Jesu dulcis memoria

translated as
Jesu, name of sweetest thought
Jesu, the very thought of Thee
Jesu, thou joy of loving hearts


Authorship & Origins: For many years, this hymn was considered to be the work of Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux (1091–1153), who was an advocate for Pope Innocent II (fl. 1130–1143) and the Second Crusade (1147–1149); this hymn is still sometimes erroneously attributed to him. In the mid 20th century, Latin scholar Dom André Wilmart, O.S.B. (1876–1941) discredited this common attribution. In a paper released posthumously in Rome as “Le ‘Jubilus’ dit de Saint Bernard” in the series Storia e Letteratura (1944) and summarized by F.J.E. Raby in the Bulletin of the Hymn Society of Great Britain (Oct. 1945), pp. 1-6, Wilmart noted that the earliest and best manuscripts were all produced in England, and from there spread to France, Germany and Italy. The hymn was known to English poet John of Hoveden (d. 1275), for example. Bernard’s name was not associated with this hymn until the end of the thirteenth century. The temptation to give him the credit comes from the hymn’s close resemblance to some of Bernard’s prose works, especially his commentary on the Song of Songs. It reality, the author was probably an English member of the Order of Citeaux (Cistercians), a form of monasticism popularized in part by Bernard.

The earliest manuscript is held at the Bodleian Library (MS Laud. Misc. 668, fols. 101r-104r), dating from the 12th century (Fig. 1). James Mearns, in John Julian’s Dictionary of Hymnology (1907), considered this copy to be “the best, and most probably the original.” It contains 42 quatrains interlined with a melody, and it actually begins “Dulcis Jesu memoria,” unlike the later, common transposition “Jesu dulcis memoria.”

Fig. 1. Bodleian Library, MS Laud. Misc. 668, fols. 101r-104r (12th century).

Subsequent manuscript copies contain numerous variations and extra stanzas, but the extra stanzas cannot be traced earlier than the 15th century. For example, a 15th century copy at Mainz (no. 439) has 50 stanzas; versions at this length were probably crafted for the purpose of Rosary prayers (for Rosaries containing five sets of ten beads, five decades). In the Roman liturgy, this hymn was appointed for the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, the second Sunday of Epiphany, beginning in 1722, and was divided into three short portions for Vespers (“Jesu dulcis memoria”), Matins (“Jesu, Rex admirabilis”), and Lauds (“Jesu, decus angelicum”). 

Translation 1: Edersheim. Alfred Edersheim (1825–1889) published his complete translation, “Jesu, name of sweetest thought,” in The Jubilee Rhythm of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1847 | Fig. 2a). In his commentary on the hymn, he expressed his desire for his English translation to be faithful to the original:

… in the present attempt to translate this as well as other Latin hymns, I have endeavoured not only to be literal, but as much as possible to preserve the form of the original. This may perhaps, in part, be pled in excuse of harshness in the rendering. … In poetical writings, where so much depends on the form in which a thought is presented, on the words in which it is expressed, on the precise succession of the lines, and occasionally even on the metre and the rhyme, every effort should be made to follow the original as closely as possible (p. 6).

In this regard, he succeeded valiantly. Edersheim based his translation on the edition printed by Herm Adelbert Daniel, Thesaurus Hymnologicus, vol. 1 (Lipsiae [Leipzig], 1855), pp. 227-230 (Fig. 2b), which contained 48 quatrains. These are presented together below for comparison.

Fig. 2a. Alfred Edersheim, The Jubilee Rhythm of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1847).

Fig. 2b. Herm Adelbert Daniel, Thesaurus Hymnologicus, vol. 1 (Lipsiae [Leipzig], 1855).

