O Holy Night

Liam’s sound suggestion for a Christmas classic:

I would like to take this opportunity to plead for the reversal of a great wrong done to what has become a traditional piece of Christmas hymnody: what is known as O Holy Night in English. It is a nearly perfect case of a translation draining the power out of the original; where the power of the original was neatly met by the counterpoint of romantic music, the sentimentality of the baleful translation is unforgivably reinforced by it.

Please rectify this wrong by only offering the piece in the original French text, with a translation in the program that better conveys the proclamatory power of it:

O Holy Night (by Charles Adam)

Minuit! Chrétiens! C’est l’heure solennelle
Où l’homme Dieu descendit jusqu’à nous,
Pour effacer la tache originelle
Et de son Père arrêter le courroux.
Le monde entier tressaille d’espérance
A cette nuit qui lui donne un Sauveur.

Peuple à genoux!
Attends ta délivrance: Noël! Noël!
Voici le Rédempteur: Noël! Noël!
Voici le Rédempteur! De notre foi que la lumière ardente
Nous guide tous au berceau de l’enfant,
Comme autrefois, une étoile brillante
Y conduisit les trois chefs d’Orient,
Le Roi des rois né dans la dépendance
En lui confond toute humaine grandeur
Peuple debout!Chante ta délivrance! Noël! Noël!
Chantons le Rédempteur! Noël! Noël!Chantons le Rédempteur!

[Enfin Jésus a brisé toute entrave;
La terre est libre et le ciel est ouvert.
Il voit un frère où n’était qu’un esclave
L’amour unit ceux qu’enchaînait le fer.
Oh! Qui dira notre reconnaissance
A ce Jésus, notre aimable Sauveur?]

English (translation by Google & my poor attempts to correct its rendering of poetic or idiomatic expressions):
Midnight, Christians, it is the solemn hour
when the Man-God came down to us
to wipe away original sin
and to end his Father’s wrath.
The entire world is full of hope
On this night that gives it a Saviour.
People! To your knees!
Behold your deliverance! He is born! * He is born!
Behold the Redeemer! He is born! He is born!
Behold the Redeemer!

With our faith as a burning light
that guides us all to the cradle of the child,
as once a brilliant star led
the three kings of the East
To the King of kings, born in need:
In him human greatness [pride] is confounded.
People! To your feet!
Sing of your deliverance! He is born!* He is born!
Let us sing of the Redeemer! He is born! He is born!
Let us sing of the Redeemer!

[The child Jesus has broken any barrier;
the ground is free and the sky is open.
He sees a brother where there was only a slave;
Love now links those whom chains** connected.
Who will tell of our embrace***
by Jesus, our friendly Saviour?]

* “Noël” now means “Christmas” but derived from the French word relating to “nativity” or “birth”; I rendered this in a way more in keeping with the proclamatory sense of the text.
** literally, “iron”, in the sense of iron fetters
***literally, “recognition” in the sense of “to know again”; I suspect in the sense that the father embraced the returned prodigal son as his son


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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