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 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.