Saturday, December 4, 2010

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Ephrem the Syrian (Advent #1)

Ephrem the Syrian is the great poet theologian of the church, writing and teaching and ministering in Syriac-speaking communities in the fourth century. Due to his language, location, and time period, he is much neglected, and unjustly (though I should not feign serious knowledge, either, even if he is at the top of my list). I couldn't resist sharing the following hymn, however, as it is an extraordinarily beautiful (and deeply imaginative) Advent song placed on the lips of Mary. Blessings from our brother Ephrem in this time of remembering the child Jesus and the miracle of the Incarnation!

(Note: This version is translated by Kathleen McVey and taken from pages 145-47 in Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns [New York: Paulist Press, 1989].)

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Hymn on the Nativity: 15

By Ephrem the Syrian

"With You I shall begin, and I trust
that with You I shall end. I shall open my mouth,
and You fill my mouth. I am for You the earth
and You are the farmer. Sow in me Your voice,
You who are the sower of Himself in His mother's womb."

Refrain: Glory be to You, my Lord, and through You to the Father, on the day of Your nativity.

"All the chaste daughters of the Hebrews
and virgin daughters of rulers
are amazed at me. Because of You, a daughter of the poor
is envied. Because of You, a daughter of the weak
is an object of jealousy. Who gave You to me?

"Son of the Rich One, Who despised the womb
of rich women, what drew You
toward the poor? For Joseph is needy,
and I am impoverished. Your merchants
brought gold to a house of the poor."

She saw the Magi; her songs increased
at their offerings: "Behold Your worshipers
surround me, and their offerings
encircle me. Blessed be the Babe
Who made His mother the lyre of His melodies.

"And since the lyre looks toward its master,
my mouth looks toward You. Let Your will arouse
Your mother's tongue. Since I have learned by You
a new way of conceiving, let my mouth learn by You
a new way of giving birth to new glory.

"If difficult things for You are not difficult
but easy, so that the womb conceived You
without intercourse, and without seed
the womb gave birth to You, it is easy for the mouth
to be fruitful and to multiply Your great glory.

"Behold, I am slandered and oppressed,
but I rejoice. My ears are full
of scorn and disdain, but it is a small matter to me
how much I shall endure, for a single word of consolation from You
is able to chase away myriads of griefs.

"Since I am not despised by You, my Son,
I am confident. I who am slandered
have conceived and given birth to the True Judge
Who will vindicate me. For if Tamar
was acquitted by Judah, how much more will I be acquitted by You!

"David, Your father, sang a psalm to You
before You came, that to You would be offered
gold of Sheba. The psalm
that he merely sang now in reality
heaps before You myrrh and gold.

"The hundred and fifty psalms he sang
were flavored by You since all the words
of prophecy are in need
of Your seasoning. For without Your salt
all wisdom would lose its savor."

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