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Radiant or Radiance?

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, in that I’m getting very busy working on Christmas carols. One in particular has been exercising my mind this morning – Silent Night. It is the result of a 19th century collaboration by Franz Gruber and Joseph Mohr. As the names hint, the original (Stille Nacht) was in German but it has also become widely popular in English. I wonder if this is one of the reasons there are quite a few versions of the lyrics floating around?

Specifically, I was concerned about (what is widely accepted as) the final verse and the line about the Christ-child’s holy face. I recently recorded a base version that we will use for church drawing on the arrangement I worked up a few years ago for St Clement’s. But does ‘radiant beams from thy holy face’ make sense?

Cycling down to church to help with the toddlers group, I was convincing myself that I’d have to re-record that section as ‘radiant beams thy holy face’, stretching a syllable over an extra note to make up for dropping ‘from’. That would mean ‘your holy face beams radiantly’, which makes perfect sense without conjuring up a garish light show. In the carol book I referred to when leading the song this morning (The Popular Carol Book, Mowbray, 1991) it goes for ‘radiance beams from thy holy face’. That still makes sense to me, albeit more metaphorical. Perhaps I could just change the lyrics and rely on my poor diction to do the rest?

However, further research (which, thinking about it, I think I may have done before) shows that the consensus is what I already had: radiant beams from thy holy face. It seems cartoonish to my sensibilities. On the other hand, living with it as is for this year saves me a bunch of time I can quite easily invest in other songs that need it so ‘radiant beams from’ it is and I’ll just hope to get a complaint (from someone who hasn’t read this post) which suggests someone is really thinking about what they are singing!

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