This week, a hymn to the Holy Spirit for Pentecost Sunday.
‘Come down, O Love divine’ is a translation of Discendi, amor santo, an Italian hymn by Bianco da Siena (?-1434). Bianco was a member of the Jesuates, a lay order which followed the rule of Augustine. It is a Lauda (pl. Laudi) “vernacular hymns which appeared from the mid-thirteenth century onwards in Italy and Southern France, often among unorthodox or dissenting groups within the medieval church” (Companion to Hymns and Psalms, p189). An early example of a Lauda is St Francis’ ‘Canticle of the sun’, translated into English as ‘All creatures of our God and King’.
A collection of Bianco da Siena’s hymns, including Discendi, amor santo, was published in 1851. The hymn was translated into English by Richard F. Littledale (1833-1890) and its first appearance was his The People’s Hymnal (1867). However, it was not until the words were married with Vaughan William’s tune DOWN AMPNEY in the English Hymnal (1906) that the hymn became widely known.
Come down, O Love divine,
Seek thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with thine own ardour glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
Within my heart appear,
And kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.
O let it freely burn,
Till earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let thy glorious light
Shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.
Let holy charity
My outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing:
True lowliness of heart,
Which takes the humbler part,
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.
And so the yearning strong,
With which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace,
Till he become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes his dwelling.
Bianco da Siena, trans R. F. Littledale
Picture courtesy of Hermanoleon.