Dies Iræ, dies illa
That Day Of Wrath, that dreadful day
Author: Thomas of Celano, 13th
cent. Meter: Trochaic dimeter. Translation, a cento: stanzas 1-5,
10, 14, 17, 18 by W. F. Wingfield, the remainder by Father Aylward, O.P. There
are, or rather were, in 1895, some 234 recorded English translations of this
world-famous hymn. There are four translations in Mr. Shipley’s Annus
Sanctus. Liturgical Use: Sequence in Requiem Masses. It is very
probable that the Dies Iræ was composed as a sequence for the first
Sunday in Advent.
Dies Iræ, dies illa,
Solvet sæclum in favilla,
Teste David cum Sibylla.
Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando Judex est venturus,
Cuncta stricte discussurus!
Tuba mirum spargens sonum
Per sepulchra regionum,
Coget omnes ante thronum.
Mors stupebit et natura,
Cum resurget creatura,
Liber scriptus proferetur,
In quo totum continetur,
Unde mundus judicetur.
Judex ergo cum sedebit,
Quicquid latet, apparebit:
Nil inultum remanebit.
Quid sum, miser, tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus?
Cum vix justus sit securus?
Rex tremendæ majestatis,
Qui salvandos salvas gratis,
Salva me, fons pietatis.
Recordare, Jesu pie,
Quod sum causa tuæ viæ:
Ne me perdas illa die.
Quærens me, sedisti lassus:
Redemisti crucem passus:
Tantus labor non sit cassus.
Juste judex ultionis,
Donum fac remissionis
Ante diem rationis.
Ingemisco tamquam reus:
Culpa rubet vultus meus:
Supplicanti parce, Deus.
Qui Mariam absolvisti,
Et latronem exaudisti,
Mihi quoque spem dedisti.
Preces meæ non sunt dignæ:
Sed tu bonus fac benigne,
Ne perenni cremer igne.
Inter oves locum præsta,
Et ab hædis me sequestra,
Statuens in parte dextra.
Flammis acribus addictis:
Voca me cum benedictis.
Oro supplex et acclinis,
Cor contritum quasi cinis:
Gere curam mei finis.
Lacrimosa dies illa,
Qua resurget ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus:
Pie Jesu, Domine,
Dona eis requiem.
That Day Of Wrath, that dreadful day,
When heaven and earth shall pass away,
Both David and the Sibyl say.
What terror then shall us befall,
When lo, the Judges steps appall,
About to sift the deeds of all.
The mighty trumpets marvellous tone
Shall pierce through each sepulchral stone
And summon all before the throne.
Now Death and Nature in amaze
Behold the Lord His creatures raise,
To meet the Judges awful gaze.
The books are opened, that the dead
May have their doom from waht is read,
The record of our conscience dread.
The Lord of judgment sits Him down,
And every secret thing makes known;
No crime escapes His vengeful frown.
Ah, how shall I that day endure?
What partrons friendly voice secure,
When scarce the just themselves are sure?
O King of dreadful majesty,
Who grantest grace and mercy free,
Grant mercy now and grace to me.
Good Lord, twas for my sinful sake,
That Thou our suffering nature didst take;
Then do not now my soul forsake.
In weariness Thy sheep was sought;
Upon the Cross His life was bought;
Alas, if all in vain were wrought.
O just avenging Judge, I pray,
For pity take my sins away,
Before the great accounting-day.
I groan beneath the guilt, which Thou
Canst read upon my blushing brow;
But spare, O God, Thy suppliant now.
Thou who didst Marys sins unbind,
And mercy for the robber find,
Dost filled with hope my anxious mind.
My feeble prayers can make no claim,
Yet, gracious Lord, for Thy great Name,
Redeem me from the quenchless flame.
At Thy right hand, give me a place
Among Thy sheep, a child of grace,
Far from the goats accursed race.
Yea, when Thy justly kindled ire
Shall sinners hurl to endless fire,
Oh, call me to Thy chosen choir.
In suppliant prayer I prostrate bend,
My contrite heart like ashes rend,
Regard, O Lord, my latter end.
Oh, on that day, that tearful day,
When man to judgment wakes from clay,
Be thou the trembling sinners stay,
And spare him, God, we humbly pray.
