The Day of Wrath / Dies Iræ

Original Text: 
Shapes of Clay, Vol. IV, The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (Neale, 1910: New York: Gordian Press, 1966), pp. 320-25. PS 1097 A1 1966 Robarts Library.
2Earth shall vanish, hot and sooty;
3So says Virtue, so says Beauty.
4Ah! what terror shall be shaping
5When the Judge the truth's undraping--
6Cats from every bag escaping!
7Now the trumpet's invocation
8Calls the dead to condemnation;
9All receive an invitation.
10Death and Nature now are quaking,
11And the late lamented, waking,
12In their breezy shrouds are shaking.
13Lo! the Ledger's leaves are stirring,
14And the Clerk, to them referring,
15Makes it awkward for the erring.
16When the Judge appears in session,
17We shall all attend confession,
18Loudly preaching non-suppression.
19How shall I then make romances
20Mitigating circumstances?
21Even the just must take their chances.
22King whose majesty amazes,
23Save thou him who sings thy praises;
24Fountain, quench my private blazes.
25Pray remember, sacred Saviour,
26Mine the playful hand that gave your
27Death-blow. Pardon such behavior.
28Seeking me, fatigue assailed thee,
29Calvary's outlook naught availed thee;
30Now 'twere cruel if I failed thee.
31Righteous judge and learnèd brother,
32Pray thy prejudices smother
33Ere we meet to try each other.
34Sighs of guilt my conscience gushes,
35And my face vermilion flushes;
36Spare me for my pretty blushes.
37Thief and harlot, when repenting,
38Thou forgavest--complimenting
39Me with sign of like relenting.
40If too bold is my petition
41I'll receive with due submission
42My dismissal--from perdition.
43When thy sheep thou hast selected
44From the goats, may I, respected,
45Stand amongst them undetected.
46When offenders are indited,
47And with trial-flames ignited,
48Elsewhere I'll attend if cited.
49Ashen-hearted, prone and prayerful,
50When of death I see the air full,
51Lest I perish too be careful.
52On that day of lamentation,
53When, to enjoy the conflagration,
54Men come forth, O be not cruel:
55Spare me, Lord--make them thy fuel.

Notes

1] Bierce prefaces his translation with the following explanation:
A recent republication of the late Gen. John A. Dix's disappointing translation of this famous medieval hymn, together with some researches into its history, which I happened to be making at the time, induces me to undertake a translation myself. It may seem presumption in me to attempt that which so many eminent scholars of so many generations have attempted before me; but failure of others encourages me to hope that success, being still unachieved, is still achievable. The fault of many translations, from Lord Macaulay's to that of Gen. Dix, has been, I venture to think, a too strict literalness, whereby the delicate irony and subtle humor of the immortal poem--though doubtless these admirable qualities were valued by the translators--have been sacrificed in the result. In none of the English versions that I have examined is more than a trace of the mocking spirit of insincerity pervading the whole prayer,--the cool effrontery of the supplicant in enumerating his demerits, his serenely illogical demands of salvation in spite, or rather because, of them, his meek submission to the punishment of others, and the many similarly pleasing characteristics of this amusing work being most imperfectly conveyed. By permitting myself a reasonable freedom of rendering--in many cases boldly supplying that "missing link" between the sublime and the ridiculous which the author, writing for the acute monkish apprehension of the thirteenth century, did not deem it necessary to insert--I have hoped at least partly to liberate the lurking devil of humor from his letters, letting him caper, not, certainly, as he does in the Latin, but as he probably would have done had his creator written in English. In preserving the meter and trochaic rhymes of the original, I have acted from the same reverent regard for the music with which, in the liturgy of the Church, the verses become inseparably wedded that inspired Gen. Dix; seeking rather to surmount the obstacles to success by honest effort, than to avoid them by adopting an easier versification which would have deprived my version of all utility in religious service.

I must bespeak the reader's charitable consideration in respect of the first stanza, the insuperable difficulties of which seem to have been purposely contrived in order to warn off trespassers at the very boundary of the alluring domain. I have got over the inhibition--somehow--but David and the Sybil must try to forgive me if they find themselves represented merely by the names of those conspicuous personal qualities to which they probably owed their powers of prophecy, as Samson's strength lay in his hair.

The medieval Latin text of the source text follows:
Dies iræ! dies illa!
Solvet sæclum in favilla
Teste David cum Sibylla.

Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando Judex est venturus.
Cuncta stricte discussurus.

Tuba mirum spargens sonum
Per sepulchra regionem,
Coget omnes ante thronum.

Mors stupebit, et Natura,
Quum resurget creatura
Judicanti responsura.

Liber scriptus proferetur,
In quo totum continetur,
Unde mundus judicetur.

Judex ergo quum sedebit,
Quicquid latet apparebit,
Nil inultum remanebit.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus,
Quem patronem rogaturus,
Quum vix justus sit securus?

Rex tremendæ majestatis,
Qui salvandos salvas gratis;
Salva me, Fons pietatis.

Recordare, Jesu pie,
Quod sum causa tuæ viæ;
Ne me perdas illa die.

Quærens me sedisti lassus
Redemisti crucem passus,
Tantus labor non sit cassus.

Juste Judex ultionis,
Donum fac remissionis
Ante diem rationis.

Ingemisco tanquam reus,
Culpa rubet vultus meus;
Supplicanti parce, Deus.

Qui Mariam absolvisti,
Et latronem exaudisti,
Mihi quoque spem dedisti.

Preces meæ non sunt dignæ,
Sed to bonus fac benigne
Ne perenni cremer igne.

Inter oves locum præsta.
Et ab hædis me sequestra,
Statuens in parte dextra.

Confutatis maledictis,
Flammis acribus addictis,
Voca me cum benedictis.

Oro supplex et acclinis,
Cor contritum quasi cinis;
Gere curam mei finis.

Lacrymosa dies illa
Qua resurget et favilla,
Judicandus homo reus,
Huic ergo parce, Deus!

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Publication Start Year: 
1910
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.
Rhyme: 
Form: