snatched
From bright red, hungry hell.
Emperor of awful heaven’s abyss,
Who freely saves any who escape this day,
Kiss me, O fountain of white,
Do not deny me this day.
Surely You fell from the sky,
Not to lose your work on the cross,
Not in vain so far, dying for filth.
Lose me not, or lost I will burn.
Adam’s broken skull cracks wide,
And the Pegasus of mercy springs wild,
And Mary the whore was absolved,
And the thief at the end of days.
Give to me their same strong hope,
And pass over my unworthy prayers,
Deal most kindly, Good God,
For long has my black heart cursed.
Your red, right hand of fire
Silences the wicked goats.
Under the cold stars I lament,
For inside me there is nothing.
Let Paradise come in an instant,
Or never at all, for I fail,
And the cosmos ends and is rent,
So hide me at your riven side.
O Accuser and Defender,
Make our tomb like broken Golgotha,
I pray this in the ash, Our Maker,
And hear what is not spoken in the heart.
O, Thou God of All-Majesty,
Sustaining, Shining Trinity,
Be to us, now and in eternity.

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