Recently, I was going over a piece for an upcoming choral concert — Morton Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, a beautiful and moving work, which we’re singing in Latin. Having studied some Latin in my time, I thought I understood the meaning pretty well, but, out of curiosity, checked the inside cover for how the publishers had translated the Latin into English.
What a shock! There was a lot about religion — eternal rest, salvation, mercy, and all that. Not that I’m against religion, but that just wasn’t my understanding of the Latin text. So I picked out a portion, in particular the fourth movement, titled Veni, Sancte Spiritus, for which the translation seemed particularly off the mark, and gave it close inspection.
For example, it starts off as: Come, Holy Spirit And send forth from heaven The ray of thy light. Come, Father of the poor, Come giver of gifts, Come, light of hearts (that last bit — light of hearts — is so obviously wrong; there’s nothing light-hearted here).
I checked out the whole movement, and here’s what it’s really saying:
Veni, Sancte Spiritus Vinnie, come to the sink, quickly
Et emitte coelitus And put down your cello.
Lucis tuae radium Look, it’s something radioactive.
Veni, pater pauperum Go get your poor father,
Veni, dator munerum And our moonstruck daughter too.
Veni, lumen cordium. See, it’s a glowing wire!
Consolator optime Let’s hope for the best.
Dulcis hospes animae Or maybe call that nice animal hospital,
Dulce refrigerium Or Dulcy the refrigerator guy,
In labore requies Though he’s a reckless worker,
In aestu temperies, And he does have a nasty temper,
In fletu solatium. And, last time, he had a flat and arrived so late.
O lux beatissima, Oh look, dearest,
Reple cordis intima The wire’s talking about something sensitive —
Tuorum fidelium Whether you’ve been faithful.
Sine tuo numine It says you’re sinning, using two names,
Nihil est in homine That you’re never home,
Nihil est innoxium And nothing is too vile for you!
Lava quod est sordidum, You do spout a lot of filth,
Riga quod est aridum And, in Riga, you hid the deodorant.
Sana quod est saucium In San’a, it was the Worcestershire.
Flecte quod est rigidum In Flecte, you kept it up,
Fove quod est frigidum But in Fove, you were cold as ice
Rege quod est devium. And regularly devious.
Da tuis fidelibus, If only you’d been faithful,
In te confidentibus, I would have believed you.
Sacrum septenarium OK — so your back hurts. You’re aging!
Da virtutis meritum, But I deserve better.
Da salutis exitum So, here’s to you, bud! I’m splitting.
Da perenne gaudium And by the way, I’m taking all the jewelry!
It isn’t exactly the consolation for a life of piety and good works the publisher’s translation offers. But its intent is the same: Be good and kind and faithful. If not, the truth will come out, in ways you might not have anticipated, and the consequences will not be pleasant.