2 April 2020

Mariam invoca: our Lady in time of plague

I offer you my own my recension of this medieval antiphon to our Lady in time of plague. I have expanded e into ae where modern convention requires this, and arranged it so as to bring out the rhymes.

You could call it a sort of sonnet ...

Stella caeli extirpavit
  (quae lactavit Dominum)
mortis pestem, quam plantavit
  primus parens hominum.

Ipsa stella nunc dignetur
  sidera compescere,
quorum bella plebem caedunt
  dirae mortis ulcere.

O gloriosa stella maris,
a peste succurre nobis.

Audi nos: nam Filius tuus
  nil negans te honorat.
Salva nos, Jesu, pro quibus
  Virgo mater te orat. 

The first two stanzas and the final one employ trochaic tetrameters catalectic in the style of those of Pange lingua. But at O gloriosa a syllable gets added and the regularities of both rhyme and rhythm are subverted: does this heighten the emotion?

In the final stanza, I suggest that Filius is to be pronounced Filyus, and I write nil for nihil. I am far from sure that I am right about these two lines!

A translation on the internet makes a hash of quorum ... ulcere by not realising that the verb is caedunt and that ulcere .is an ablative singular, its ending guaranteed by the rhyme with compescere.

The Star of Heaven (who nourished the Lord) rooted up the plague of death which the first father of mankind planted; 
may that same Star now deign to hold in check the constellations, whose wars strike down the people with the sore of a dread death. 
O glorious Star of the sea, succour us from the plague. 
Hear us: for thy Son, denying thee nothing, honours thee. Save us, Jesus, for whom thy Virgin Mother implores thee.

Medieval science attributed plagues to configurations among the constellations ... helpfully reminding us that all 'scientific laws' are really just falsifiable hypotheses, God bless them.

I wonder if the Astronomer Royal is present at COBRA meetings ... 


Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

Excellent, dear Father, and produces some good chant too, of which a very small selection here: https://saintjohnofjerusalem.blogspot.com/2020/03/prayer-against-coronavirus.html

I trust you and your constricted household are all keeping safe.

Joshua said...

I have corrected the translation (or rather paraphrase) that I found elsewhere and clearly insufficiently revised prior to posting it on my blog on the 16th of March. Thank you for your implicit correction!

I found that late 17th century editions of the Primer included the following poetic translation, which seems reasonably accurate:

O Star of Heaven, whose virgin breast
Thy Son, our Lord, did feed;
Who oft repelled the deadly pest
Caused by first man’s [sic; vel lege: man’s first] misdeed.

O thou auspicious star, restrain
The stars[’] contagious ill;
Whose fell aspect, with ulcers’ pain,
Now threat [sic; lege: threats] mankind to kill.

Most pious sea-Star, hear our cry,
From plague thy servants free:
For thee, thy Son will nought deny,
So much he honours thee.

Save us, sweet Saviour Jesus, now and aye,
For whom thy Virgin Mother deigns to pray.

However, 18th and 19th century editions gave a far less literal version:

Heav’n’s brightest star[,] thy influence shed:
Who with thy virgin breast,
Thy Son, heaven’s sov’reign Maker[,] fed,
That heal’d our nature’s pest.

O thou auspicious star, restrain
The stars[’] contagious ill;
Whose baleful frown portends our bane,
To scourge our ulcer’d will.

Star of the sea[,] receive our vows,
From plague thy suppliants free:
Thy Son will not thy pray’rs refuse,
So much he honours thee.

A virgin mother, and a fruitful maid
For sinners pleads; O Lord, vouchsafe thy aid.

I found that by combining elements from both, the last two lines could be expanded into a fourth verse of similar metre to the rest:

Save us, sweet Jesus, now and aye,
For whom that fruitful maid
Thy Virgin Mother deigns to pray:
O Lord, vouchsafe thy aid.

Do any suitable tunes come to mind?

Joshua said...

NB The admirable schola St Cecile in Paris suggests singing "O gloriosa stella maris, a peste succurre nobis." thrice, though they follow the modern text reading "piissima".