Thoughts on “Silent Night”

By | December 24, 2014
Stille Nacht (Autograph - Piano)

Did you know that the beloved Christmas carol “Silent Night” originally had six stanzas and not three? We know this from an autograph manuscript submitted by the composer Franz Gruber (1787-1863) when an official investigation was held in 1854 on the origins of the carol. Other autographs have been discovered over the years, the most recent being by the author of the text, Father Joseph Mohr (1792-1848). For more on the history of this carol, click here.

The standard English translation was made by the Rev. John F. Young (1820-85), an Episcopal priest who was born in Maine and spent much of his ministry in Florida. His translation of “Silent Night” appeared as #81 in his compilation of hymns entitled Great Hymns of the Church (New York: James Pott & Company, 1887) published two years after his death (to see Young’s version of “Silent Night” as published in that book, click here). In this version he provides only three stanzas. When comparing the English translation to the original German, it is interesting to note that what is sung in English as Stanza 2 is actually Stanza 6 of the original. Furthermore, what we sing as Stanza 3 was originally Stanza 2.

 So what are the rest of the stanzas and what is their original order?

Below you will find a literal translation of all six stanzas of “Silent Night.” I prefer the original order of the stanzas and the fullness of the original text since it has much more theology and is more declamatory.

Particularly interesting is Stanza 2. Stanza 2 brings across the idea that when God blesses us, He smiles upon us, a concept found in the Hebrew language that is lost in other languages. I also like how the original carol ends. Stanza 6 begins saying that the shepherds first proclaimed the Good News because of the angels’ “Alleluia!” and then, with the imperative “Tönt es,” it encourages us all to also proclaim, “Jesus the Savior is here! Jesus the Savior is here!”

Silent night! Holy night!
Everyone is asleep; alone, awake
only are the beloved holy couple.
Blessed boy with the curly hair,
sleep in heavenly peace!
Sleep in heavenly peace!

Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God! O how love
smiles upon us from Your divine mouth
as for us strikes the hour of salvation,
Jesus, at Your birth!
Jesus, at Your birth!

Silent night! Holy night!
Who brought salvation to the world
from the golden heights of heaven
allowing us to see the fullness of grace,
Jesus, in human form!
Jesus, in human form!

Silent night! Holy night!
Where today all the power
of His fatherly love is outpoured
and as brothers, full of grace, we surround
Jesus, the people of the world!
Jesus, the people of the world!

Silent night! Holy night!
Long ago He was mindful of us
when the Lord freed us from wrath
and from the beginning of time
promised mercy to all the world!
Promised mercy to all the world!

Silent night! Holy night!
Shepherds first proclaimed
with the angels’ “Alleluia!”,
sound it loudly both near and far:
“Jesus the Savior is here!”
“Jesus the Savior is here!”

© 2013 Martin P. Dicke. All rights reserved.
For permission to use or reprint please write to [email protected].

For a new metrical translation of “Silent Night” using the original melody, see A New Metrical Translation of “Silent Night”.

For a new metrical translation that is compatible with both the original melody and the melody currently sung, see “Silent Night” – A New Metrical Translation of All Six Stanzas for Both the Original and the Modern Melodies.

Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Silent Night arrangements and editions by Jubal’s Lyre Music Publishers on Sheet Music Plus Home Page