Three New Psalms

New versions of Psalms 42, 43 and 37

Bridge near Rowsley IMG_0001.JPG
Nothing like Ancient Israel, but a bridge over crystal water or cooling stream

The tune – Genevan 42nd

Back around September (2016), Conor Quigley posted on his Soundcloud page what I immediately thought was a really attractive version of Psalm 42, to the original Genevan tune for that psalm. I had never heard either the tune or that version of the words before. If you want to hear his version, it is here .  His site, by the way, is well worth a visit. He clearly loves the Psalms and it has some really interesting material on it.

It was fairly easy to find a setting for the tune, Genevan 42nd through  Catherine Winkworth (1827-78) translated a Lutheran hymn, a version of Isaiah 40:1-5 by Johann Olearius (1611-84) set to this tune as Comfort, Comfort now my people.  As far as I have been able to discover, it is well known in Anglophone Lutheran circles in North America but unknown in Britain. This is the tune, which has also been added to Soundcloud. This is a link to it.

Genevan 42nd in Hymn Format

And, since it is very suitable for singing in parts, this is it with the four lines shown separately.

genevan 42nd in four parts
Genevan 42nd in four parts

I could not at the time, though, trace the words used in Conor’s version (they are clearly visible there now), yet alone what their copyright status might be, whether they were old words or modern ones. So I thought I would write my own which could be available under the same terms as the rest of this collection.

As is often the case with original Genevan tunes, the metre fits French rather than English syllabic patterns. It is in the unusual metre 87 87 88 a pattern into which English words do not naturally fall.  It is attributed to Louis Bourgeois  (c1510-c1560) but it is possible he may have been setting a pre-existing folk tune.

Why, though, 42 and 43?

Most commentaries seem to believe that Psalms 42 and 43 were originally one psalm. Psalm 43 repeats phrases that are in Psalm 42 and ends with a third repeat of a verse that recurs twice in the first of the two psalms. So I also produced a version of Psalm 43 to go to this tune.

And more history

I would like to have posted this at the beginning of November. CWDP provides vv 1-7 of Psalm 42 as the opening psalm or hymn for Daily Prayer in the mornings of the last four weeks of Ordinary Time leading up to Advent. However, I had meanwhile entered this version for the annual psalm competition run by the Church of the Servant in Grand Rapids, Michigan USA. Although I knew it was unlikely to win (it didn’t) I felt it would be improper to put this on my site until they had decided the result. Otherwise it might look as though I was trying to plug my entry.  I can say, though, that having used it myself during those weeks in my own prayers, I think it works very well. The verses for that season are marked with asterisks.

I have since (November 2016) managed to discover the text of the words sung on Conor Quigley’s version. It turns out they are a fairly modern translation by somebody called Dewey Westra (1899-1979).  So they are still in copyright. I do not know whether he translated from the Hebrew of the Bible or the French words sung in Reformation Geneva.

Anyway, here are my words.

Psalm 42

1.*   As a deer craves crystal water  ~  so my soul yearns, God, for you.
2.*  How I thirst for your refreshment; ~ your face would I once more view.
3.*  Tears my food, both night and day: ~ “Where’s your God?” the people say.
4.*  As I pour out my soul in pain, ~ these things I call to mind again.

Time was when I went to God’s house; ~ with the many I would throng.
5.* In the festival we brought thanks ~ with glad shouts and joyful song.
6.* So why soul are you depressed? ~  and why inwardly distressed?
7.* Hope yet in God your foundation: ~ I’ll praise him still, my salvation.

8. When my soul is bleak within me, ~ I remember your whole land,
From Jordan to heights of Hermon ~ and where little Mizar stands.
9. Rapids roar, deep calls to deep, ~ your waves billow, surge and leap.
In the maelstrom, the seething strife, ~ turmoil’s overwhelmed my whole life.

