04 January 2009

O Emmanuel

Here is Malcolm Guite's sonnet based on the O Antiphon appointed for 22 December in the Sarum practice:
O Emmanuel
O come, O come, and be our God-with-us
O long-sought With-ness for a world without,
O secret seed, O hidden spring of light.
Come to us, Wisdom, come unspoken Name
Come Root, and Key, and King, and holy Flame,
O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
Be folded with us into time and place,
Unfold for us the mystery of grace
And make a womb of all this wounded world.
O heart of heaven beating in the earth,
O tiny hope within our hopelessness
Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
To touch a dying world with new-made hands
And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.

The corresponding section of Cynewulf’s ‘Christ I’ is in ll. 130-63 (George Philip Krapp and Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie, eds., The Exeter Book, Vol. III of The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records, A Collective Edition [Morningside Heights, NY: Columbia U, 1961], pp. 6-7). Below is a prose translation from Cynewulf, The Christ of Cynewulf, trans. Charles Huntington Whitman (Boston: Ginn & Co., 1900), available here.

O God of spirits, how wisely and how rightly wast Thou named Emmanuel, as the angel first called it in Hebrew, which, fully interpreted in its hidden meaning, is: 'Now is God Himself with us, the Guardian of the skies!' Even so of yore ancient men foretold the coming of the King of kings, the spotless Priest. Thus long ago the great Melchisedec, wise of spirit, revealed the divine majesty of the eternal Ruler. He was the bringer of laws and precepts to those who had long looked for His advent; for it was promised them that by the power of the Spirit the Son of the Creator would Himself pass through the regions of earth, and visit the lowest depths. Now were they waiting patiently in captivity until the Son of God should come unto them in their sorrow. And thus they spake, prostrated by suffering: 'Come now Thyself, high King of heaven. Bring salvation unto us wretched prisoners, worn out with weeping, with bitter burning tears. In Thee alone is relief for those in dire need. Seek us here, captives sad of heart; leave not behind Thee, when Thou goest hence, a multitude so great; but do Thou royally manifest Thy compassion upon us, O Christ our Savior, Prince of glory; let not the accursed have dominion over us. Leave unto us the eternal joy of Thy glory, that those whom Thou didst first create with Thine hands may worship Thee, the radiant King of hosts, who dwellest eternally on high with God the Father.'

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