The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Awake, My Heart's Delight, Awake

Subtitled: A Fair Melody: To Be Sung By All Good Christians

Words: Hans Sachs (Wach' auf meines Herzens Schöne), 1561
Trans. by Catherine Winkworth, Christian Singers of Germany, 1869
Meter: 8,6,8,6,7,8,7

Awake, my heart's delight, awake
Thou Christian host, and hear
These tones that lovely music make,
God's Word most pure and clear,
That now is sweetly sounding,
While dawn is piercing through the night
Through God's dear love abounding.

The prophets' message now at last
Our ears may hear again,
Locked up therewith in silence fast
Long had the Gospel lain;
But now we hear their voices,
And many an anxious burdened soul
In freedom now rejoices.

For conscience lay oppressed and bound
By bans and men's commands,
Soul-traps and nets were all around;

But now our German lands,
Behold the sun is risen,
And those foul shapes were ghosts and lies,
And dare to burst their prison.

Christ sends us many messengers
His gospel to proclaim,
And all the realm of darkness stirs
To work them death or shame,
And quench the Truth in error;--
O Christendom, thou Bride of God,
Fear not for all their terror!

Trust thou in flattering tongues no more,
Though many they may be;
All human teachings dread thou sore,
Though good they seem to thee;
But put thy whole affiance
In God's good-will and holy Word,
There is our one reliance.

There yield thy heart and soul entire,
What it commands is good;
Where it forbids let no desire
E'er stir within thy blood;
Where it allows, maintain thou
Thy Christian freedom as Paul saith,
Yet from offence refrain thou.

The Word will save thee from the smart
Of sin and pains of hell,
If thou believe it with thy heart
No evil there can dwell;
'Twill make thee pure and holy,
And teach thee that in Jesus lies
Our hope and comfort solely.

Blest be the day and blest the hour
When thou didst see revealed
The Word of God in all its power,
The soul's true strength and shield;
Let nought to thee be dearer
In heaven or earth, no creature-love
E'er to thy heart be nearer.

O Christendom, here give thou heed,
By no false lore perplexed,
Here seek and find true life indeed
For this world and the next;
For he who dies believing
In Christ alone, shall live with Him,
His heavenly joys receiving.

Notes from Catherine Winkworth, Christian Singers of Germany, 1869

Hans Sachs (1494-1575)

It is curious also to note that now, for the first time, Northern Germany furnishes the largest proportion of singers; hitherto the southern half of Germany had claimed nearly all its literary and poetical activity,--now on the contrary, the North supplanted the Southern "Volkslied" on its own ground.

But the South could still boast of possessing at Nuremberg the best poet of his day, the one who linked the times that were passing to the new period that was coming in, for he characteristically belonged to the Middle Ages, and yet was among the earliest and warmest adherents of the Reformation.

Nuremberg itself was one of the most splendid results of those ages. It was a great free city, whose social polity was the pride of its citizens and the admiration of strangers, wealthy, and full of stirring and successful commercial enterprise; the home of the great mechanical and scientific inventions of the day; and rich in treasures of Gothic art in its streets and churches. Martin Schön was engraving, and Albert Durer was painting there, where, according to the old doggrel rhyme--

"Hans Sachs, who was a shoe-
Maker, and a poet too,"

was winding up with his own name the long roll of her "Master-singers," and opening the way to the new style of modern poetry.

Hans Sachs was the son of a tailor, and was born in 1494, during a fearful epidemic of the plague. His parents were industrious, God-fearing people, who early sent him to the grammar-school; but as his health was not strong, they thought it better he should be put to a trade than allowed to study as he wished. At fourteen, accordingly he apprenticed to a shoemaker, but about the same time he made the acquaintance of Leonard Nunnenbeck, who was a weaver and also the most celebrated "Master-singer" of the day.

Nunnenbeck remarked the boy's talent, and at once received him among his pupils; and when, at seventeen, Hans Sachs set out on his wanderings, his object was to perfect himself not only in the craft of shoemaking, but also in that of verse-making. He visited the great schools of his art in Mayence and Strasburg, and ere long made such progress that he himself acted as teacher in Frankfort and Munich.

He was a favourite everywhere for his talent and his wit, but he led a singularly pure and abstemious life; and at twenty-two returned to his native city, presented his master-piece as a shoemaker, and when admitted to the guild, married, and settled down in Nuremberg. Here he spent the rest of his long life,--for though he was a delicate child, he lived to be eighty-one,--working sometimes at his trade, sometimes giving instruction in the art of composition, more often engaged on his own compositions.

These earned him in his own day great renown and a wide popularity, and he was the first author who lived to see a complete collected edition of his own works. It was published at Nuremberg in 1558, in five folio volumes. He was indeed a most prolific writer, surpassed only by Lopes de Vega, for he published more than six thousand poems, of course of very varying excellence. Almost every style of poetry, except the dramatic which he but slightly attempted, is largely represented among them,--lyrical, narrative, satirical, humorous and earnest.

His highest merit, which won for him the admiration of Goethe, lay in his short tales, many of which are comic, though all have some moral point, and which are told with a spirit and humour, a freshness and pathos that both render them attractive in themselves and valuable as a vivid picture of the life of his times. The greater number of his more humorous poems belong to his later years; most of his earlier ones are serious--first love-songs of a very pure and domestic character, then poems chiefly of the political and religious class.

Such works, handling the most important topics of the day and circulated on broadsheets as fast as they were written, helped to form the public opinion of the times as powerfully as newspapers do now, and it was no slight gain to the cause of the Reformation that so ready and favourite a writer should from the first have taken that side.

In 1523 he published a poem which soon spread all over Germany, called the "Nightingale of Wittenberg." It described the state of Christendom, by picturing the miseries of a poor flock of sheep which have fallen among wolves, and are especially exposed to the rapacity of a lion (Leo X.), who had craftily undertaken to defend them. Suddenly they hear the clear notes of a nightingale, foretelling the day-dawn, and the sheep who follow this voice are led out into a lovely sunny, safe meadow.

His keen, shrewd rightmindedness made him appreciate how great an influence the new mode of thought would inevitably exercise on the domestic life, and also on the social and political condition of the nation; and hence many of his poems take up the questions of the honourableness of marriage, the necessity of concession on the part of the rulers, and of love of the commonwealth and readiness to make sacrifices for it on the part of the people of Germany.

He saw, too, the dangers of discord and quarrels among the Reformers; and when Luther dies, he represents Theology as weeping over the coffin of the man of God, and mourning the treatment she receives at the hands of presumptuous secretaries. He comforts her by telling her that she has yet defenders left, and that Luther's doctrine has at least put an end for ever to all the monkey-tricks of relics and shrines, pretended miracles and indulgences. But he does not conceal his fears of the dissensions among Christians themselves, and exhorts them to hold fast by the pure Gospel: "Love God above all, and thy neighbour as thyself; against that doctrine ban and edict, clergy and laity, school and preaching, monks and old women, will alike be powerless."

The most famous of his hymns is one that he wrote during the terrible siege of Nuremberg in 1561:-- "Why art thou thus cast down, my heart?" Of his others we give two; the first is called Awake, My Heart’s Delight, Awake.