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Hymns And Hymnwriters Of Denmark by Jens Christian Aaberg

Chapter Seventeen

The Danish church has produced a large number of hymnwriters, who, except for the greatness of Kingo, Brorson and Grundtvig, would have commanded general recognition. The present hymnal of the church contains contributions by about sixty Danish writers. Though the majority of these are represented by only one or two hymns, others have made large contributions.

Kingo, Brorson and Grundtvig, peculiarly enough, had few imitators. A small number of writers did attempt to imitate the great leaders, but they formed no school and their work for the most part was so insignificant that it soon disappeared. Thus even Kingo's great work inspired no hymnwriter of any consequence, and the fifty years between Kingo and Brorson added almost nothing to the hymnody of the church. Contemporary with Brorson, however, a few writers appeared whose songs have survived to the present day. Foremost among these is Ambrosius Stub, a unique and sympathetic writer whose work constitutes a distinct contribution to Danish poetry.

Ambrosius Stub was born on the island of Fyn in 1705, the son of a village tailor. Although extremely poor, he managed somehow to enter the University of Copenhagen, but his poverty compelled him to leave the school without completing his course. For a number of years, he drifted aimlessly, earning a precarious living by teaching or bookkeeping at the estates of various nobles, always dogged by poverty and a sense of frustration. Although he was gifted and ambitious, his lack of a degree and his continuous poverty prevented him from attaining the position in life to which his ability apparently entitled him. During his later years, he conducted a small school for boys at Ribe, a small city on the west coast of Jutland, where he died in abject poverty in 1758, only 53 years old.

Stub's work remained almost unknown during his lifetime, but a small collection of his poems, published after his death, gained him a posthumous recognition as the greatest Danish poet of the 18th century. Stub's style is extremely noble and expressive, devoid of the excessive bombast and sentimentality that many writers then mistook for poetry. He was of a cheerful disposition with a hopeful outlook upon life that only occasionally is darkened by the hardships and disappointments of his own existence. Even the poems of his darker moods are colored by his inborn love of beauty and his belief in the fundamental goodness of life. Many of his best poems are of a religious nature, and expressive of his warm and trustful Christian faith. In view of the discouraging hardships and disappointments of his own life, the following much favored hymn throws a revealing light upon the spirit of its author.


Stub, Ambrosius, 1705-1758

tr., J. C. Aaberg

Undismayed by any fortune

Life may have in store for me,

This, whatever be my portion,

I will always try to be.

If I but in grace abide,

Undismayed whate'er betide.

Undismayed when others harry

Mind and soul with anxious care;

If the Lord with me will tarry,

All my troubles disappear.

If I but in grace abide,

Undismayed whate'er betide.

Undismayed when others sighing,

Quail before the evil day,

On God's grace I am relying;

Nothing can me then dismay.

If I but in grace abide,

Undismayed whate'er betide.

Undismayed when others fearing,

See the hour of death draw nigh.

With the victor's crown appearing,

Why should I repine and sigh.

If I but in grace abide,

Undismayed whate'er betide.

Dearest Lord, if I may treasure

Thy abundant grace each day,

I shall cherish Thy good pleasure,

Be my portion what it may.

If I but in grace abide,

Undismayed whate'er betide.

The age of Rationalism discarded most of the old hymns but produced no worthwhile hymns of its own. The most highly praised hymnwriter of the period, Birgitte Boye, the wife of a forester, wrote a great number of hymns of which no less than 150 were included in a new hymnal published in 1870, by the renowned statesman, Ove Hoegh Guldberg. Although excessively praised by the highest authorities of the period, Birgitte Boye's hymns contain nothing of permanent value, and have now happily been forgotten.

The Evangelical revival about the middle of the 19th century restored the old hymns to their former favor, and produced besides, a number of new hymnwriters of real merit. Among these, Casper J. Boye is, perhaps, the most prominent. Born of Danish parents at Kongsberg, Norway, in 1791, Boye entered the University of Copenhagen in 1820 where he first took up the study of law and then, of theology. After graduating from this department, he became a teacher at a Latin school and some years later, a pastor of the large Garrison Church in Copenhagen, where he remained until his death in 1851. Boye was a gifted writer, both on secular and religious themes. His numerous hymns appeared in six small volumes entitled: Spiritual Songs. They are marked by a flowing but at times excessively literary style and a quiet spiritual fervor. The following still is a favorite opening hymn.


Boye, Caspar Johannes, 1791-1853

tr., J. C. Aaberg

Day is breaking, night is ended,

And the day of rest ascended

Upon church and countryside.

Like the day in brightness growing,

Grace from God is richer flowing;

Heaven's portals open wide.

O what joy this day is bringing,

When the chiming bells are ringing,

Calling man to prayer and praise!

All the angel host rejoices

And with gladsome, mellow voices

Thanks the Lord for light and grace.

Sin and death with fear and sorrow

And the burden of tomorrow

Shall not weigh my heart with care.

Unto all in tribulation

Doth the Lord of our salvation

On this day His peace declare.

