About this blogger:
A theorist, organist, and conductor, Jeff Ostrowski holds his B.M. in Music Theory from the University of Kansas (2004), and did graduate work in Musicology. He serves as choirmaster for the new FSSP parish in Los Angeles, where he resides with his wife and children.
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“It introduces us to a still and serious world, deserted and rigid, without colour, without light, without motion; it does not gladden, does not distract; yet we cannot break away from it.”
— Schweitzer on the THEME from Bach's “Art of Fugue”

Which Translations Do You Prefer? Literal Or Poetic?
published 7 January 2014 by Jeff Ostrowski

879 Latin E SPENT a lot of time carefully choosing literal translations of the Latin texts for the Edmund Campion Missal & Hymnal. But why did we insist upon literal ones? Why not poetic translations? Well, consider this famous verse by St. Thomas Aquinas:

Tantum ergo Sacraméntum Venerémur cérnui:
Et antíquum documentum Novo cedat rítui;
Præstet fides suppleméntum Sénsuum deféctui.

Look at what they proposed for the 1998 Sacramentary, and hopefully you’ll understand what I’m getting at:

1998 Sacramentary (Rejected)
Secret past imagination,
Dazzling and compelling awe:
Sacrament and celebration
Richer than the ancient law;
Faith can see by revelation
More than senses ever saw.
Literal Translation
Let us therefore, prostrate,
adore so great a Sacrament,
and let the Old Law give way
to the New Ordinance;
let faith supplement
the weakness of the senses

Speaking of the (rejected) 1998 Sacramentary, here’s a selection from a different Pange Lingua, by Venantius Fortunatus:

Lustrix sex qui jam peráctis, tempus implens córporis,
Se volénte, natus ad hoc, passióni déditus,
Agnus in Crucis levátur immolándus stípite.

… and here’s how they translated it in the 1998 Sacramentary, using colloquial, forced phrases like “only born to be rejected”:

1998 Sacramentary (Rejected)
So he came, the long-expected,
Not in glory, not to reign;
Only born to be rejected,
Choosing hunger, toil, and pain,
Till the gallows was erected
And the Paschal Lamb was slain.
Literal Translation
The redeemer had now completed thirty
years and had come to the end of His
earthly life, and then of His own free will
He gave Himself up to the Passion. The
Lamb was lifted up on to the tree of the
Cross to be sacrificed

SADLY, THE 1998 SACRAMENTARY VERSION of the Good Friday Hymn by Fortunatus was adopted for the Third Edition of the Roman Missal (although they did repair some of the worst lines and restored two beautiful verses the 1998 had deleted). Here’s another verse from Fortunatus:

Sola digna tu fuísti ferre saecli prétium,
Atque portum praeparáre nauta mundo náufrago,
Quem sacer cruor perúnxit, fusus Agni córpore.

… and here’s the doggerel poetic translation in the 1998 Sacramentary:

1998 Sacramentary (Rejected)
Only tree to be anointed,
With the blood of Christ embossed,
You alone have been appointed
Balance-beam to weigh the cost
Of a universe disjointed,
Pilot for the tempest-tossed.
Literal Translation
Thou alone wast found worthy to bear
the Victim of the world! Thou wast the
ark that led this ship-wrecked world into
the haven of salvation! The sacred
Blood that flowed from the Lamb
covered and anointed thee.

I never thought I’d say this, but I actually agree with Paul Inwood. Despite his somewhat fanatical attachment to the 1998 Sacramentary (for ideological reasons), Inwood excoriates that translation in this forum entry (“Southern Comfort” is his nom de plume). Inwood is absolutely correct: rather than use “Thee” or “Thine,” they chose a truly absurd version. However, what’s odd to me is that, having condemned all things forced and uninspired, “Southern Comfort” then proceeds to recommend that everyone purchase a certain piece by Paul Inwood, whose music is (in my humble opinion) catchy, but rather predictable — consider, for example, this and this.

ADDENDUM:   Paul made a good point in the combox. It might be worth pointing out that (normally) poetic translations are used so they can be sung. For myself, however, I always find such translations forced. I suppose there are exceptions … e.g. some of Dr. Neale’s translations. I cite Fortescue’s opinions on this subject in this essay.