“A day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness.” Zephaniah 1:15
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|Words: Thomas of Celano, 13th Century (Dies Irae); translated to from Latin to English by William Josiah Irons, 1848. For another version of this hymn, see That Day of Wrath. |
Music: “Dies Irae,” John Bacchus Dykes, 1861
Francis Arthur Jones recounts the unusual origin of this work in his Famous Hymns and Their Authors (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1902):
It appears that Mr. Irons was in the French capital during the Revolution of 1848 when, among other atrocities committed, the Archbishop of Paris was murdered. Owing to the revolutionary spirit of the people it was many days before the funeral could take place with any degree of safety to the mourners. About a fortnight later a Memorial Service was held in Notre Dame, at which Mr. Irons was present. The Archbishop’s heart, which had been severed from his body, was placed in a glass casket and reverently laid on a raised daïs in the choir so that all who desired to do so might gaze upon it. As the procession of mourners filed by, casting looks of mingled terror and affection on the faithful heart, which had so recently beat in their interests, the entire congregation sang in muffled tones the Dies Irae. As many well be believed the solemnity of the service made a deep impression on the mind of the English clergyman present, and when the congregation had dispersed he returned to his hotel and immediately made his now celebrated translation of the great Latin hymn.
Day of wrath, O day of mourning!
See fulfilled the prophet’s warning,
Heaven and earth in ashes burning.
Oh, what fear man’s bosom rendeth
When from heav’n the Judge descendeth
On Whose sentence all dependeth!
Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth,
Through earth’s sepulchers it ringeth,
All before the throne it bringeth.
Death is struck and nature quaking;
All creation is awaking,
To its Judge an answer making.
Lo, the book, exactly worded,
Wherein all hath been recorded;
Thence shall judgment be awarded.
When the Judge His seat attaineth
And each hidden deed arraigneth,
Nothing unavenged remaineth.
What shall I, frail man, be pleading?
Who for me be interceding
When the just are mercy needing?
King of majesty tremendous,
Who dost free salvation send us,
Fount of pity, then befriend us.
Think, good Jesus, my salvation
Caused Thy wondrous incarnation;
Leave me not to reprobation!
Faint and weary Thou hast sought me,
On the cross of suffering bought me;
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?
Righteous Judge, for sin’s pollution
Grant Thy gift of absolution
Ere that day of retribution!
Guilty, now I pour my moaning,
All my shame with anguish owning:
Spare, O God, Thy suppliant groaning!
From that sinful woman shriven,
From the dying thief forgiven,
Thou to me a hope hast given.
Worthless are my prayers and sighing;
Yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
Rescue me from fires undying.
With Thy favored sheep, oh, place me!
Nor among the goats abase me,
But to Thy right hand upraise me.
While the wicked are confounded,
Doomed to flames of woe unbounded,
Call me, with Thy saints surrounded.
Low I kneel with heart submission,
See, like ashes, my contrition;
Help me in my last condition!
Day of sorrow, day of weeping,
When, in dust no longer sleeping,
Man awakes in Thy dread keeping!
[This additional verse may be used with tunes of a different meter]
To the rest Thou didst prepare me
On Thy cross; O Christ, upbear me!
Spare, O God, in mercy spare me!