Hymn For The Burial Of The Dead (Hymnus Ad Exequias Defuncti)

A poem by Aurelius Clemens Prudentius

Newly Translated Into English Verse By R. Martin Pope is below this original.

Hymnus Ad Exequias Defuncti


Deus ignee fons animarum,
duo qui socians elementa
vivum simul ac moribundum
hominem Pater effigiasti:

Tua sunt, tua rector utraque,
tibi copula iungitur horum,
tibi, dum vegetata cohaerent,
et spiritus et caro servit.

Rescissa sed ista seorsum
solvunt hominera perimuntque,
humus excipit arida corpus,
animae rapit aura liquorem.

Quia cuncta creata necesse est
labefacta senescere tandem,
conpactaque dissociari,
et dissona texta retexi.

Hanc tu, Deus optime, mortem
famulis abolere paratus
iter inviolabile monstras,
quo perdita membra resurgant:

Ut, dum generosa caducis
ceu carcere clausa ligantur,
pars illa potentior extet,
quae germen ab aethere traxit.

Si terrea forte voluntas
luteum sapit et grave captat,
animus quoque pondere victus
sequitur sua membra deorsum.

At si generis memor ignis
contagia pigra recuset,
vehit hospita viscera secum,
pariterque reportat ad astra.

Nam quod requiescere corpus
vacuum sine mente videmus,
spatium breve restat, ut alti
repetat conlegia sensus.

Venient cito secula, cum iam
socius calor ossa revisat
animataque sanguine vivo
habitacula pristina gestet.

Quae pigra cadavera pridem
tumulis putrefacta iacebant,
volucres rapientur in auras
animas comitata priores.

Hinc maxima cura sepulcris
inpenditur: hinc resolutos
honor ultimus accipit artus
et funeris ambitus ornat.

Candore nitentia claro
praetendere lintea mos est,
adspersaque myrrha Sabaeo
corpus medicamine servat.

Quidnam sibi saxa cavata,
quid pulchra volunt monumenta,
nisi quod res creditur illis
non mortua, sed data somno?

Hoc provida Christicolarum
pietas studet, utpote credens
fore protinus omnia viva,
quae nunc gelidus sopor urget.

Qui iacta cadavera passim
miserans tegit aggere terrae,
opus exhibet ille benignum
Christo pius omnipotenti:

Quin lex eadem monet omnes
gemitum dare sorte sub una,
cognataque funera nobis
aliena in morte dolere.

Sancti sator ille Tobiae
sacer ac venerabilis heros,
dapibus iam rite paratis
ius praetulit exequiarum.

Iam stantibus ille ministris
cyathos et fercula liquit,
studioque accinctus humandi
fleto dedit ossa sepulcro.

Veniunt mox praemia caelo
pretiumque rependitur ingens:
nam lumina nescia solis
Deus inlita felle serenat.

Iam tunc docuit Pater orbis,
quam sit rationis egenis
mordax et amara medela,
cum lux animum nova vexat.

Docuit quoque non prius ullum
caelestia cernere regna,
quam nocte et vulnere tristi
toleraverit aspera mundi.

Mors ipsa beatior inde est,
quod per cruciamina leti
via panditur ardua iustis
et ad astra doloribus itur.

Sic corpora mortificata
redeunt melioribus annis,
nec post obitum recalescens
conpago fatiscere novit.

Haec, quae modo pallida tabo
color albidus inficit ora,
tunc flore venustior omni
sanguis cute tinget amoena.

Iam nulla deinde senectus
frontis decus invida carpet,
macies neque sicca lacertos
suco tenuabit adeso.

Morbus quoque pestifer, artus
qui nunc populatur anhelos,
sua tunc tormenta resudans
luet inter vincula mille.

Hunc eminus aere ab alto
victrix caro iamque perennis
cernet sine fine gementem
quos moverat ipse dolores.

Quid turba superstes inepta
clangens ululamina miscet,
cur tam bene condita iura
luctu dolor arguit amens?

Iam maesta quiesce querela,
lacrimas suspendite matres,
nullus sua pignora plangat,
mors haec reparatio vitae est.

Sic semina sicca virescunt
iam mortua iamque sepulta,
quae reddita caespite ab imo
veteres meditantur aristas.

Nunc suscipe terra fovendum,
gremioque hunc concipe molli:
hominis tibi membra sequestro
generosa et fragmina credo.

Animae fuit haec domus olim
factoris ab ore creatae,
fervens habitavit in istis
sapientia principe Christo.

Tu depositum tege corpus,
non inmemor illa requiret
sua munera fictor et auctor
propriique aenigmata vultus.

Veniant modo tempora iusta,
cum spem Deus inpleat omnem;
reddas patefacta necesse est,
qualem tibi trado figuram.

Non, si cariosa vetustas
dissolverit ossa favillis,
fueritque cinisculus arens
minimi mensura pugilli.

Nec, si vaga flamina et aurae
vacuum per inane volantes
tulerint cum pulvere nervos,
hominem periisse licebit.

Sed dum resolubile corpus
revocas, Deus, atque reformas,
quanam regione iubebis
animam requiescere puram?

Gremio senis addita sancti
recubabit, ut est Eleazar,
quem floribus undique septum
Dives procul adspicit ardens.

Sequimur tua dicta redemptor,
quibus atra morte triumphans
tua per vestigia mandas
socium crucis ire latronem.

Patet ecce fidelibus ampli
via lucida iam paradisi,
licet et nemus illud adire,
homini quod ademerat anguis.

Illic precor, optime ductor,
famulam tibi praecipe mentem
genitali in sede sacrari,
quam liquerat exul et errans.

Nos tecta fovebimus ossa
violis et fronde frequenti,
titulumque et frigida saxa
liquido spargemus odore.




