It was in the 17th century, some five hundred years after it was written, that Paul Gerhardt translated the last stanzas of the poem into German. For the tune, Gerhardt chose the melody of a love song by Hans Leo Hassler published about fifty years earlier, called "Mein Gmuth ist mir verwiret (loosely translated, "My Head is Spinning.") It had been published in a book of love songs entitles "Lustgarten."
My head is spinning.It is not hard to see how Gerhardt made the leap from the secular to the sacred.
A tender maiden has undone me.
I am completely lost.
I am heartsick.
Day and night I have no rest,
an eternity of lamenting.
I constantly sigh and weep,
Lost in deep despair.*
The original song is all but forgotten now, and "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" has passed into a multitude of hymnals across many denominations. Johann Sebastian Bach arranged the hymn and used it in his St. Matthew's Passion. J.W. Alexander's English translation of 1830 has become the most popular text; of the original eleven verses, only three are now commonly sung:
The last verse in Alexander's translation is worth another look:
O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale Thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn!
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.
What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.
Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;The hymn is a beautiful companion to the Scriptures on Christ's suffering, particularly Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, and the Passion accounts in the Gospels.
Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.
I've posted on the Prayer Garden website some related resources I enjoyed, including:
- The full text of Gerhardt's translation
- Three verses of the original "My Head is Spinning"*
- A translation of "Al Pedes" (To His Feet) from Salve mundi salutare
- A beautiful rendition of "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded," by the Concert Choir of the First Presbyterian Church of Monrovia, CA.
*translated by Lisa Albrecht and Kristina Boerger