Pange lingua


In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

This is in the metre called trochaic septenarius, or by some, trochaic tetrameter catalectic. It is recurrent in Latin and English literature, expressing different moods:

Bawdy: from the song sung by the common soldiers in the procession at Julius Caesar’s Gallic triumph, according to Suetonius, Vita Divi Iuli Ch. 51:

urbani, servate uxores: moechum calvom adducimus…


Romantic: like the line above, from Tennyson’s Locksley Hall:

Comrades, leave me here a little, while as yet ’tis early morn:
Leave me here, and when you want me, sound upon the bugle-horn…

I remember one that perish’d: sweetly did she speak and move:
Such a one do I remember, whom to look at was to love.


Scurrilous, from Robert Browning’s Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister:

There’s a great text in Galatians,
Once you trip on it, entails
Twenty-nine distinct damnations,
One sure, if another fails…


Devotional, from William Chatterton Dix’s hymn:

Intercessor, friend of sinners,
Earth’s Redeemer, plead for me,
Where the songs of all the sinless
Sweep across the crystal sea.


Joyous, from the Carmina Burana:

ecce gratum et optatum
ver reducit gaudia.
purpuratum floret pratum.
sol serenat omnia.


Erotic: the opening lines of the Pervigilium Veneris:

Cras amet qui numquam amavit quique amavit cras amet.
Ver novum, ver iam canorum, vere natus orbis est,
Vere concordant amores, vere nubunt alites,
Et nemus comam resolvit de maritis imbribus.


Horrifying, from Angilbert’s On the battle fought at Fontenoy:

Aurora cum primo mane taetram noctem dividit,
sabbatum non illud fuit, sed Saturni dolium:
de fraterna rupta pace gaudet demon impius.

bella clamat, hinc et inde pugna gravis oritur,
frater fratri mortem parat, nepoti avunculus;
filius nec patri suo exhibet quod meruit.

caedes nulla peior fuit campo nec in Marcio;
fracta est lex Christianorum sanguinis proluvio,
unde manus inferorum, gaudet gula Cerberi.


But there can scarcely be a poem in this metre read or heard over the centuries by so many millions of people as the hymn by Thomas Aquinas,* sung at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper (last Thursday):

Pange, lingua, gloriosi
corporis mysterium,
sanguinisque pretiosi
quem in mundi pretium
fructus ventris generosi
rex effudit gentium….

For the full version, see Texts menu (updated—see second version).


* i.e. Thomas of Aquino: he shared that birthplace with Juvenal.