Yea, grant to all, O Saviour Blest,
Who die in Thee, the Saints sweet rest.
The exquisite beauty of the Latin original has continually lured translators to
attempt to reproduce this noble hymn in the vernacular. The great number of
translations is an eloquent witness of this fact. It is freely acknowledged that
no adequate translation has yet appeared. Dr. Coles, a Newark physician, who made
eighteen translations of the hymn, maintains that no single version can reflect
the totality of the original. The untranslatableness of the hymn is acknowledged
by the Rev. Mr. Duffield, whose sixth version, in his opinion, has not carried
him “one inch” beyond the first.
Some idea of the difficulties that confront the translator may be obtained from
the following apologia of Dr. Coles for having made so many
versions:—“To preserve, in connection with the utmost fidelity and
strictness of rendering, all the rhythmic merits of the Latin original,—to
attain to a vital likeness as well as to an exact literalness, at the same time
that nothing is sacrificed of its musical sonorousness and billowy grandeur, easy
and graceful in its swing as the ocean on its bed,—to make the verbal copy,
otherwise cold and dead, glow with the fire of lyric passion,—to reflect,
and that too by means of a single version, the manifold aspects of the many-sided
original, exhausting at once its wonderful fulness and pregnancy,—to cause
the white light of the primitive so to pass through the medium of another
language as that it shall undergo no refraction whatever,—would be
desirable, certainly, were it practicable; but so much as this were unreasonable
to expect in a single version.” (Dies Iræ in Thirteen Original
Versions, p. 33).
Some idea of the intangible beauty and consequent untranslatableness of the hymn
may be obtained from the judicious opinions of eminent critics. Thus Mr.
Saintsbury: “Rhyme, alliteration, cadence, and adjustment of vowel and
consonant values, all these things receive perfect expression in it, or, at least
in the first thirteen stanzas, for the last four are a little inferior. It is
quite astonishing to reflect upon the careful art or felicitous accident of such
a line as
with the thud of the trochee falling in each instant on a different vowel; and
still more on the continuous sequence of five stanzas, from Judex ergo to non sit
cassus in which a word could not be displaced or replaced by another without
loss. The climax of verbal harmony corresponding to and expressing religious
passion and religious awe, is reached in the last,
Tuba mirum spargens sonum,
where the sudden change from the dominant e sound (except in the rhyme
foot) of the first two lines to the a’s of the last is simply
miraculous, and miraculously assisted by what may be called the internal
sub-rhyme of sedisti and redemisti. This latter effect can rarely
be attempted without a jingle: there is no jingle here, only an ineffable melody.
After the Dies Iræ, no poet could say that any effect of poetry was,
as far as sound goes, unattainable; though few could have hoped to equal it, and
perhaps no one except Dante and Shakespeare has fully done so” (Flourishing
of Romance, p. 9).
Quærens me sedisti lassus,
Redemisti crucem passus:
Tantus labor non sit cassus!—
According to Dr. Duffield, the Dies Iræ “gives us a new
conception of the powers of the Latin tongue. Its wonderful wedding of sense and
sound—the u assonance in the second stanza, the o assonance
in the third, the a and i assonance in the fourth, for
instance—the sense of organ music that runs through the hymn, even
unaccompanied, as distinctly as through the opening verses of Lowell’s Vision
of Sir Launfal and the transitions as clearly marked in sound as in meaning
from lofty adoration to pathetic entreaty, impart a grandeur and dignity to the
Dies Iræ which are unique in this kind of writing. Then the
wonderful adaption of the triple rhyme to the theme—like blow following
blow of hammer upon anvil, as Daniel says—impresses every reader” (Latin
Hymns, p. 249).
Scriptural references: The hymn is replete with Scriptural references to both the
Old and New Testaments. The actual Judgment scene will be found in detail in
Matt. 24, 27-31; Luke 21, 25-27; Apoc. 20, 12-15.
The first six stanzas are descriptive. They picture with remarkable brevity and
detail the Judgment scene of the Scriptures.
