Attende Domine is a Latin hymn of penitence we have heard many times this Lent. In Paul’s recording of it, the male choir repeatedly and loudly cries the refrain, “Attende Domine, et miserere, quia peccavimus tibi,” which means “Pay attention to us, Lord, and have mercy, for we have sinned against you.” Oh my, this music always stirs my heart, like some kind of spiritual trumpet-call. If other penitential hynms quietly mourn our sins (as well we must), Attende Domine urges us to march against them into battle.
The Latin lyrics are simple and direct, and probably many of us who don’t know much Latin can still sense some of what they are saying: phrases like “omnium Redemptor”, “oculos nostros”, “innocens captus”, and “testibus falsis” call to us at the edge of comprehension.
Every time I have heard this hymn, I have longed for a translation that could be sung to the same tune, and would bring all of those phrases into sharp focus for English speakers like myself. The close of Lent of 2022 has provided a motivating deadline for me, and so here we go.
As usual, my goal is to make the Latin lyrics speak through the English, rather than create a new song that is “natively English”. The original thousand-year-old melody, with its leaping peaks and flowing valleys, is unusual but stirring, so again I wanted to marry that music to the new English lyrics. These goals demand close correspondence between the English translation and the Latin, almost word-for-word, and accurate preservation of the original stress patterns and syllable counts.
(Here is a summary I wrote last year of how I work under these goals: http://rosehome.org/music/expository-translation-norms.pdf.)
Such work has been done before by far better poets (Neale and Dryden come instantly to mind), but I prefer to tilt hard towards the original Latin when given a choice in diction and grammar, even if it makes the English listener work harder–I think entering into such “Latin-sounding” English is very much worth the effort. As a bonus, if you learn the English lyrics to the Latin music, you can sing the Latin lyrics, with pretty much full understanding.
Below is the text (Latin and English) and a link to the music.
Energized by songs like this, we might well pray: O Lord, listen to our prayers, pardon and preserve us, and wash away the stains of our offenses, that we may enjoy newness of life with you in the coming Resurrection!
Attende Domine, et miserere, quia peccavimus tibi. (℟ Attende Domine…) Attend O Lord our God, and show your mercy, For we have sin-néd before you. (℟ Attend O Lord…) Ad te Rex summe, omnium Redemptor, oculos nostros sublevamus flentes: exaudi, Christe, supplicantum preces. (℟ Attende Domine…) To you, O High King, of all things Redeemer, We raise our eyes up, lifted up and weeping: Hear now, O Christ, these prayers of supplication. (℟ Attend O Lord…) Dextera Patris, lapis angularis, via salutis, ianua caelestis, ablue nostri maculas delicti. (℟ Attende Domine…) The Father’s right hand, the rock, the cornerstone, The way of safety, open gate of heaven, Wash away now the stains of our offenses. (℟ Attend O Lord…) Rogamus, Deus, tuam maiestatem: auribus sacris gemitus exaudi: crimina nostra placidus indulge. (℟ Attende Domine…) O God, we ask you, of your high majesty, In sacred hearing listen to our sorrow: Our crimes and failings, tolerate in kindness. (℟ Attend O Lord…) Tibi fatemur crimina admissa: contrito corde pandimus occulta: tua, Redemptor, pietas ignoscat. (℟ Attende Domine…) To you we confess, our crimes admit to you: From contrite hearts our hidden sins we reveal: O bless’d Redeemer, give your people pardon. (℟ Attend O Lord…) Innocens captus, nec repugnans ductus, testibus falsis pro impiis damnatus: quos redemisti, tu conserva, Christe. (℟ Attende Domine…) Innocent captured, led but not resisting, Under false witness, by impie’ty condemned: Yet those you ransomed, safeguard, Christ Redeemer. (℟ Attend O Lord…)
translations copyright ©2022 John R. Rose under CC BY-SA 4.0