Pieces of Our Past
February 14, 2014
Artifact: Birthday Poem from C. F. W. Walther to his Wife
Date: 21 July 1846
Significance: C. F. W. Walther, esteemed theologian, founder and first president of the Missouri Synod, is often remembered for his theological writings, but he was also something of an amateur poet, especially in regards to his beloved wife. Some may already be familiar with other expressions of love between C. F. W. and his wife Emilie, such as his letter proposing marriage, but this poem from CHI’s Walther collection has been recently translated by Sieghart “Ziggy” Rein. Walther wrote this poem while traveling on the Mississippi River on his return from Fort Wayne (where he had been for a preliminary meeting aborderbout founding the Missouri Synod from July 2-8) while thinking of his beloved wife on her birthday and wishing he were home with her and their children.
About C. F. W. and Emilie Walther: C. F. W. Walther and Emilie Buenger were married on September 21, 1841, in Dresden, Missouri. Their story began a few years earlier in Germany when they were part of the Saxon Immigration Society, though Walther did not feel he could marry during the upheaval following the deposition of Martin Stephan. Thus, his proposal to Emilie came after the Altenburg Debates were conducted. Walther and Emilie went on to spend forty-three years together until her death in 1885. Their union was blessed with six children, four of whom (two boys and two girls) survived into adulthood.
Translation of Birthday Poem
My Meditations and Prayers,
as I, on July 21, 1846,
on the thirty-fourth Birthday of my dear
on my journey home from Fort Wayne
had again arrived on the Mississippi.
C. F. W. W.
I have set out in God’s name,
Trusting Him and His angels’ watch on the way,
And my hope has not been put to shame,
God graciously protected me night and day;
To rest at His bosom was my aim;
In His fatherly arms my fears He did allay.
Of no avail were the threats of the fire’s glow —
In vain, the deep stream with its mighty flow.
Already the portal opened for me the space
For my entrance into my homeland;
The breeze wafts already from the beloved place,
To which God my heart’s yearnings did expand,
It seems to me, words coming on the clouds apace
Bring greetings sent me by my loved ones overland.—
How joyfully my heart in anticipation does beat
At the thought when shortly my loved ones I’ll meet.
O Father, behold my heart’s desiring beat,
To be an altar of thanks for your faithfulness
And to dedicate to you tears of love so sweet
And from my feeble lips hymns of praise.
Grant me more than I can presume and entreat:
Accept me as a sacrifice, take me in my fullness;
Let God’s love without counterpart
Warm and soften my cold heart.
But, you know it, I have put my entreaty
Not just for me alone into Your heart,
I also cried: Be in the midst of those dear to me,
Still every sorrow, which moves their heart;
Be their leader, guide their activity,
And save them, when adversity plays its part.
Remain the Shepherd among my sheep,
Protect wife and child, whether awake or asleep.
LORD, have You perceived my poor pleas?
Have You the deep sighing heard?
In my flock is there not a wolf causing unease,
Does everyone follow after his Shepherd?
In your breast did Your love cease,
Are all yet awake whom You acquired?
Do they still sing in the tabernacles of the just
Putting in Your victory, LORD God, their trust?
Have You watched over the life of my dear wife?
Didn’t You take my crown from my head?
Have You surrounded with Your angelic host the life
Of the children; has none been robbed from me, O dread?
Have You protected the vine along with the fruit so rife?
Does it blossom still for me; is it not yet dead?
Is my wife’s heart and soul to me yet ope?
Are the children’s mouth still smiling for me. Dare I hope?
O LORD, how my faith wavers upon the billows
Of doubt, now sinking, now lifting itself heavenward!
Soon it will be night, and soon the light grows.
The words of the promises illuminate my heart;
Sometimes I dream of severe accidents and woes,
Sometimes the hope triumphs over my pain and smart.
LORD, help me! Help to trust You bold
You are Love! Soon I will it behold.
You cannot intend it as evil. What do I care?
You do more than we ask and understand;
Might Your counsel often seem unclear,
It has to go to the light, to the splendor so grand.
Secure in Your hand are the ones that to me are dear:
I shall see them again — here or in the celestial Fatherland,
And all of them — that guarantees your mercy and grace—
In blissful delight and joy I shall embrace.
As much as I would like to, upon the wind’s wing,
Flee today to the dear home
To offer to my wife her heart’s desiring,
Upon whom today the first sun once shone,
A hymn of thanks with her I’d love to sing
For all the mercy which God had shown.
Although physically far off even from my loved ones I am;
In spirit I can also weep with them.
Also by me, LORD, You are called highly exalted, indeed,
For upon her You have done many a great deed;
Help us to praise You for it in eternity.
But accept also this new petition to intercede:
Never take her from me and upwards, I plead,
Let our course of life under Your constant guidance proceed.
But You lead us finally to the eternal meadow,
So inseparably Your face to us show.
Visit the C. F. W. Walther and F. C. D. Wyneken exhibits in CHI’s main building on the campus of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, to see more examples of Walther’s love for his wife and his poetry. Writings on display include a translation of an 1844 poem to Emilie for her birthday, excerpts of love from letters prior to their wedding, an excerpt from a letter written by a grieving Walther following Emilie’s death, and a poem Walther wrote to his friend Wyneken’s son upon his wedding.