BWV 20 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort I

First Sunday after Trinity.

Poet unknown.

1. Johann Rist, verse 1 of the hymn, 1642 (Fischer-Tümpel, II, #204); 2. based closely on verse 2; 3. based on verse 3; 4. based on verses 4 and 5; 5-6. based on verses 5 and 6; 7. verse 8; 8-10. based on verses 9, 10 and 11; 10. also based on Lk. 16:19-31; 11. verse 12 of the hymn. These are the verses in the shortened, twelve-verse version of the hymn, not the sixteen-verse original version.

11 June 1724, Leipzig.

BG 2; NBA I/15.


First Part

1. Chorus [Verse 1] (S, A, T, B)

Eternity, thou thundrous word,
O sword that through the soul doth bore,
Beginning with no ending!
Eternity, time lacking time,
I know now faced with deepest grief
Not where to seek my refuge.
So much my frightened heart doth quake
That to my gums my tongue is stuck.

2. Recit. (T)
No sorrow can in all the world be cited
Which lasts eternally.
It must indeed at last in course of time one day end.
Ah! Ah, alas! Eternity hath pain which hath no end;
It carries on and on its torment's game;
Yea, as e'en Jesus saith,
From it there is redemption none.(1)

3. Aria (T)

Endless time, thou mak'st me anxious,(2)
Endless, endless passeth measure!(3)
Ah, for sure, this is no sport.(4)
Flames which are forever burning
Are all fires past comparing;
It alarms and shakes my heart
When I once this pain consider
And my thoughts to hell have guided.

4. Recit. (B)

Suppose the torture of the damned should last
As many years as is the sum
Of grass on earth and stars above in heaven;
Suppose that all their pain were just as long to last
As men within the world
Have from the first existed;
There would have been at last
To this an end and limit set:
It would have been at last concluded.
But now, though, when thou hast the dread,(5)
Damned creature, of a thousand million years
With all the demons borne and suffered,
Yet never shall the end be present;
The time which none could ever count(6)
Each moment starts again,
To this thy soul's eternal grief and woe,
Forevermore anew.

5. Aria (B)

The Lord is just in all his dealings:
The brief transgressions of this world(7)
He hath such lasting pain ordained.(8)
Ah, would that now the world would mark it!
Short is the time and death so quick,(9)
Consider this, O child of man!

6. Aria (A)

O man, deliver this thy spirit,
Take flight from Satan's slavery
And make thyself of sin now free,
So that within that pit of sulfphur
The death which doth damned creatures plague
Shall not thy soul forever hound.
O man, deliver this thy spirit!

7. Chorale [Verse 8] (S, A, T, B)

So long a God in heaven dwells
And over all the clouds doth swell,
Such torments shall not be finished:
They will be plagued by heat and cold,
Fear, hunger, terror, lightning's bolt
And still be not diminished.
For only then shall end this pain
When God no more eternal reign.

Second Part

8. Aria (B)

Wake up, wake up, ye straying sheep now,
Arouse yourselves from error's slumber
And better this your life straightway!
Wake up before the trumpet sounds,
Which you with terror from the grave
Before the judge of all the world to judgment calls!

9. Recit. (S)

Forsake, O man, the pleasure of this world,
Pride, splendor, riches, rank and gold;(10)
Consider though
Within thy present time,
While thee the tree of life hath vigor,
What lendeth to thy peace most service!
Perhaps this is the final day,(11)
No man knows when his death may come.
How quick, how soon
Are many dead and cold!
One could this very night
To thine own door the coffin carry.
Hence keep before all matters
Thy soul's salvation in thy thoughts.

10. Aria (A, T)

O child of man,
Now cease forthwith
Both sin and world to cherish,
So that the pain
Where chatt'ring teeth and howling reign
Thee not forever sadden!
See in thyself the wealthy man
Who in his pain
Not even once
A drop of water could receive!(12)

11. Chorus [Verse 12] (S, A, T, B)

Eternity, thou thundrous word,
O sword that through the soul doth bore,
Beginning with no ending!
Eternity, time lacking time,
I know now faced with deepest woe
Not where to seek my refuge.
Take me then when thou dost please,
Lord Jesus, to thy joyful tent!


1. From the hymn.

2. From the hymn.

3. From the hymn.

4. From the hymn.

5. From the hymn.

6. From the hymn.

7. From the hymn.

8. From the hymn.

9. From the hymn. 10. From the hymn.

11. From the hymn.

12. Cf. Lk. 16:19-31, the story of Dives and Lazarus. Lazarus, the poor man, is carried to Abraham's bosom. Dives `the rich man' must endure the torments of Tantalus in Hades.


© Copyright  Z. Philip Ambrose


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