Sunday, August 20, 2006

From glory to glory advancing

The hymn From glory to glory advancing we praise thee, O Lord is a translation into English (or perhaps rather a paraphrase) from the Greek, of a prayer from the Liturgy of St James. The Liturgy of St James is an ancient liturgy of the Orthodox Churches, relatively rare (in most places it is celebrated only on St James's day). Unfortunately I don't have a copy of the Greek text to hand (I'd need to go to a library to find one) so I'm not going to comment on the quality of the translation in detail (though I will append for interest the relevant words from one of the current English translations of the liturgy). I just thought I'd remark on one fact about the English translation or paraphrase which is what we know as "From Glory to Glory".

The translation is by Charles Humphreys 1840-1921 (noted as "tr. C.W.H." in the English Hymnal). There's no dagger to indicate that the text has been changed in the New English Hymnal, but then they don't seem very concerned to note changes to the words of translated hymns. Apart from the fact that they've written the four two line stanzas as two four line stanzas, they've made one other significant change, and that is to change the order of the words in line 7.

Humphreys wrote (I suppose)
Evermore, O Lord, to thy servants thy presence be nigh...


The editors now insist that we must sing
O Lord, evermore to thy servants thy presence be nigh...


Now you might think that these two versions say the same thing. Presumably the editors thought that they said roughly the same thing. And you might think that the second version fits the music better (in the English Hymnal we used to have to subdivide the minim at the start of that line and then slur the next two minims, because the rhythm of "evermore O" doesn't match that of "From strength unto" at the equivalent place in the first verse.

I expect that this is one of the cases which the editors have in mind when they say in their introduction "Occasionally minor adjustments have been made to secure a better musical accentuation". (For another example, compare their work on "Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go").

But is it a minor adjustment?

It seems to me that "O Lord, evermore to thy servants thy presence be nigh" says something rather different from "Evermore, O Lord, to thy servants thy presence be nigh".

Putting "Evermore" up front indicates that it is the evermore that one is asking the Lord for.

Putting "O Lord" up front removes that, so we don't know what the important part of the request is.

In fact it makes the appeal "O Lord" the most important part. It reads a bit like an exclamation, the sort of thought ("O Lord!") one might have when one realises, in the middle of the sermon, that one has forgotten to turn on the oven to cook the dinner. It certainly seems to me to undermine the poetry of the line

—just as it would if you did the same to "Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go."

Try making that "O Lord, I go forth in thy name".

Why is "forth" up front there when it wouldn't be in ordinary prose? Precisely because in poetry you do that sort of thing to achieve a certain kind of effect. And that is what Charles Humphrey kindly did for us by writing a poetic line beginning "evermore" in his translation of the Liturgy of St James, until the NEH editors saw fit to eliminate his poetry so that we wouldn't have to sing two crotchets instead of a minim.

Ah well. There we are. Another sad case.

Here's the English version of the relevant prayers in the Liturgy of St James:

Dismission prayer, spoken by the Deacon: Going on from glory to glory, we praise Thee, the Saviour of our souls. Glory to Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit now and ever, and to all eternity. We praise Thee, the Saviour of our souls.

XLIX. The Priest says a prayer from the altar to the sacristy: Going on from strength to strength, and having fulfilled all the divine service in Thy temple, even now we beseech Thee, O Lord our God, make us worthy of perfect loving-kindness; make straight our path: root us in Thy fear, and make us worthy of the heavenly kingdom, in Christ Jesus our Lord, with whom Thou art blessed, together with Thy all-holy, and good, and quickening Spirit, now and always, and for ever.

(Translation taken from The Ante Nicene Fathers vol 7)
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