The remaining stanzas are lyric in character and express the anguish of one of
the multitude there present in spirit—his pleading before the Judge, who,
while on earth, sought him unceasingly over the hard and thorny ways from
Bethlehem to Calvary; and now, in anticipation of the Judgment, pleads before a
Saviour of infinite mercy, who, on Judgment Day, will be a Judge of infinite
justice, before whom scarcely the just will be secure.
The seventh stanza serves to connect the descriptive with the lyric part of the
hymn. In it the soul acknowledges the futility of expecting aid from
creatures—for even the Saints and Angels will be judged.
The eighth stanza represents Christ in the twofold character of “King of
awful majesty” in the Last Judgment, and “Fount of loving
piety” in the present life.
The next six stanzas (9-14) develop the thought of God’s mercy. They
comprise two divisions of three stanzas each. The last stanza of each division
contains an appropriate prayer. The first division (9-11) deals with the first
basis on which an appeal for mercy may rest, viz., on the labors and sufferings
of Christ. The second division (12-14) deals with the second basis on which an
appeal for mercy may rest, viz., on the repentance of the sinner.
In the fifteenth stanza the Scriptural division of the sheep (the just) from the
goats (the reprobates) is set before us: in the sixteenth stanza the picture of
the Judgment is concluded with the “depart ye cursed,” and
“come ye blessed” of the Scriptures.
There is a very interesting article on the Dies Iræ, in the Cath.
Encycl. A scholarly and extensive series of articles on the Dies Iræ
appeared in The Dolphin, from Nov., 1904, to May, 1905. The series, 144
pages in all, consists of Notes on the Dies Iræ by the Rev. Mr.
Warren, M.A., a collaborator in Julian’s Dictionary of Hymnology,
and of Comments on the Notes of Mr. Warren, by the Rt. Rev. Msgr. H. T.
Henry, Litt.D. To these articles the editor is greatly indebted. In the article
on Judgment, in the Cath. Encycl., read the last section, which
treats of the General Judgment.
The following is Sir Walter Scott’s greatly admired condensed rendering of
the Dies Iræ which is found in his Lay of the Last Minstrel.
It consists of only twelve lines.
The metrical translations of the respective stanzas, given below, are from
various authors whose translations are mentioned by Mr. Warren as among the best.
That Day of wrath, that dreadful day,
When heaven and earth shall pass away,
What power shall be the sinner’s stay?
How shall he meet that dreadful day?
When, shrivelling like a parched scroll,
The flaming heavens together roll;
When louder yet, and yet more dread,
Swells the high trump that wakes the dead:
O, on that day, that wrathful day,
When may to judgment wakes from clay,
Be Thou the trembling sinner’s stay,
Though heaven and earth shall pass away!
The stanzas are uniformly in trochaic sevens, thus forming a fine cento.
Dr. W. J. Irons’ much admired translation is given below. It is more
extensively used than any other translation of the Dies Iræ. Dr.
Irons’ translation was made from the Paris Missal Text but it is generally
edited to conform to the Text of the Roman Missal. Judging from the number of
hymn-books and other books that contain this translation it is quite probable
that a few million copies of it are printed each year. It is said that the sale
of Hymns Ancient and Modern (H. A. & M.) alone exceeds one
million copies annually. Dr. Irons’ translation is in our own Baltimore Manual
of Prayers, and in the London Catholic Truth Society’s Book of
Sequences. The translation retains the exact meter and rhyme scheme of the
“That day of wrath, that day shall reduce the world to glowing embers,
David with the Sibyl being witness.”
Dies iræ, dies illa: These words of “startling
suddenness” with which the poet ushers in his theme are from the Prophet
Sophonias: Dies iræ, dies illa, dies tribulationis et angustiæ, dies
calamitatis et miseriæ, dies tenebrarum et caliginis, dies nebulæ et
turbinis, dies tubæ et clangoris (Soph. 1, 15-16). Solvet: (cf. II
Peter 3, 10). Teste David: (cf. Pss. 10, 7; 49, 3-6; and esp. 101, 26-28).
Sibylla: If any particular Sibyl is meant it is the Erythræan Sibyl,
the author of the well-known acrostic on the name of Christ. However,
“David and the Sibyl” here stand for Jew and Gentile, the witnesses
respectively of inspiration and of mere natural religion. See the article on Sibylline
Oracles, in the Cath. Encycl.
