Sunday, December 09, 2012

Sleepers, Wake

Today was Bible Sunday in Advent, but I'm all skejipsed on my Advent schedule anyway, so I don't have a real Bible Sunday post. An older one was better than anything I could write now anyway, so if you're interested in Bible Sunday, read about it here. And by the way: I cannot understand why "O Word of God Incarnate" is not sung in more Baptist churches. It's their kind of hymn!

We sang Philip Nicolai's "Wake, Awake" or "Sleepers, Wake" this morning. I can't seem to find a good choral recording of it with the right words and all the usual verses, but there are many instrumental versions, especially organ. Here are the verses as found in the 1940 hymnal:

1. Wake, awake, for night is flying:
The watchmen on the heights are crying,
Awake, Jerusalem, arise!
Midnight's solemn hour is tolling,
His chariot wheels are nearer rolling,
He comes; prepare, ye virgins wise.
Rise up, with willing feet,
Go forth, the Bridegroom meet:
Bear through the night your well-trimmed light,
Speed forth to join the marriage rite.

2. Sion hears the watchman singing,
Her heart with deep delight is springing,
She wakes, she rises from her gloom:
Forth her Bridegroom comes, all glorious,
In grace arrayed, by truth victorious;
Her Star is risen, her Light is come!
All hail, Incarnate Lord,
Our crown, and our reward!
We haste along, in pomp of song,
And gladsome join the marriage throng.

3. Lamb of God, the heavens adore thee,
And men and angels sing before thee,
With harp and cymbal's clearest tone.
By the pearly gates in wonder
We stand, and swell the voice of thunder,
That echoes round thy dazzling throne.
No vision ever brought,
No ear hath ever caught,
Such rejoicing.
We raise the song, we swell the throng,
To praise thee ages all along.

By the way, these lyrics use the English epithalamion tradition, which was in turn based on the Latin epithalamion tradition. (I was sure I'd written about this before but can't now seem to find the post.) An epithalamion always began with the call for the bride to awake and arise, because the bridegroom was coming. The bride is supposed to waken from her gloom and dress herself beautifully, usually at dawn rather than at midnight. The combination of calling on the bride to awaken and the reference to midnight is just one oddity that results from melding the English epithalamion tradition with Jesus' parable of the wise and foolish virgins, which was of course based on Jewish marriage traditions. Notice, too, the emphasis on the glory of the groom and what the groom is wearing, which is more Jewish, rather than on the beauty of the bride or what she is wearing.


Kristor said...


Lydia McGrew said...

Golly, Kristor, looks like you're right. Even Google hasn't heard of the word. We say it in our family all the time. Now I can't figure out where it came from.

Kristor said...

It's a real sockdolager. I plan to adopt it myself, henceforth.

Sounds like it could be either Scandinavian or Yiddish.

Lydia McGrew said...

Maybe a combination.