A Greiffenberg printing project

Here in Manitoba, winter is just beginning. Greiffenberg was not fond of this season. According to the subject index of Geistliche Sonnette, Lieder und Gedichte, she wrote seventeen poems about spring, but just two about winter: the first equates winter with adversity, the second celebrates winter’s departure. 

That second one caught our attention because of its title: “On the Departure (Praise God!) of Winter” (“Auf den/ Gott Lob! vergehenden Winter”). We already knew Greiffenberg as a woman of intense feeling, and that’s certainly the case here, where she addresses winter as the destroyer, arch-enemy of all the earth. For her–a poet who saw the world through the lens of her faith–the departure of winter was a clear metaphor for Christ’s defeat of death.

When I (Joanne) took a course called The History of the Book at Canadian Mennonite University in the 2020 winter term, I wanted to do something Greiffenberg-related for my creative project. I had already had a taste of letterpress printing and wanted to do more, so I made an illustrated pamphlet with two of Greiffenberg’s sonnets. The sonnet on the departure of winter led nicely into one of the spring sonnets. For each one, I printed the original and our translation on facing pages.

The Lino block illustrations are both spring-related: apple blossoms on the cover, and on the inside a phoenix (yes, I know, it looks like an eagle). The latter is a reference to the spring sonnet, in which spring is called the “yearly-renewing phoenix of the earth.”

I had to make some compromises on the spelling. The sets of type I was working with were meant for English text, and had none of the umlaut vowels (ä, ö, ü) or the “scharfes S” (ß), so I used anglicized spellings for these (ae, oe, ue for the vowels; ss for ß). 

If you click on a photo below, you’ll get a larger image with readable text.

On the Lovely Summer- and Harvest-Time

For this post—our first after a few months’ hiatus—we decided to let readers in on our process. Instead of posting the final version of our translation with a link to the original, we’ll include all the steps: the original German text, the draft translations by Joanne and Sarah, and then the final version that the three of us developed together.

No two dictionaries are quite alike, and collectively we end up using several in the course of our translating: Cassell’s New German Dictionary, the Oxford-Duden German Dictionary, the online Langenscheidt German-English Dictionary, and the Deutsches Wörterbuch by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm.

Original text:

Auf die liebliche Sommer- und Ernde-Zeit

O Wunder-Gottes Güt! die in die Erd sich senket.
Sie grünt und prangt hervor/ in Nahrung-reicher Art.
Die Allmacht hat mit ihr sich in die Erd gepaart:
aus deren Würkung Gott/ uns diese Gaben schenket.
bey iedem Sichelschnitt/ ists billig/ daß man denket
an Gottes Gnaden Mäng’ und Lob zum wundern schaart.
So wenig ja den Dank/ als er den Segen/ spaart!
sein Gnaden-Herz sich ganz auf uns zu giessen lenket.

Ein schallends Ehren-Lob soll aus den Halmen gehn/
weil seiner Ehren voll die Erd’/ und was sie träget.
Am Lebens Mastbaum soll der Lobes-Segel stehn:
Der Freuden-Seufzer-Wind ihn lieblich süß beweget.
So sammlet Gottes Lieb/ durch diese Erdenfrücht:
und schüttet dafür aus/ sein Lieb- und Lob-Gerücht!

Sarah’s version:

On the Lovely Summer- and Harvest-Time

Oh, Goodness of a wondrous God! It drops into the earth
Where, greening and sprouting, it brings forth nourishment.
Goodness and Omnipotence are joined with soil
And from this union spring God’s gifts of harvest.
At every scythe-cut It is right to remember
God’s generous grace, and to amazement add our praise.
(Our thanks will be as small as if God spared his blessing!)
His gracious heart bends wholly to our benefit.

Resounding exaltation shall rise from every stalk.
The earth and what she bears is worthy of esteem.
We will fasten our sail of praise to life’s main mast
Where it will sway, sweetly and gently, in wind’s joyful sigh.
Thus God’s love gathers in the fruits of earth,
And thus pours out on us his favour and his love.

Joanne’s version:

On the delightful summer and harvest-time

O goodness of our wondrous God, that comes to earth!
It greens and shines forth, rich in nourishment.
Omnipotence has mingled with it in the earth,
from whose working God pours out these gifts to us.
With every sickle-stroke it’s fitting that we think
on God’s abundant grace, gathered in praise and wonder.
Our thanks are so much smaller than his blessings!
Glory-praise shall resound from every stalk
since earth and all it bears is full of his glory.
The praise-sail shall be set on life’s mast,
moved so sweetly by joy-sighing winds.
So God’s love gathers in these fruits of earth,
and spills out fragrance of his love and praise!

Final collaborative version:

On the Lovely Summer- and Harvest-Time

Oh, goodness of a wondrous God! It drops into the earth
which greens and shines, rich in nourishment.
Goodness and omnipotence join within the soil
and from this pairing spring God’s gifts of harvest.
With every sickle-stroke, it’s fitting to remember
God’s abundant grace, and to amazement add our praise.
(Our thanks as scarce as if God spared his blessing.)
He pours His whole heart’s grace on us.

