The Sidney Psalms

I’ve been reading a fascinating book. A wonderful professor introduced me to the writings of Sir Philip Sidney in a 16th Century Lit class, but it wasn’t until I was chatting with a friend about Shakespeare’s influence on the language used in the King James Bible that I remembered Sidney and his sister, Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, translated the psalms.

The Sidney Psalter contains of 43 psalms translated by Sidney before his death in 1586, which were then edited by Mary when she finished translating the remaining 150 psalms. Though 16th century writers knew the Psalms were poems, it wasn’t until the 18th Century that an English scholar discovered the rules which governed Hebrew poetry. That didn’t stop several writers, including the Sidneys, from trying out translations in meter and rhyme.

According to Hannibal Hamlin (who taught at The Ohio State University and wrote the introduction and notes for the Oxford World Classics edition), the Sidneys stayed close to the original meaning of the psalms and focused their creativity on the poetic form. “The Psalter contains 150 Psalms,” Hamlin writes, “including the 22 sections of the long Psalm 119, and among these 172 poems the Sidney’s repeat only one form (both stanza and meter) exactly.”

I’m so impressed with these translations. They’re the psalms I love, written in a way that reminds me of my favorite Romantic poets (who were undoubtedly influenced by the Sindeys’ writings).

Psalm 23

The Lord, the Lord, my Shepherd is,
And so can never I
Taste misery:
He rests me in green pastures His:
By waters still and sweet,
He guides my feet.

He me revives; leads me the way
Which righteousness doth take,
For his name’s sake:
Yea, though I should through valleys stray
Of death’s dark shade, I will
No whit fear ill.

For Thou, dear Lord, Thou me besettest
Thy rod and thy staff be
To comfort me:
Before me Thou a table settest,
Even when foe’s envious eye
Doth it espy.

Thou oilst my head, Thou fillest my cup;
Nay more, Thou endless good,
Shalt give me food.
To Thee, I say, ascended up,
Where Thou, the Lord of all,
Dost hold thy hall.

 

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