Hymn For The Burial Of The Dead


Fountain of life, supernal Fire,
Who didst unite in wondrous wise
The soul that lives, the clay that dies,
And mad'st them Man: eternal Sire,

Both elements Thy will obey,
Thine is the bond that joins the twain,
And, while united they remain,
Spirit and body own Thy sway.

Yet they must one day disunite,
Sunder in death this mortal frame;
Dust to the dust from whence it came,
The spirit to its heavenward flight.

For all created things must wane,
And age must break the bond at last;
The diverse web that Life held fast
Death's fingers shall unweave again.

Yet, gracious God, Thou dost devise
The death of Death for all Thine own;
The path of safety Thou hast shown
Whereby the doom├Ęd limbs may rise:

So that, while fragile bonds of earth
Man's noblest essence still enfold,
That part may yet the sceptre hold
Which from pure aether hath its birth.

For if the earthy will hold sway,
By gross desires and aims possessed,
The soul, too, by the weight oppressed,
Follows the body's downward way.

But if she scorn the guilt that mars--
Still mindful of her fiery sphere--
She bears the flesh, her comrade here,
Back to her home beyond the stars.

The lifeless body we restore
To earth, must slumber free from pain
A little while, that it may gain
The spirit's fellowship once more.

The years will pass with rapid pace
Till through these limbs the life shall flow,
And the long-parted spirit go
To seek her olden dwelling-place.

Then shall the body, that hath lain
And turned to dust in slow decay,
On airy wings be borne away
And join its ancient soul again.

Therefore our tenderest care we spend
Upon the grave: and mourners go
With solemn dirge and footstep slow--
Love's last sad tribute to a friend.

With fair white linen we enfold
The dear dead limbs, and richest store
Of Eastern unguents duly pour
Upon the body still and cold.

Why hew the rocky tomb so deep,
Why raise the monument so fair,
Save that the form we cherish there
Is no dead thing, but laid to sleep?

This is the faithful ministry
Of Christian men, who hold it true
That all shall one day live anew
Who now in icy slumber lie.

And he whose pitying hand shall lay
Some friendless outcast 'neath the sod,
E'en to the almighty Son of God
Doth that benignant service pay.

For this same law doth bid us mourn
Man's common fate, when strangers die,
And pay the tribute of a sigh,
As when our kin to rest are borne.

Of holy Tobit ye have read,
(Grave father of a pious son),
Who, though the feast was set, would run
To do his duty by the dead.

Though waiting servants stood around,
From meat and drink he turned away
And girt himself in haste to lay
The bones with weeping in the ground.

Soon Heaven his righteous zeal repays
With rich reward; the eyes long blind
In bitter gall strange virtue find
And open to the sun's clear rays.

Thus hath our Heavenly Father shown
How sharp and bitter is the smart
When sudden on the purblind heart
The Daystar's healing light is thrown.

He taught us, too, that none may gaze
Upon the heavenly demesne
Ere that in darkness and in pain
His feet have trod the world's rough ways.

So unto death itself is given
Strange bliss, when mortal agony
Opens the way that leads on high
And pain is but the path to Heaven.

Thus to a far serener day
Our body from the grave returns;
Eternal life within it burns
That knows nor languor nor decay.

These faces now so pinched and pale,
That marks of lingering sickness show,
Then fairer than the rose shall glow
And bloom with youth that ne'er shall fail.

Ne'er shall crabbed age their beauty dim
With wrinkled brow and tresses grey,
Nor arid leanness eat away
The vigour of the rounded limb.

Racked with his own destroying pains
Shall fell Disease, who now attacks
Our aching frames, his force relax
Fast fettered in a thousand chains:

While from its far celestial throne
The immortal body, victor now,
Shall watch its old tormentor bow
And in eternal tortures groan.

Why do the clamorous mourners wail
In bootless sorrow murmuring?
And why doth grief unreasoning
God's righteous ordinance assail?

Hushed be your voices, ye that mourn;
Ye weeping mothers, dry the tear;
Let none lament for children dear,
For man through Death to Life is born.

So do dry seeds grow green again,
Now dead and buried in the earth,
And rising to a second birth
Clothe as of old the verdant plain.

Take now, O earth, the load we bear,
And cherish in thy gentle breast
This mortal frame we lay to rest,
The poor remains that were so fair.

For they were once the soul's abode,
That by God's breath created came;
And in them, like a living flame,
Christ's precious gift of wisdom glowed.

Guard thou the body we have laid
Within thy care, till He demand
The creature fashioned by His hand
And after His own image made.

The appointed time soon may we see
When God shall all our hopes fulfil,
And thou must render to His will
Unchanged the charge we give to thee.

For though consumed by mould and rust
Man's body slowly fades away,
And years of lingering decay
Leave but a handful of dry dust;

Though wandering winds, that idly fly,
Should his disparted ashes bear
Through all the wide expanse of air,
Man may not perish utterly.

Yet till Thou dost build up again
This mortal structure by Thy hand,
In what far world wilt Thou command
The soul to rest, now free from stain?

In Abraham's bosom it shall dwell
'Mid verdant bowers, as Lazarus lies
Whom Dives sees with longing eyes
From out the far-off fires of hell.

We trust the words our Saviour said
When, victor o'er grim Death, he cried
To him who suffered at His side
"In Mine own footsteps shalt thou tread."

See, open to the faithful soul,
The shining paths of Paradise;
Now may they to that garden rise
Which from mankind the Serpent stole.

Guide him, we pray, to that blest bourn,
Who served Thee truly here below;
May he the bliss of Eden know,
Who strayed in banishment forlorn.

But we will honour our dear dead
With violets and garlands strown,
And o'er the cold and graven stone
Shall fragrant odours still be shed.

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