Tag Archives: poetics

Silent Night a new English translation/adaptation

“Silent Night” Turns 200: Non-Violent English-Language Translation/Adaptation Now Available

The famous Christmas hymn “Silent Night” (“Stille Nacht”) was first performed on the night of Dec 24-25, 1818.   Joseph Mohr wrote the lyrics in 1816, and Franz Gruber set them to music in 1818 for the Christmas Mass of Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria.  This song has endured ever since that time as one of the most universally recognized Christmas carols and hymns.  “Silent Night” is one of the songs that was sung by opposing forces during the Christmas truce of 1914. This hymn has been declared a UNESCO cultural heritage piece and is one of the most highly recorded songs of all times.

Modern Christmas celebrants in general as well as vegan Christians who embrace non-violence in particular, however, reject a portion of the original text that includes a tacit recognition of animal exploitation, enslavement, and slaughter, namely, the phrase that includes a reference to “shepherds.” In order to bring the text into line with the spirit of kindness universally associated with the Christmas holiday and with the non-violence values particularly associated with original Christian teachings, a new English translation/adaptation—a “veganized” adaptation—is provided below.

This translation/adaptation is identical to the pre-existing English translation (mainly by John Young) except that the clause “Shepherds quake” has been replaced with “Stars awake.”  This replacement has the virtue of (i) eliminating the animal-abuse text while (ii) retaining the original meter and “-ake” sound of the well-known English-language translation and (iii) also tying into the rest of the second verse more effectively, since the remainder of this verse pertains to sky-related concepts or symbols (e.g., “heaven” and “heavenly”).  Retaining the poetics of a line is an essential task of veganizing a classic work.

Please feel free to use this text henceforth in your Christmas celebrations!


Silent Night

Lyrics: Joseph Mohr; Music: Franz Gruber; English translation:  John Yong; English adaptation: S. E. Harrison

1. Silent night, holy night,
all is calm, all is bright
round yon virgin
mother and child.
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
sleep in heavenly peace,
sleep in heavenly peace.

2. Silent night, holy night,
stars awake at the sight;
glories stream from heaven afar,
heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

3. Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light;
radiant beams from thy holy face
with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

4. Silent night, holy night,
wondrous star, lend thy light;
with the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King;
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!



“More of gravy than of grave”: notes on the veganizing process, part 2

Virtually every page—indeed, virtually every paragraph—of Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella A Christmas Carol includes some salient moment.   The work is so imaginative, so densely filled with action and meaning, and so widely known and beloved that almost every one of these salient moments is someone’s “favorite part.”  Many people will recognize such a moment, perhaps even be eagerly anticipating it.  When that passage arrives, readers and listeners may be disappointed if any heavy-handed meddling has been done.  Thus, when veganizing such a salient passage, the light touch of a “minimally invasive” approach is particularly necessary.

“More of gravy than of grave about you”

Ebenezer Scrooge’s quip, in Stave 1, about there being “more gravy than grave” in Jacob Marley’s ghost is one such salient moment.  Here, Scrooge is trying to argue with Marley’s ghost, seeking to establish the point that Marley’s ghost is actually just a figment of Scrooge’s imagination. Scrooge’s theory is that Marley’s ghostly visitation is but a hallucination, one that is likely to have been caused by some malfunction in Scrooge’s senses, perhaps the result of Scrooge’s stomach having been upset by something that he ate. Scrooge summarizes this argument in the final quip, which reads, in relevant part:

“There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

The line is brilliant for several reasons:  alliteration and internal rhyme; apt summation of the argument being made; revelation of some of the internal workings of Scrooge’s mind.  Changing but a single letter—the ending “-y” to “-e”—to achieve such a stroke is a fair instance of poetics.

Need to veganize

Generally speaking, a principle to which the Veganized Classics Series adheres is that, if a word has a vegan meaning and a non-vegan meaning that is plausible in the context of the original work, that word can remain unaltered. While vegan gravy does exist today, the reality is that “gravy” in its origin and in the time and place in which A Christmas Carol is set was made from and defined in terms of the juices of a dead body of an animal.  A vegan gravy-like item would have been called something like a “sauce” in Scrooge’s day, such as the “apple-sauce” that is expressly mentioned later in the book.

Thus, the choice, while perhaps not absolutely necessary, was made to veganize this word in the making of A Vegan Christmas Carol.

“Gravy” to “grain”

The challenge in veganizing a passage with this level of artistry and memorability is to retain the essential meaning while also preserving its beautiful form.

Fortunately, the English language comprises a word for a plant-based item that works very well, both to retain the poetics of the line and the role that the line serves in the argument Scrooge is making: the word “grain.”

Originally, the poetics include recurrence of four identical letters:  gravy and grave.  The veganized form gets very close:  grain and grave.

Moreover, the meter is slightly improved:  “gravy than of grave about you” has three essentially unaccented syllables in a row—not a strong form, and one that is not used elsewhere in the sentence.  But “grain than of grave about you” sets up a very pleasurable and catchy meter:  / u u / u u /.

Editorial opportunism: capitalizing on serendipity

This instance exemplifies the sort of happy accident for which one should be on the lookout when veganizing a work.  It’s editorial opportunism:  if the language happens to present an opportunity to retain both the literary substance and the poetic form of a line, we should be ready to take full advantage of that opportunity. Such a happy accident allows the line to be read or heard by someone who already knows and loves the line without missing anything—or perhaps without even noticing that the line has been veganized.

This case can be used as another touchstone, a prime example of the type of serendipity we’re looking for when we are trying to veganize a passage, particularly one that is very well-known and well-written and, therefore, needs to be handled with delicate care.