Stille Nacht – Lyrical Dissection

Most people only know a few words of the song “Silent Night” or, as the Germans call it “Stille Nacht”. There are actually 6 verses, but most people sing the first, second and last verses. In fact, if you go to the English Wikipedia article for it, you will find that there are only 3 verses listed in German even though the English version shows 4. The German version of the same article shows all 6 verses, but acknowledges the fact that most people only know the first, second, and last verses.

The version that I sang in this week’s video is actually a combination of the two. I used the modern versions of the first, second, and last verses, but, since there is no modern version of the middle verses, I sang those in their original form. You can see the full lyrics for the version I sang below.

Nur das traute hoch heilige Paar.

Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hoch heilige Paar.
Holder Knab’ im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh! 2x

Beginner German with Herr Antrim

Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb’ aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund’.
Jesus in deiner Geburt! 2x

Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Die der Welt Heil gebracht, Weihnachtsgeschenke
Aus des Himmels goldenen Höhn,
Uns der Gnaden Fülle läßt sehn,
Jesus in Menschengestalt! 2x

Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Wo sich heut alle Macht
Väterlicher Liebe ergoß,
Und als Bruder huldvoll umschloß
Jesus die Völker der Welt! 2x

Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Lange schon uns bedacht,
Als der Herr vom Grimme befreit
In der Väter urgrauer Zeit
Aller Welt Schonung verhieß! 2x

Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Hirten erst kund gemacht
Durch der Engel Alleluja,
Tönt es laut bei Ferne und Nah:
“Jesus der Retter ist da!” 2x

For the subtitles on this song, I chose to put the direct translation instead of the English version of the song. I mostly did this to avoid having to choose which verse would be completely wrong or which verses simply wouldn’t get a translation or I would have to use my own translation. No matter what I do with the subtitles, I believe that the purpose of the subtitles should be to bring more understanding to the song, which is why I chose to translate the lyrics directly. Sometimes this means that the lyrics are a little difficult to understand, because of the way the song is phrased and how the English language is formed. So let’s take a closer look one verse at a time.

Each verse starts with “Silent night. Holy night.” That is not only the direct translation, but also what I would use for the real translation, as well. “Alles schläft” means “Everything is sleeping”. We usually translate this as “All is calm”, but the point is to show that it is night time. “Einsam wacht das traute hoch heilige Paar” translates as “Alone the trusted holy pair keeps vigil.” “Holder Knab’ im lockigen Haar, schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!” means that the “sweet boy with curly hair” is being commanded by the singer to “sleep in heavenly peace.”

The second verse focuses again on the child. “God’s son, oh how he laughs love out of his holy mouth, which strikes for us the redeeming hour, through his birth.” This one is basically all one sentence with a bunch of clauses to make up the whole idea.

The third verse changes the tone a bit by switching the focus to Mary. It calls her “die der Welt Heil gebracht” (she who brought the world this blessing). The rest just describes the blessing that was brought by Mary. “Aus des Himmels goldenen Höhn” (from the heaven’s golden heights) “Uns der Gnaden Fülle läßt sehn” (which allows us to see the overflowing grace) The last line reveals the name of the blessing “Jesus in Menschengestalt” (Jesus in human form).

In the fourth verse we change the view to God. “Wo sich heut’ alle Macht Väterlicher Liebe ergoß” translates as “Where all of the power of the father’s love overflows”. “Und als Bruder huldvoll umschloß” means “and embraces us as a brother”. The last line says “Jesus die Völker der Welt”, which tells us that Jesus is the one doing the embracing and the people of the world are the ones being embraced.

The fifth verse is a bit difficult to break apart, because of the phrasing. It is a bit of a more poetic way of saying the point. If you simplify the entire verse into one translation you end up with “Long ago in the dark old times the Lord thought of us as he freed us from the misery and promised to care for the world.” In order to get to that translation, you have to work through each line and understand that each line is only a part of the sentence. “Lange schon uns bedacht” is literally “long ago already thought of us”. “Als der Herr vom Grimme befreit” would be “as the Lord freed us from the misery”. “Aller Welt Schonung verhieß” is the “promised to care for the whole world” part.

The final verse explains how the singer knew about all of this information. “Hirten erst kund gemacht durch der Engel Alleluja” means “shepherds were told it first through the angels saying “hallelujah”. “Tönt es laut bei Ferne und Nah” says they told it loudly far and wide. “Jesus der Retter ist da” tells us what they said “Jesus the saviour is here.”

As with any translation from one language to another, this is open to some interpretation and someone might translate or interpret a line or two differently, but the general idea is the same. If you have another interpretation of something I have mentioned here in this post, please leave a comment below.

What’s next?

Next week I will be doing a review of the app created by Michael Schmitz from the YouTube channel and website “Smarter German”. The next song I will be uploading will be in 3 weeks where I will be doing a song that one of my students suggested to help teach the conjugation of haben and sein. It should be a fun little song.

Herr Antrim

Herr Antrim is a German teacher with over 10 years of teaching experience. In 2011 he started his successful YouTube Channel "Learn German with Herr Antrim". In 2015 he created this website to enhance the German language lessons he was providing on YouTube. He is now the author of his own e-book, "Beginner German with Herr Antrim". He has also been featured on numerous blogs and other sites. *This site uses Amazon Affiliate links. If there is a link that leads to Amazon, it is very likely an affiliate link for which Herr Antrim will receive a small portion of your purchase. This does not cost you any extra, but it does help keep this website going.