Be it hushed in solemn stillness,

Must I weep in grief or illness,

Or confess my guilt and shame,

It is blessed to be weeping

When the hungry heart is reaping

Grace and peace in Jesus' name.

O Thou Fount of grace unbounded,

Who our wisdom hath confounded,

Whom but faith can comprehend!

In Thy love my soul reposes;

Heaven's portal never closes

Till before Thy throne we stand.

Herman Andreas Timm, a younger contemporary of Boye, also wrote a large number of excellent hymns. He was born at Copenhagen in 1800, and was for many years pastor of the church on Amager, a suburb of the capital city. He died in 1866. His hymns appeared in a small volume of poems, published in 1834, under the title: Spiritual Songs. They are characterized by an easy literary style and an urgent spiritual appeal. The following very popular hymn is perhaps the best-known of those now available in English.,7,7,8,8

Timm, Herman Andreas, 1800-1866

tr., J. C. Aaberg

Dost thou know the living fountain

Whence the stream of grace doth flow?

Dry the streams from snowcapped mountain,

Yet this stream shall fuller grow.

From the very heart of God

Flows its currents deep and broad,

Unto every land and nation,

Bringing mercy and salvation.

Come unto the living waters!

Cried the prophets, do not shrink!

God invites His sons and daughters:

He that thirsteth come and drink.

With this water God imparts

Health and strength to sin-sick hearts.

Why are ye then hesitating

While the Lord with grace is waiting.

With us is the day appointed,

God has kept His gracious word.

He has come, the Lord's annointed;

Men have seen the promised Lord.

Saints of God from every race

Found in Him the fount of grace,

And, with joy that never ceases,

Said: The Fount of Life is Jesus.

Hasten then! Let all assemble

At this fountain pure and strong.

Come, ye souls that fear and tremble,

Come, ye old, and come ye young.

Now the hour of grace is here,

Draw then to its fountain near.

Soon, ah soon! the day is over.

Quickly night the world may cover.

Another contemporary of these writers, and perhaps the most prominent of the group, was Theodore Vilhelm Oldenburg. Oldenburg was born at Copenhagen in 1805, son of the Royal Chamberlain, Frederik Oldenburg. His mother died while he was still a boy, but his excellent father managed to give him a most careful training and a splendid education. He graduated |cum laude| from the University of Copenhagen in 1822, obtained the degree of Master of Arts during the following year, entered the department of theology and graduated from there three years later, also |cum laude.| In 1830 he accepted a call to become pastor of the parish of Otterup and Sorterup on the island of Fyn. Here he won high praise for his conspicuously able and faithful work. Together with the gifted Bishop P. C. Kirkegaard, he was editor for a number of years of the influential periodical |Nordisk Tidsskrift for Kristelig Teologi,| and also of the outstanding foreign mission paper, |Dansk Missionsblad.| Through these papers he exerted a powerful and always beneficent influence upon the churches of both Denmark and Norway. His outstanding and richly blest service was cut short by death in 1842 when he was only 37 years old. He was carried to the grave to the strains of his own appealing hymn: |Thine, O Jesus, Thine Forever.|

Oldenburg's quite numerous hymns were printed from time to time in various periodicals. They express in a noble and highly lyrical style the firm faith and warm religious fervor of his own consecrated life.

The hymn given below was written for a foreign mission convention shortly before his death.


Oldenburg, Theodore Vilhelm

tr., J. C. Aaberg

Deep and precious,

Strong and gracious

Is the word of God above,

Gently calling

Sinners falling,

To the Savior's arm of love.

Unto all the word is given:

Jesus is the way to heaven.

Blessed Savior,

Wondrous favor

Hast Thou shown our fallen race!

Times may alter,

Worlds may falter,

Nothing moves Thy word of grace.

With Thy word Thy grace abideth,

And for all our needs provideth.

By Thy merit,

Through the Spirit

Draw all sinners, Lord, to Thee.

Sin and error,

Death and terror

By Thy word shall vanquished be.

Guide us all through life's straight portal,

Bear us into life immortal.

Besides Grundtvig the foremost hymnwriter of this period was his close friend, Bernhard Severin Ingemann, one of Denmark's most popular and beloved writers. He was born in 1789 in a parsonage on the island of Falster. His father died in 1800 when the son was only 11 years old, and his mother left the parsonage to settle in Slagelse, an old city on the island of Sjælland. Having graduated from the Latin school there in 1806, Ingemann entered the University of Copenhagen in the fall of the same year. During the English attack on Copenhagen in 1807, he enrolled in the student's volunteer corps and fought honorably in defense of the city. After graduating from the University, he was granted free board and room at Walkendorf's Collegium, an institution for the aid of indigent but promising young students. Here he devoted most of his time to literary pursuits and, during the following three years, he published a large number of works which won him a favorable name as a gifted lyrical poet of a highly idealistic type. As an encouragement to further efforts, the government granted him a two year stipend for travel and study in foreign parts. He visited Germany, France, Switzerland and Italy, and became acquainted with many famous literary leaders of that day, especially in Germany. On his return from abroad in 1822 he was appointed a lector at the famous school at Sorø on the island of Sjælland. In this charming old city with its splendid cathedral and idyllic surroundings he spent the remainder of his life in the peace and quiet that agreed so well with his own mild and seraphic nature. He died in 1862.