Honor and praise shall resound from every stalk
since earth, and all it bears, is full of God’s glory.
The sail of praise shall be set on life’s main mast
where it will stir sweetly in wind’s joyful sighing.
So, God’s love, gathered in these fruits of earth,
spreads out His love and praise.

Spiritual Word-Thunder: in a thunderstorm in the garden

By PROPOLI87 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=91220236

Mighty, thundering God! Give thunder-power
to your heart-penetrating Word, so that we see
the Spirit-Lightning, and feel its heat-strike
that snatches all our hearts’ pride away.
This thunder-rumbling has power to transform:
God’s presence reigns in times of terror.
This dreadful cannon-blast is fruitful,
just as God’s zeal is charged with grace.
That wonder-flash, God’s Word, will neither wound the soul
nor weaken the body; to strengthen is his only goal.
His Spirit-subtlety can penetrate unnoticed.
At times, he is pleased to overwhelm with sound.
Protect us, O God, from the clouds’ thunderclaps:
your Word, although it strike us, will transform us.

Click here to read this sonnet in the original German.

On the Familiar Little Flower, Forget-Me-Not

(According to a German legend, God named all the plants and when a tiny unnamed one cried out, “Forget me not, O Lord!” God replied, “That shall be your name.”)

(Photo by Anna Rozwadowska on Unsplash)

Lovely little flower, your color points to highest Highness
as if to say “Forget me not, you who are so in love
with earthly vanities that in the end will only trouble you.
Know this: whoever remembers me can live content.”
This secret we can learn from you, little moral-teacher.
Your petals, five in number – my memory, using
its five senses, leads me to contemplate
the five most-precious Wounds that point the way to Life.
Your foliage and green stems teach that we should hope:
God will not forget us, though we on earth must endure 
misfortune and many a cross. He will bring us to Himself.
Oh, forget me not, Creator! Help even me!
Does not my hope spring from your word?
In you lies much wisdom, little flower, though so small.

Click here to read this sonnet in the original German.

Spring-Delight in Praise of God (15): Sun-Praise

This is the last in Greiffenberg’s series of spring sonnets. It felt like an appropriate choice for moving from spring toward summer, especially since yesterday happened to be the summer solstice.

Empress of the stars, heaven’s worthy crown,
the wide world’s eye, soul of the universe!
Centre of streaming rays, source of beauty and pleasure,
life of all things, clarity’s shining throne,
light-bringer to all, treasure-house of rapture,
mirror of the Highest (nothing shows God so clearly);
the picture of constant motion in your swift speed,
you golden wonder-well, singular sun!

A ship on which God sends us gifts of life,
a carriage carrying heaven’s blessings;
monarch of time, ruler of days and years,
whose noble presence quickens all the lands.
Beautiful blessing-tree, planted by God’s hand!
out of your blossoming rays the Maker’s beauty shines.

Click here to read this sonnet in the original German. (In the online version we’ve been using for the originals, today’s sonnet is paired with the “Little Rain” sonnet we posted two weeks ago, so you’ll have to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page.)

Spring Delight in Praise of God (2)

God opens wide the earth, his treasure chest,
the only key: his Word. Its power brings on
Earth’s sprouting, rooting, greening, blossoming.
It makes the sap rise in the hearts of earth and stars;
awakens Nature to delight and pleasure.
God’s word is the root-spirit, heart-sap of little grasses,
flowers’ breath of life, laden with sweet dew—
in short, it is the peace all creatures crave.
In God’s Word, God shows himself as in a mirror,
and is revealed to us in all created things,
as His beauty beams from every flower garland.
His sweetness flows from fruits into our mouths.
Yes, God’s image is in all that we can see—
How high, how rich, how mild God is. How lovely, sweet, and good.

Click here to read this sonnet in the original German.

Spring-Delight in Praise of God (14): A Delightful Little Rain

In the church calendar, we are now moving into the long period called Ordinary Time. Here on the blog, the translations we post will change as well: after posting a number of sonnets marking particular times in the church year, we will explore other themes for a while, beginning with one from Greiffenberg’s series of sonnets on spring.

Rain does no harm; it multiplies our pleasure
a thousandfold, and makes life more delightful.
Heaven has suckled the earth with its breast,
and the sun’s rays shine with laughter.
Rain is a nectar-sip, desire-arousing sap:
the sun is put to sleep, only to wake refreshed. 
Its briefly-hidden beams bring forth more desire.
(Absence increases longing, as everyone well knows.)
Rain is the heaven-spirit, distilled and bright,
the balm that fills the world with flowered rest.
When God breaks the cloud-glass, joy pours out,
a heavenly tincture that adorns the earth with gold.
Rain is the blessing-wine from the mouth of God:
pleasure abounds, and the land grows fruitful.

Click here to read this sonnet in the original German.