Makibito hitsuji o

I'm pretty much just gonna be doing carols from now until Christmas, you guys. Today: "Makibito hitsuji o", a.k.a. "The first noel".

Sidenote: There was a whole mini-flamewar at Wikipedia about whether to spell the last word of the English title "noel" or "nowell". I don't recall ever seeing the latter spelling before, but I guess that's the one used by the Church of England in their New English Hymnal. The first verse of the "standard" lyrics (translated by priest and Western music lover Tsugawa Shuichi 津川主一) is:

Makibito hitsuji o mamoreru sono yoi
Tae naru miuta wa ame yori hibikinu:
Yorokobi tataeyo, shu Iesu wa umarenu
That night when the shepherds were watching their sheep,
Marvelous song rang out from Heaven:
Rejoice and praise [Him], the Lord Jesus is born!

You can see a nice harmonized rendition here, with slightly different lyrics but basically the same setting.

As is traditional, Tsugawa has used archaic/literary forms — mamoreru, hibikinu — although the actual vocabulary is mostly still okay. (I dunno about makibito, but it's very clear from context and definitely-not-archaic words sharing morphemes like makiba, "ranch".)

What I noticed most about these lyrics is the use of tae naru. The standard spelling of this is 妙なる, which means that it's a native Japanese equivalent to the myo in Buddhist tradition (e.g. namu myōhō renge kyō 南無法蓮華経). In fact, tae naru/myō things appearing magically from the sky is not uncommon in Sino-Buddhist imagery. Like these examples from the Infinite Life Sutra (BDK translation, Inagaki/Stewart):

百千音樂 自然而作 無量華 紛紛而降

A hundred thousand kinds of music played spontaneously, and innumerable marvelous flowers fell in profusion from the sky.
其諸菩薩 僉然欣悦 於虚空中 共奏天樂 以微音 歌歎佛德

These bodhisattvas all rejoice together and, while poised in midair, play heavenly music and praise the virtues of the buddhas with hymns accompanied by wonderful sounds.

I think you could argue that Tsugawa's translation is just the latest in a long line of representations of divine apparitions broadcasting from the sky.

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