Ah that day of wrath and woe,
When the fire that seers foreknow
All the world shall overflow.
“How great shall be the trembling, when the Judge shall come to investigate
rigidly all things.”
For the Scriptural account of the Judge’s coming to judge the world, cf.
Luke 21, 25-27. Stricte discussurus: To search and thoroughly lay bare.
O what trembling shall appear
When His coming shall be near
Who shall all things strictly clear.
“The trumphet scattering a wondrous sound through the sepulchers of the
whole world shall gather all before the throne.”
Tuba: Et mittet angelos suos cum tuba et voce magna: et congregabunt
electos ejus a quattnor ventis, a summis cœlorum usque ad terminos eorum
(Matt. 24, 31).
At the unearthly trump’s command
Heard in graves of every land
All before the throne must stand.
“Death and Nature shall stand aghast, when the creature shall rise again to
answer to the Judge.”
Et dedit mare mortuos qui in eo erant: et mors et infernus dederunt mortuos suos
qui in ipsis erant; et judicatum est de singulis secundum opera ipsorum (Apoc.
Death shall shrink and Nature quake
When all creatures shall awake,
Answer to their God to make.
“The written Book shall be brought forth, in which all is contained whence
the world is to be judged.”
Liber: Et vidi mortuos magnos et pusillos stantes in conspectu throni, et
libri aperti sunt; et alius liber apertus est, qui est vitæ; et judicati
sunt mortui ex his quæ scripta erant in libris secundum opera ipsorum
(Apoc. 20, 12). The “Book” is the Book of Life which contains a most
detailed record of each one’s life, even of his most secret thoughts and
Then the volume shall be spread
And the writing shall be read
Which shall judge the quick and dead.
“When therefore the Judge shall be seated, whatsoever is hidden shall be
brought to light; nothing shall remain unpunished.”
With this stanza the epic or narrative part of the hymn closes, the remaining
stanzas are lyric in character.
When the Judge His place has taen
All things hid shall be made plain,
Nothing unavenged remain.
“What shall I, wretched, then say? What patron shall I entreat, when even
the just shall hardly be without anxiety?”
Patronus, advocate, counsel. Cum vix justus: Et si justus vix
salvabitur, impius et peccator ubi parebunt? (I Peter 4, 18).
What shall wretched I then plead,
Who for me shall intercede,
When the righteous scarce is freed?
“King of awful majesty, who savest freely those who are to be saved, save
me, O Fount of mercy.”
Salvandos: Read the articles on Elect, Salvation, and parts
of the articles on Grace, in the Cath. Encycl.
King of dread, whose mercy free
Saveth those that saved shall be,
Fount of pity, pity me.
“Remember, O loving Jesus, that for my sake Thou didst come upon earth: let
me not, then, be lost on that day.”
Tuæ viæ: Christ’s whole life on earth,—
“From the poor manger to the bitter cross.”
Ne me perdas: Quia quos dedisti mihi, non perdidi ex eis quemquam (John
Jesus, twas my debt to pay
Thou didst wend Thy weary way;
Keep me on that dreadful day.
—Messenger of the Sacred Heart, England
“Seeking me Thou sattest weary; suffering the Cross, Thou didst redeem me;
let not so great a labor be in vain.”
Sedisti lassus: Jesus was often weary seeking the lost sheep of the
house of Israel, but the poet here undoubtedly had in mind the touching picture
of Our Lord resting at Jacob’s well, and awaiting the Samaritan woman (John
4, 6). Dr. Johnson could not repeat this touching verse without shedding tears.
Weary satst Thou seeking me,
Diedst redeeming on the tree;
Not in vain such toil can be.
—Mrs. E. Charles
“Just Judge of vengeance, grant the gift of pardon ere the day of
Ultionis: Mea est ultio, et ego retribuam in tempore (Deut. 32, 35).
Thou just Judge of wrath severe,
Grant my sins remission here,
Ere Thy reckoning day appear.
“I groan like one condemned; my face reddens with guilt; the suppliant
spare, O God.”
Reus is here taken in the sense of one condemned rather than one
accused, as the line would seem to imply.