10. His steadfast love, the LORD by day ~ commands, charged as his programme.
By night I raise my prayer to him, ~ the God of all that I am.
11. My God, my rock, hear my plea;  ~ why have you forgotten me?
And why must I bear my foes’ hate ~ when they press me beneath their weight?

12. For they have crushed my bones and taunt ~ me gleefully every day.
My opponents oppress my soul. ~ “Where’s your God?”; is what they say.
13. So why soul are you depressed? ~  and why inwardly distressed?
14. Hope yet in God your foundation: ~ I’ll praise him still, my salvation.

Psalm 43

1. Clear me O God, defend my cause ~ against a godless nation,
From those whose souls love injustice, ~ deceit and deviation.
2. You are my place of safety;  ~ why have you rejected me?
And why must I bear my foes’ hate ~ when they press me beneath their weight?

3. Send me your light and truth as guide ~ to your house, your holy hill,
4. At your altar, my God and joy ~ on the harp to praise you still.
5. So why soul are you depressed? ~  and why inwardly distressed?
Hope yet in God your foundation: ~ I’ll praise him still, my salvation.

The Gloria to the same metre

All glory to the Father, Son, ~ and the Holy Spirit raise.
As it was in the beginning, ~ here and always all give praise.
Three in one and one in three ~ changeless for eternity,
World without end, we raise again, ~ with all our joy a great  Amen.

Psalm 37

This is a long psalm. It runs to 41 verses. The Tate and Brady version in the collection is in 888 888 for which there are not many tunes. Of the few that there are,  some are not all that easy to sing. It is an important psalm with an important message, the contrast between the righteous and the wicked, the good life and the bad. The Tyndale Commentary describes it as a meditation on the same theme as the Third Beatitude, Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. 

So I have written an alternative version in heroic couplets and 10 10 10 10.  There are other tunes in that metre which would undoubtedly work but the one I have chosen for it is Reliance by Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-76).  It is in G Minor and has been added to Soundcloud here.

Reliance in G Minor by S. S. Wesley

At 41 verses and 22 stanzas it is quite long to be sung on a single occasion. Possible selections would be 1-11, on the good life, 10-20 and 21-34 on the central theme of contrast, or 35-41 on the triumph of the faithful.

The way the verses are divided and numbered in English translations does not best reflect the underlying Hebrew.  If one splits the verses differently, mainly but not invariably by looking at each alternate verse in the conventional numbering, they display an imperfect acrostic. For the reason explained in the headnote to the B version of Psalm 111 in the collection, I have made no attempt to replicate this.

Commentaries and the translators of many of the modern versions of the Bible do not approve of the traditional reference to the bay tree in v36. They may be right, but they may equally be unfamiliar with the vigour with which bay trees grow in Mediterranean woodland.  Be that as it may, I have retained it.

1. Fret not at evildoers, nor their song;
Nor envy those who give their lives to wrong,
2. For soon will they flag, droop and fade like grass
Like herbage wilt, and so their day will pass.

3. Trust in the LORD; do good; dwell in his land:
Find a safe pasture, a sound place to stand.
4. If in the LORD you place your whole delight,
He’ll grant what your heart’s set within its sight.

5. Give to the LORD your path; do not drop out:
If you trust him, that’s what he’ll bring about.
6. He’ll make your righteousness shine crystal bright
Publish your justice, clear as noonday’s light.

7. Be silent; wait in patience on the LORD.
Don’t fret at one who thrives on what’s abhorred,
Nor envy those who prosper in their schemes,
Who give their lives to chasing evil dreams.

8. Refrain from anger; forsake wrath’s malaise:
It only twists your heart to wicked ways.
9. While evil-doers will be cut off, banned,
Those who hope in the LORD will gain the land.

10. For soon, the wicked will be gone, destroyed.
You’ll look for them, but find their place is void.
11. The meek, though, shall possess the land in peace:
Their pleasure in its plenty shall not cease.