Translation 2: Caswall. The much more popular translation in common use is “Jesu, the very thought of Thee” by Edward Caswall (1814–1878). Caswall’s text had appeared first in his Lyra Catholica (London: J. Burns, 1849, pp. 56-59), in 15 quatrains, based on the Roman Breviary version for the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. In contrast to Edersheim’s work, Caswall, in his preface, he seems to have valued the devotional spirit of the texts rather than aiming for a strict English equivalent:

And here, although the translator may seem to be pleading his own cause, yet he cannot refrain from observing, that truly poetical as are many of these hymns, as indeed well befits the sacred outpourings of Christ’s tender Spouse, still, as a whole, the devotional is their primary and least disappointing aspect. Whoever attempts to read them as mere poetry will obtain from them little of that delight which they are capable of inspiring. And as this is true of the original Latin, so it is truer still of the hymns as they appear in the present translation; in which, it is to be feared, the unadorned simplicity of the prototype has too often degenerated into plainness; while its beauties have been faintly reflected, and their clear edge blunted in passing through a too earthly medium (pp. ix-x).

Caswall expanded his work for the Masque of Mary (London: Burns and Lambert, 1858 | Fig. 3a), based an unknown source containing 50 quatrains. For comparison, the 1864 edition of C.E.P. Wackernagel’s Das deutsche Kirchenlied, vol. 1, no. 183, contains the same 50 quatrains as Caswall’s text, though in a slightly different order (Fig. 3b).

Fig. 3a. Edward Caswall, The Masque of Mary (London: Burns and Lambert, 1858).

Fig. 3b. C.E.P. Wackernagel, Das deutsche Kirchenlied, vol. 1 (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1864).

Translation 3: Palmer. Ray Palmer (1808–1887) prepared a partial translation, “Jesu, thou joy of loving hearts,” for the Sabbath Hymn Book (NY: 1858) and the subsequent Sabbath Hymn & Tune Book (NY: 1859 | Fig. 4). Palmer’s text corresponds to quatrains 4, 3, 20, 28, and 10 of the Latin in Daniel’s edition (Fig. 2b).

Fig. 4. Sabbath Hymn & Tune Book (1859).

Fig. 5. John Grey, Hymnal for Use in the English Church (London: 1866).

Tune 1. Caswall’s translation is most frequently printed with the tune ST. AGNES, written for this text by John Bacchus Dykes (1823–1876) and first published in John Grey’s Hymnal for Use in the English Church (London: 1866 | Fig. 5), and popularized through its appearance in both Hymns Ancient & Modern (London, 1868) and The English Hymnal (Oxford: University Press, 1906). St. Agnes was a Christian martyr in 304 under Diocletian.

Tune 2. Palmer’s translation is frequently printed with QUEBEC (or HESPERUS), a tune written by Henry Baker (1835–1910), initially associated with the hymn “Sun of my soul” by John Keble. For more on the origins of that tune, see the article on Keble’s hymn.

Tune 3. MARYTON, another common tune for Palmer’s text, was also first associated with John Keble’s hymn, “Sun of my soul.”

for Hymnology Archive
19 October 2018

Related Resources:

James Mearns, “Jesu dulcis memoria,” ed. John Julian, A Dictionary of Hymnology (London, 1892), pp. 585-589: Google Books.

Stephen A. Hurlbut, “Authorship of Jesu dulcis memoria,” Hortus Conclusus, vol. 7 (Washington, D.C.: Saint Albans Press, 1932), pp. 18-30.

F.J.E. Raby, “The Poem ‘Dulcis Iesu Memoria,’” Bulletin of the Hymn Society of Great Britain, no. 33 (Oct. 1945), pp. 1-6: PDF

Carl P. Daw, Jr. “Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts,” Glory to God: A Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2016), pp. 496-497.

Carl P. Daw, Jr. “Jesus, the very thought of thee,” Glory to God: A Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2016), p. 597.

“Jesu, name of sweetest thought,”

“Jesus, the very thought of thee,”

“Jesu, thou joy of loving hearts,”

J.R. Watson & Emma Hornby, “Iesu dulcis memoria,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology:

J.R. Watson, “Jesu! the very thought of thee,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology:!-the-very-thought-of-thee

J.R. Watson, “Jesu, thou joy of loving hearts,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology:,-thou-joy-of-loving-hearts