Sighs and tears my sorrow speak,
Shame and grief are on my cheek,
Mercy, mercy, Lord, I seek.
“Thou who didst absolve Mary, and didst hearken to the thief, to me also
Thou hast given hope.”
Mariam absolvisit: Mary Magdalen, who, whether named or not, is the sinner
referred to by the four Evangelists; Matt. 26, 7; Mark 14, 3; Luke 7, 48; 10,
38-42; John 23, 2-3. Latronem: the penitent thief. Et dicebat ad Jesum:
Domine, memento mei, cum veneris in regnum tuum. Et dixit illi Jesus: Amen dico
tibi, hodie mecum eris in paradiso (Luke 23, 42-43).
Thou who Mary didst forgive
And who badst the robber live,
Hope to me dost also give.
“Unworthy are my prayers; but do Thou who art good benignly grant that I
burn not in everlasting fire.”
Though my prayers deserve no hire,
Yet good Lord, grant my desire,
I may scape eternal fire.
“Amid Thy sheep appoint me a place, and separate me from the goats, placing
me at Thy right hand.”
Et statuit oves quidem a dextris suis, hœdos autem a sinistris (Matt. 25,
Mid Thy sheep place command,
From the goats far off to stand,
Set me, Lord, at Thy right hand.
“The accused having been silenced and given over to the bitter flames, call
me with the blessed.”
Confutatis: The wicked will be silenced when they hear from the lips of
Our Lord: Amen, dico vobis, quamdiu non fecistis uni de minoribus his, nec mihi
fecistis (Matt. 25, 45).
When the curst are put to shame,
Cast into devouring flame,
With the blest then call my name.
“Kneeling and prostrate I pray, with a heart contrite as though crushed to
ashes; have a care of my last hour.”
Contritum, utterly crushed.
Contrite, suppliant, I pray,
Ashes on my heart I lay;
Care Thou for me on that day.
—Mrs. E. Charles
“Doleful shall be that day on which guilty man shall rise from the glowing
embers to be judged: spare him, then, O God. Merciful Jesus, Lord, grant them
Full of tears the day shall prove
When from ashes rising move
To the judgment guilty men:
Spare, Thou God of mercy, then.
Lord, all-pitying, Jesu Blest,
Grant them Thine eternal rest.
Day of wrath and doom impending,
Davids word with Sibyls blending!
Heaven and earth in ashes ending!
Oh, what fear mans bosom rendeth,
When from heaven the judge descendeth,
On whose sentence all dependeth!
Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth,
Through earths sepulchers it ringeth,
All before the throne it bringeth.
Death is struck, and nature quaking,
All creation is awaking,
To its Judge an answer making.
Lo! the book exactly worded,
Wherein all hath been recorded,
Thence shall judgment be awarded.
When the Judge His seat attaineth,
And each hidden deed arraigneth,
Nothing unavenged remaineth.
What shall I, frail man, be pleading?
Who for me be interceding,
When the just are mercy needing?
King of majesty tremendous,
Who dost free salvation send us,
Fount of pity, then befriend us!
Think, kind Jesu! my salvation
Caused thy wondrous Incarnation;
Leave me not to reprobation.
Faint and wary thou has sought me,
On the Cross of suffering bought me;
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?
Righteous Judge! for sins pollution,
Grant Thy gift of absolution,
Ere that day of retribution.
Guilty, now I pour my moaning,
All my shame with anguish owning;
Spare, O God, Thy suppliant groaning!
Through the sinful woman shriven,
Through the dying thief forgiven,
Thou to me a hope hast given.
Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
Yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
Rescue me from fires undying.
With Thy favored sheep O place me,
Nor among the goats abase me,
But to Thy right hand upraise me.
While the wicked are confounded,
Doomed to flames of woe unbounded,
Call me, with Thy saints surrounded.
Low I kneel, with heart submission,
Crushed to ashes in contrition;
Help me in my last condition!
Ah! that day of tears and mourning!
From the dust of earth returning,
Man for judgment must prepare him;
Spare, O God, in mercy spare him!
Lord, all-pitying, Jesu Blest,
Grant them Thine eternal rest.
Copyright Benziger Brothers, 1922. Online Edition Copyright David M. Cheney,