Inspired by Oehlenschlaeger and strongly encouraged by Grundtvig, Ingemann in 1824 began the issuance of his famous historical novels, based upon episodes from the romantic period of Danish history during the 13th and 14th centuries. To some extent the novels are modeled upon the similar works of Walter Scott but are written in a livelier style and more idealistic spirit than their English prototype. In later years their historical veracity has been gravely questioned. Enjoying an immense popularity both in Denmark and in Norway, these highly idealized pictures of the past did much to arouse that national spirit which especially Grundtvig had labored long to awaken. After completing his historical novels, Ingemann again resumed his lyrical and fictional writings, producing a large number of poems, fairy-tales and novels that further increased his already immense popularity.

Bernhard Severin Ingemann

Bernhard Severin Ingemann

Despite the great popularity of Ingemann's secular writings, it is, nevertheless, his hymns and spiritual songs which will preserve his name the longest. His first collection of hymns, a small volume of morning and evening songs, appeared in 1822. This collection was followed in 1825 by a volume of church hymns, which was enlarged and reprinted in 1843. The favorable reception of these hymns caused Ingemann to be selected to prepare the new church hymnal, published in 1855, a task which he accomplished to the general satisfaction of all.

Ingemann's hymns faithfully reflect his own serene and idealistic nature. Their outstanding merits are a limpid, lyrical style and an implicit trust in the essential goodness of life and its Author. Of Kingo's realistic conception of evil or Grundtvig's mighty vision of existence as a heroic battle between life and death, he has little understanding. The world of his songs is as peaceful and idyllic as the quiet countryside around his beloved Sorø. If at times he tries to take the deeper note, his voice falters and becomes artificial. But though his hymns on such themes as sin and redemption are largely a failure, he has written imperishable hymns of idealistic faith and childlike trust in the goodness and love of God.

The extreme lyrical quality and highly involved and irregular metre of many of Ingemann's hymns make them extremely difficult to translate, and their English translations fail on the whole to do justice. The translation given below is perhaps one of the best. It is the work of the Rev. P. C. Paulsen.


Ingemann, Bernhard Severin, 1789-1862

tr., P. C. Paulsen

As wide as the skies is Thy mercy, O God;

Thy faithfulness shieldeth creation.

Thy bounteous hand from the mountains abroad

Is stretched over country and nation.

Like heaven's embrace is Thy mercy, O Lord;

In judgment profound Thou appearest.

Thou savest our souls through Thy life-giving word,

The cries of Thy children Thou hearest.

How precious Thy goodness, O Father above,

Where children of men are abiding.

Thou spreadest through darkness the wings of Thy love;

We under their pinions are hiding.

For languishing souls Thou preparest a rest;

The quivering dove Thou protectest;

Thou givest us being, eternal and blest,

In mercy our life Thou perfectest.

The following hymn is also quite popular.


Ingemann, Bernhard Severin, 1789-1862

tr., J. C. Aaberg

The sun is rising in the east,

It gilds the heavens wide,

And scatters light on mountain crest,

On shore and countryside.

It rises from the valley bright,

Where Paradise once lay,

And bringeth life, and joy and light

To all upon its way.

It greets us from the land afar

Where man with grace was crowned,

And from that wondrous Morning Star,

Which Eastern sages found.

The starry host bow down before

The sun that passes them;

It seems so like that star of yore

Which shone on Bethlehem.

Thou Sun of Suns, from heaven come,

In Thee our praises rise

For every message from Thy home

And from Thy Paradise.

The most beloved of all Ingemann's hymns is his splendid |Pilgrim Song.|

Dejlig er Jorden,

Prægtig er Guds Himmel,

Skøn er Sjælenes Pilgrimsgang.

Gennem de fagre

Riger paa Jorden

Gaa vi til Paradis med Sang.

This hymn is written to the tune of |Beautiful Savior| which Ingemann, in common with many others, accepted as a marching tune from the period of the crusades. Although this historic origin has now been disproved, the tune united with Ingemann's text undoubtedly will remain the most beloved pilgrim song among the Danish and Norwegian peoples. Though fully aware of the impossibility of translating this tenderly beautiful song so that it is acceptable to those who know the original, the author presents the following translation in the hope that it may interest those who cannot read the original.


Ingemann, Bernhard Severin, 1789-1862

tr., J. C. Aaberg

Fair is creation,

Fairer God's heaven,

Blest is the marching pilgrim throng.

Onward through lovely

Regions of beauty

Go we to Paradise with song.

Ages are coming,

Ages are passing

Nations arise and disappear.

Never the joyful

Message from heaven

Wanes through the soul's brief sojourn here.

Angels proclaimed it

Once to the shepherds,

Henceforth from soul to soul it passed:

Unto all people

Peace and rejoicing,

Us is a Savior born at last.

Of other hymns by Ingemann, which are now available in English, we may mention |Jesus, My Savior, My Shepherd Blest,| |The Country Lies in Deep Repose| and |I Live and I Know the Span of My Years.|

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