In researching Gerhardt and his hymnody, I was struck by the following passage from the book, In the Shadow of His Wings: Paul Gerhardt and His Hymns (an English translation by Nelda Roth of Paul Gerhardt und seine Lieder, by Jörg Erb). I suspect it will resonate with my good friend, Susan, who already doesn't need any convincing on this matter.
Commenting on the many "improvements" that are made, not only in the translating of hymns but by way of editing the texts in their original language, the author first of all observes that "these improvements are divided into two fundamenally different groups. For the first: one takes offense at a grammatical expression, finds it doesn't help, and [makes a change that] becomes out of date and no more understandable. Worse is the other art for improvement . . . [wherein] there was less concern for the form of the speech than the contents of the statement, which was watered down and falsified according to the taste of the times."
Then follows the assessment of one Mathias Claudius, who "did not think much of such improvements." His opinion is cited, as follows: "In modern times the old church hymns will be changed. Now I am convinced that the government could not do anything better or give anything better to their subjects than a good hymnbook. Nothing surpasses powerful hymns. There is a blessing in them, and they are like wings of truth on which we can for a time float over the vale of tears. Of course, many hymns are not the way they should be, which is very true. But I don't know if the fault lies with the improvement or the improver. Enough!
"It seems to me the outfit does not make the man, and if the man is good, then all is good. If there is a button not in the right place or a seam sewed crooked, is that so important in the end? Who sees it? One is so used to that and often one insists that it must be just so. So for an example of 'Commit whatever grieves thee,' which at times in younger years wasn't as it should have been, it was often sung devotionally with the mother. It was like an old friend in the house who was trusted and from whom advice and comfort was sought in similar situations. If these are set-up in a different way and put to modern rock, then we don't trust Him, and we are not certain if the old friend is still in there looking for the misplaced button and crooked seam." (In the Shadow of His Wings, translated by Nelda Roth, 2001, pages 129-131)
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