Updated: Jan 22
Danish: Dagen viger og gaar bort
Norwegian: Dagen viker og gaar bort.
Text: Dorothe Engelbretsdatter (1634-1716). Tune: Bohemian Brethren
1. Daylight fades and dies away,
Twilight darkens, skies turn grey.
Valleys lose the yellow sun,
Darkest night is soon begun.
2. Slowly time which seems to pass
Quickly empties out our glass.
Death is ever at our heels,
Endless night before us wheels.
3. I grow older ev'ry day
Dusk reminds me on my way
As I take my wand'ring stave
Nearer to my narrow grave.
4. Now the sun has slipped away
Dusk takes over ev'ry place,
So all things will change and shift
Till we make our final trip.
5. Soul, confess your sins and weep
Now before you fall to sleep.
Do not let time pass away
Seek his blessings while you may.
6. Let your holy angel stay
Here beside me as I pray
Come, and may my heart be blest
As I fall asleep and rest.
Tr. Gracia Grindal
Dorothe Engebretsdatter was the first woman hymnwriter in Norway, as far as we know. She is pictured on the image at the top of the website. A daughter of a clergyman in Bergen, the most cosmopolitan of Norwegian cities at the time, she married a pastor, Ambrosius
Hardenbeck. Like all pastor’s daughters in this society, she learned the languages of the day—German, English, Dutch—partly because so many people in this Hanseatic city came from these countries to trade. She also learned the fine arts expected of a cultivated woman: sewing, drawing, singing, writing, and other such fine arts. She absorbed from her father and husband the forms for the sermons they preached and used them in her hymns which she thought of as sermons. Even as she learned these fine arts, she had to learn the art of managing a household with maids and hired help; she had to know the way to raise and keep food on the parsonage farm: how to raise animals, how to butcher them for food and clothes, how to salt them down for keeping. She also had to learn how to teach the faith to her children during the regular devotional routines expected of a Lutheran family.
She was the first woman in Norway to make enough money selling her books to support herself through her long years as widow. She had given birth to eight children all of whom preceded her in death, we think. One of her sons disappeared in the wars so we are not sure about when he died. Hers was a sad and hard life, but she occupied herself in writing both for her own comfort and for her own sustenance.
Among other hymns for the church year, Dorothe wrote evening and morning hymns. The form of the prayers was clear: after the notice of where the sun was, repentance and thanksgiving, remembering the neighbor, praying for the leaders of the church and society, and finally commending oneself to the care of God, in order to be ready should death take one in the middle of the night.
Being ready to die was most important. As you can see in the picture she is sitting with a skull on her desk, a familiar motif of the era. I translated this many years ago with the help of my great uncle. When we got to the wandering stave as one approached the final day, he burst into tears. In his mid 80s he knew death was nearing. He wanted to be ready. The prayer comforted him and gave him words for his journey as he was facing his own death. These words pictured not only his approach to the grave, but also reminded him of his mother whom he had been with as she was dying. Her last prayer was that her children would remain faithful so they would meet again in heaven. It was a rich experience of faith for him which he never forgot. The hymn gives one courage to lie down in peace and rest through the night, knowing the Holy Angels are hovering over one.
This hymn is one of two by Dorothe to survive hymn editor choices. Kingo’s hymnal of 1699, the Dano-Norwegian hymnal, did not include any of her hymns, even though Kingo and she were good friends. That was an unfortunate slight; maybe because she was a woman. Pontoppidan included a couple in his 1740 hymnal, as did Hauge in 1799. In 1869 Landstad included this hymn in the first Norwegian hymnal. Interestingly, Vilhelm Koren (1826-1910), the pioneer pastor in Washington Prairie, near Decorah, Iowa, included it in his hymnal, Synodens Salmebog, 1874.
Its Baroque darkness repels the modern, although today maybe not. The hymn has reappeared in several places—one I found most moving was a CD by a Danish organist who prepared the entire CD as a memorial to a friend of his. The darkness seemed to be what he needed to express his sorrow.
Kjersti Wiik. Organ. hardanger fiddle
A short talk on Dorothe in Norwegian
For more on Dorothe see my book
Preaching from Home on Kindle