The date of composition is put at around 790 or a little later, while the surviving manuscript dates from about 814. The author of the verses is unknown, although from the content and a couple of linguistic features (see below), it seems highly probable that it was composed after an Anglo-Saxon model for use in the Christian missions to the heathen taking place in Germany at this time.
The place of origin of the manuscript is also unknown. It was not written in Wessobrunn; a number of Bavarian religious establishments could have produced it, the most likely being Augsburg or Regensburg. The conspicuous oddity in this manuscript of the use of the star-rune as a shorthand symbol for the syllable "ga-" is shared by only one other manuscript, also Bavarian, viz., Arundel MS. 393 in the British Library.
The two-part structure is reminiscent of Germanic magic spells (as evidenced for example in the Merseburg Spells): a transcendental precedent is first evoked (in this instance the gift of creation made to human beings by the Creator), according to the pattern of which the thing prayed for may be performed.
Some features in the first section reflect the language and idiom of Old German oral epics, using stem- and introductory formulae known from the Anglo-Saxon and Old Saxon traditions (manno miltisto, dat gafregin ih). The concept of creation from nothing (creatio ex nihilo) described here is however genuinely Christian. It has been speculated that the first five lines may once have been, or formed part of, an independent cosmogony.
|Original text||English translation|
Dat gafregin ih mit firahim firiuuizzo meista
Dat ero ni uuas noh ufhimil
noh paum noh pereg ni uuas
ni [...] nohheinig noh sunna ni scein
noh mano ni liuhta noh der mareo seo
Do dar niuuiht ni uuas enteo ni uuenteo
enti do uuas der eino almahtico cot
manno miltisto enti dar uuarun auh manake mit inan
cootlihhe geista enti cot heilac [...]
Cot almahtico, du himil enti erda gauuorahtos enti du mannun so manac coot forgapi forgip mir in dina ganada rehta galaupa enti cotan uuilleon uuistom enti spahida enti craft tiuflun za uuidarstantanne enti arc za piuuisanne enti dinan uuilleon za gauurchanne
Of the Creator|
This I learnt among mortal men as the greatest wonder
That there was neither the earth nor the heaven above
Nor was there any tree nor mountain
Neither any [star] at all, nor did the sun shine
Nor the moon gleam, nor [was there] the glorious sea.
When there was nothing, no ending and no limits,
There was the One Almighty God
Of all beings the greatest in grace, and many with him,
Good spirits, and God [is] holy.
Almighty God, Who created heaven and earth and gave so much good to men, in Your grace give me right belief and good will, wisdom, wit and strength to resist devils and turn from evil and do Your will.
More recent interpretations by composers in the classical tradition include those by Felix Werder in 1975 for voice and small orchestra, and by Michael Radulescu in two works: De Poëta in 1988 for four choirs and bells, and in another arrangement of 1991 re-worked in 1998 for soprano and organ.
One of the most unusual settings is by the German composer Helmut Lachenmann in his Consolation II (1968) in which component phonetic parts of the words of the prayer are vocalised separately by the 16 solo voices in a texture of vocal 'music concrete'.