I absolutely love J.S. Bach’s Joy-filled celebration of Jesus Christ’s love for humanity, “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring”. Ash Wednesday is just two days away, so this is my last opportunity to get it in as a Music Monday selection before Lent.
Bach composed this piece in 1723 as a part of his cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147 (“Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life”), which he wrote for the celebration of the Feast of the Visitation. Bach’s original arrangement included two stanzas from the 1661 hymn “Jesu, meiner Seelen Wonne”, written by Martin Janus. The English words that usually accompany Bach’s music are not a direct translation from the German version, but were loosely taken by Robert Bridges, who was England’s Poet Laureate in the early twentieth century, from Janus’s original hymn. Bridges’s verses are beautifully suited to Bach’s soaring music, making a truly joyful combination. I’ve posted the English text, along with the original German, beneath the clip.
The video below features the The Texas Boys Choir singing at Broadway Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, Texas.
English words to Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
Jesu, joy of man’s desiring,
Holy wisdom, love most bright;
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light.
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
With the fire of life impassioned,
Striving still to truth unknown,
Soaring, dying round Thy throne.
Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.
Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure;
Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure.
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown.
German words & English translation:
Wohl mir, daß ich Jesum habe,
o wie feste halt’ ich ihn,
daß er mir mein Herze labe,
wenn ich krank und traurig bin.
Jesum hab’ ich, der mich liebet
und sich mir zu eigen giebet,
ach drum laß’ ich Jesum nicht,
wenn mir gleich mein Herze bricht.
Jesus bleibet meine Freude,
meines Herzens Trost und Saft,
Jesus wehret allem Leide,
er ist meines Lebens Kraft,
meiner Augen Lust und Sonne,
meiner Seele Schatz und Wonne;
darum laß’ ich Jesum nicht
aus dem Herzen und Gesicht.
Well for me that I have Jesus,
O how tightly I hold him
that he might refresh my heart,
when I’m sick and sad.
Jesus I have, who loves me
and gives himself to me,
ah, therefore I will not leave Jesus,
Even if I feel my heart is breaking.
—from BWV 147, chorale movement no. 6
Jesus remains my joy,
my heart’s comfort and essence,
Jesus fends off all suffering,
He is my life’s strength,
my eye’s desire and sun,
my soul’s treasure and pleasure;
Therefore I will not leave Jesus
out of heart and face.
—from BWV 147, chorale movement no. 10