Psalm 1 – a new draft

Godney in a gale018
Near Godney, Somerset.

The psalms prescribed by the lectionary returned to the beginning this morning. This reminded me that I have been unhappy with the version of Psalm 1 I have hitherto provided in the collection. It is based on the version by Thomas Sternhold, but has been mangled quite a bit to make it fit with modern demands for non-sexist grammar. It is not easy to do this in this particular psalm because it is so fundamentally about a singular person.  The individual is blessed who does these things, in contrast with the wicked, the sinful and the scoffers who tend to be plural.  They go with the crowd. They egg one another on and find strength in numbers rather than in their faithfulness to the law of the LORD.

The result is a psalm that fits the metre, contains some good phrases, but no longer reads all that well in English. So inspired by this morning’s thoughts, I have written a fresh version, which will probably replace the existing one in the next revision. The present state of the draft is at the bottom of this post.

Assonance etc

Psalm 1 is an important psalm. It comes at the beginning of the psalter, and is an opening fanfare for a core idea that occur throughout the psalms. It starts with the euphonious assonance, ashri ha-ish asher. Incidentally, the middle of those three words ha-ish is specifically ‘the man’.  It corresponds broadly to the Latin vir. So those translations that have stuck with the traditional ‘Blessed is the man’ are entitled to make that decision in the name of accuracy.  The CW’s shift into the plural. ‘Blessed are they’ and the NRSV’s ‘Happy are those’ weaken what the psalm is saying.  A better compromise for those who feel strongly about this, might be ‘Blessed are you’.

This is not the only example where the Hebrew Bible marks something important by assonance. The first words of all, the opening sounds of Genesis are bǝrashit bara, ‘in the beginning created …. ‘.

I cannot replicate this in English, yet alone English verse. One quirk from the commentaries I have managed to introduce, though, is that the word almost universally translated ‘meditate’ apparently is also used for a dog growling with pleasure as it chews over a bone.  It is slightly puzzling how anyone claims to know that since I cannot recall anywhere in scripture where there is a reference to a dog eating a bone. However,  we speak of chewing over an idea in our heads. So that is what has inspired, “They meditate and masticate ~ its treasures day and night” in my version.

As for the ‘they’, that is emphatically singular here, concordant with ‘such person’. I’m conscious that there are parts of the Anglophone world that  do not fully accept this usage, but, whatever the grammarians may say, it follows what is now UK usage.

I still would like to be able to include the tune Goadby in this collection in preference to Old First, if I could obtain permission from somebody who could give me permission, I would do so. I don’t know what would be the copyright position about including the version of that attractive tune that I know.

Anyway, here is today’s version.

This  is in CM.

1.       Blest is the one who does not walk ~ in wicked peoples’ ways:
Who has not sat with those who scorn ~ nor given sin their praise.

2.     In the ways of the LORD, his law, ~ such person takes delight:
They meditate and masticate ~ its treasures day and night.

3.     Like a tree planted by a stream, ~ they bear fruit when its due:
Their leaves don’t wilt nor wither; they ~ prosper in all they do.

4.    That is not how the wicked are; ~ they have no strength nor stay:
They are mere nothing, like the chaff ~ which the wind blows away.

5.     The wicked, then, shall not stand proud ~ before the judgement seat:
Nor shall the sinner gather with ~ the righteous when they meet.

6.     The righteous person’s way, the LORD ~ knows and by him they’re known:
But the way of the wicked shall ~ perish, be overthrown.

Let me know what you think.


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