12. The wicked plot against the righteous sort.
They gnash their teeth at those of good report.
13. But with an hour of doom they have a date
For the Lord laughs to see what is their fate.

14. The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow
To break and kill the poor who upright go.
15. That sword shall turn on them to pierce their hearts,
Their bows broken and shattered into parts.

16. The little that the righteous has exceeds
The wicked’s wealth and their abundant deeds,
17. Whose arms and strength shall be destroyed, made nought,
But for the righteous, the LORD’s their support.

18. The LORD knows when the upright can be sure:
Their heritage for ever is secure.
19. They’ll not be shamed when times are bad or ill:
When famine comes, they will have plenty still.

20. The wicked shall all perish, shall be flayed.
Like the best of the meadows, they shall fade.
The enëmies of the LORD all shall choke,
Shall vanish and shall disappear like smoke .

21. The wicked borrow but do not repay,
The righteous though are gracious, give each day.
22. While those that are bless’d shall possess the land,
Those cursed shall be cut off; they shall not stand.

23. The upright’s steps In the LORD are well braced;
In his way, he delights to see them placed
24. Stumble you may; you will not fall headlong:
The LORD’s hand holds you, will keep you from wrong.

25. I was young, now am old but never saw
The righteous dropped, their children begging, poor.
26. Day after day, they’re gracious and they lend:
Their children made a blessing and a friend.

27. Quit evil; do good; from wrong turn aside.
Choose what’s right and for ever you’ll abide.
28. The LORD loves justice, verdicts not opaque:
The godly faithful he does not forsake.

29.He keeps them ever in a safe redoubt,
While the wicked’s children shall be rubbed out.
30. The righteous shall come to possess the land,
Dwell there for ever, live by his command.

31. From righteous mouths comes a wisdom that’s true,
Their tongues spell out what just verdicts will do.
32. The law of their God dwells within each heart:
So their steps neither slip nor fall apart.

33. The wicked watch the righteous for they seek
To find a way to kill the just and meek.
34. The LORD will not leave his own in their sway.
To see a court convict them as their prey.

35. Wait on the LORD, choose his way, his hope too:
He will lift up, exalt and support you,
To take the land, to compass it about,
And see the wicked are cut off, wiped out.

36. A wicked, ruthless person I did see,
Who seemed to flourish as the green bay tree;
37. But they passed on; no more were they around.
I looked again but they could not be found.

38. You blameless mark and you upright behold.
For those who love peace a future is told.
39. But villains shall be wiped out, come to nought,
The wicked’s future totally cut short.

40. The righteous knows salvation from the LORD:
In trouble he’s their fortress, help, reward.
41. From the wicked, their rescue he shall be:
He saves them because their refuge is he.

Comfort ye, Comfort ye.

For those that are curious, this is Catherine Winkworth’s rendering of Is 40:1-5 to fit the tune Genevan 42nd. It is not a CWDP Canticle, but as it is a scriptural text, I have been considering whether or not to add it to Book 6.  It has to be said, though, that it is rather a free rendering.

1 Comfort, comfort now my people; ~ speak of peace: so says our God.
Comfort those who sit in darkness, ~ mourning under sorrow’s load.
Cry out to Jerusalem ~ of the peace that waits for them;
Tell her that her sins I cover ~ and her warfare now is over.

2 For the herald’s voice is crying ~ in the desert far and near,
Calling all to true repentance, ~ since the kingdom now is here.
Oh, that warning cry obey! ~ Now prepare for God a way!
Let the valleys rise to meet him ~ and the hills bow down to greet him.

3 Then make straight what long was crooked; ~ make the rougher places plain.
Let your hearts be true and humble, ~ as befits his holy reign.
For the glory of the Lord ~ now on earth is shed abroad,
And all flesh shall see the token ~ that God’s word is never broken.

As a piece of trivia, from 1862-74 Catherine Winkworth and her sister Susanna lived less than a mile from where I happen to be writing these words. Their onetime house carries a blue plaque.


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