The misery of Miserere

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Having just raved about the beauty of Allegri’s Miserere, noting that my latin is, well, non-existent, I decided to actually look at the lyrics. (See also here for an older translation.)

While the title should have given me a clue, I wasn’t expecting a torrent of unrelenting self-flagellation. Allegri was apparently a particularly devout priest, but must also have been a very naughty boy, if the text is autobiographical at all.

It’s pretty dour stuff, so brace yourself for the boundless arse-licking which ensues. It finishes on a high, with the usual blood offerings. And unless I’m mistaken, there is a curious contradiction between the last line, and the four lines up from the last. See what you think.

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness,
In your great tenderness wipe away my faults;
Wash me clean of my guilt, purify me from my sin.
For I am well aware of my faults, I have my sin constantly in mind.
Having sinned against none other than you, having done what you regard as wrong. You are just when you pass sentence on me, blameless when you give judgment.
You know I was born guilty, a sinner from the moment of conception.
Yet, since you love sincerity of heart, teach me the secrets of wisdom.
Purify me with hyssop until I am clean; wash me until I am whiter than snow.
Instill some joy and gladness into me, let the bones you have crushed rejoice again.
Hide your face from my sins, wipe out all my guilt.
God, create a clean heart in me, put into me a new and constant spirit,
Do not banish me from your presence, do not deprive me of your holy spirit.
Be my saviour again, renew my joy, keep my spirit steady and willing;
And I shall teach transgressors the way to you, and to you the sinners will return.
Save me from death, God my saviour, and my tongue will acclaim your righteousness;
Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will speak out your praise.
Sacrifice gives you no pleasure, were I to offer holocaust, you would not have it.
My sacrifice is this broken spirit, you will not scorn this crushed and broken heart.
Show your favour graciously to Zion, rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Then there will be proper sacrifice to please you – holocaust and whole oblation – and young bulls to be offered on your altar.

Yikes. Religion brings out the finest in humans, doesn’t it?


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