Dies Irae – The Requiem Sequence (contributed by Mark Walker)

Attributed to Thomas de Celano (1190-1260), the Dies Iræ is arguably the most famous and  most evocative Medieval Latin poem. It describes in vivid detail the Last Judgement, the summoning of the dead, the deliverance of the good and the damnation of the bad to eternal torment. It was adopted as the Requiem Mass (Mass for the Dead) sequence as early as the end of the fourteenth century, a position it held until the 1970 revision of the Roman Missal.

It is written in a rhythmic trochaic metre, so the word stress falls on the first of each pair of syllables – “dum-di, dum-di, dum-di, dum-di” – and each three-lined stanza has rhymed line endings, e.g. illa / favilla / Sibylla, with the exception of the final Lacrimosa, which is a later addition to the original poem.

This is poetry designed to be sung, to the tune of the Dies Irae plainchant melody, which has been a favourite of composers through the ages. One of the most famous settings is that of Mozart’s Requiem – the subdivisions below (not in the original poem) correspond to the separate movements of that work.

Mark Walker


Dies irae, dies illa

solvet saeclum in favilla,

teste David cum Sibylla.

Quantus tremor est futurus

quando iudex est venturus

cuncta stricte discussurus.

 

(ii) Tuba mirum

Tuba mirum spargens sonum

per sepulcra regionum

coget omnes ante thronum.

Mors stupebit et natura

cum resurget creatura

Iudicanti responsura.

Liber scriptus proferetur

in quo totum continetur,

unde mundus iudicetur.

Iudex ergo cum sedebit

quidquid latet apparebit,

nil inultum remanebit.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus,

quem patronum rogaturus,

cum vix iustus sit securus?

 

(iii) Rex tremendae

Rex tremendae maiestatis,

qui salvandos salvas gratis,

salve me, fons pietatis.

 

(iv) Recordare

Recordare, Iesu pie,

quod sum causa tuae viae,

ne me perdas illa die.

Quaerens me sedisti lassus,

redemisti crucem passus,

tantus labor non sit cassus.

Iuste iudex ultionis

donum fac remissionis

ante diem rationis.

Ingemisco tamquam reus,

culpa rubet vultus meus,

supplicanti parce, Deus.

Qui Mariam absolvisti

et latronem exaudisti,

mihi quoque spem dedisti.

Preces meae non sunt dignae,

sed tu bonus fac benigne,

ne perenni cremer igne.

Inter oves locum praesta,

et ab haedis me sequestra,

statuens in parte dextra.

 

(v) Confutatis

Confutatis maledictis

flammis acribus addictis,

voca me cum benedictis.

Oro supplex et acclinis,

cor contritum quasi cinis,

gere curam mei finis.

 

(vi) Lacrimosa

Lacrimosa dies illa

qua resurget ex favilla

iudicandus homo reus.

huic ergo parce, Deus,

Pie Iesu Domine,

dona eis requiem.

Judgement Day

 

(i) Dies irae

Day of wrath, that day

Will dissolve the earth in ashes

As David and the Sibyl bear witness.

What dread there will be

When the Judge shall come

To judge all things strictly.

 

(ii) Tuba mirum

A trumpet spreading a wondrous sound

Through the graves of all regions

Will drive all before the throne.

Death will be astonished, and Nature

When Creation shall rise again

To answer to the Judge.

A book, written in, will be brought forth

In which is contained everything

From which the world will be judged.

When therefore the Judge will sit

Whatever is hidden will appear,

Nothing will remain unavenged.

What then am I, wretch, to say,

What advocate am I to ask to defend me,

When the just may hardly be secure?

 

(iii) Rex tremendae

King of fearful majesty,

Who freely saves the redeemed,

Save me, O fount of goodness.

 

(iv) Recordare

Remember, merciful Jesus,

Because I am the cause of your journey,

Do not forsake me on that day.

Seeking me you did sit down weary,

You redeemed me suffering on the cross,

Let not such toil be in vain.

Judge of vengeance justly

Grant forgiveness

Before the day of reckoning.

I groan like a guilty man,

My face blushes with guilt,

Spare a suppliant, O God.

You who absolved Mary [Magdalene]

And favourably heard the thief,

Also to me have given hope.

My prayers are not worthy,

But you who are merciful grant benignly

That I may not burn in everlasting fire.

Show me a place among your sheep

And separate me from the goats,

Standing me on your right.

 

(v) Confutatis

When the damned have been confounded

And sacrificed to the bitter flames,

Call me with the blessed.

A suppliant kneeling I beg,

My heart contrite as the dust,

Safeguard my end.

 

(vi) Lacrimosa

Mournful that day

When from the ashes shall rise

The guilty man to be judged.

Therefore spare him, O God.

O Merciful Jesus, Lord,

Grant them rest.

 

 

Chosen and translated by Mark Walker (www.pineapplepubs.co.uk).

 

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