Psalm 4 Revised

Transfiguration
Abstract

Psalm 4

The version of Psalm 4 in the downloadable version of Book 1 follows Sternhold and Hopkins fairly closely and has retained much of its C16 syntax.  I had felt for some time that it needed attention. The version on my computer even ended up with a note appended to it reading ‘recast’.  Anyway, when I started to update it, I found I could not help rewriting it completely.  This is the result. The previous version had nine stanzas. This has reduced to seven. In future iterations of Book 1 it will replace the current version. It has stayed with Common Metre.

The Words

Because of the references to bed and lying down, Psalm 4 is associated with night time and sleep, and Compline/Night Prayer with a particular recommendation for Mondays in Ordinary Time.

1. God of my righteousness hear me; ~ distressed, I plead your care:
I was constrained; you set me free; ~ be gracious; hear my prayer.

2. You scions of rank how long will you ~ my honour, credit, shame?
How long will you chase vanity ~ and lies that do defame?

3. Know that the LORD has set apart ~ his faithful as his own:
The LORD hears when I call to him ~ in trouble or alone.

4. Tremble before him; do not sin; ~ keep holy fear and dread:
Go, meditate within your heart; ~ be quiet upon your bed.

5. Make righteous sacrifices and ~ put your trust in the LORD.
6. For many say ‘could we but see ~ good that we can applaud?’

6/7. So let your light shine on us LORD. ~ In my heart you enshrine
A joy that’s greater than all their ~ abundant grain and wine.

8. In peace I shall lie down and sleep; ~ in both you treasure me:
For you alone LORD make me dwell ~ in safe tranquility.

There are a few issues with the text. Although it sounds ‘good and biblical’ I do not know what Elohi tzidiqi, “God of my righteousness” meant at the time it was written. The righteousness is definitely ‘mine’ not God’s The possessive is there in the original. To anyone familiar with Reformed theology, it would naturally testify to imputed righteousness. One can even plead Augustine as authority for that interpretation. But how much did David or anyone else even imagine how one could think in those terms before St Paul? The Authorised Version sticks with “O God of my righteousness:”, as do many translations since.  A few, though, do try to gloss a meaning out of it, usually by rendering  tzidiqi , more dynamically, RSV and NRSV ‘O God of my right’, REB, ‘God, the upholder of my right’ and even ‘my righteous God’ (NIV 1984 and 1911). It is though impossible to do that without moving into realms of interpretation.

Translators also seem to have problems with whose glory it is that is being shamed in v2. Because the word is used widely in the Old Testament to speak of God’s glory, does that mean the psalm must have switched focus suddenly?  Must the ‘my’ mean that it is God’s glory, not the psalmist’s? Since it is God who is glorious, wouldn’t it be lèse majesté for the psalmist to speak of his own? However, even if we are uncomfortable speaking of a person having ‘glory’ the underlying word is also used widely to speak of something which people do have, their honour, credit, respect, or even in some contexts, impressive appearance. So I have assumed that the palmists’s ’my’ continues to be himself.

The use of ‘righteous’ in connection with the sacrifices in v 5 undoubtedly carries with it a sense of making the proper, due and correct sacrifices in the proper, due and correct way. Indeed, it is possible that a person of the psalmist’s time might have been unable to conceiving of using of the word ‘righteous’ in conjunction with slaughtering a sacrifice without making that assumption.

Verse 6, though, does seem to include a temporary shift of focus.  However one renders it, it seems to be a brief interjection, an aside. It appears to mean something like ‘there are many people who say “who has or will shown us something good?” ‘ But is it perhaps a question. So is its tone mockery or a sighing semi-despair, ‘would that someone might show us something good?’ Again, translators seem to be undecided. My rendering is intended to convey that ambiguity. I hope it succeeds.

The tune

The Scottish psalter recommends the tune Abbey, Anon in G Major, for the Roux version of this psalm. Book 1 followed that for the previous iteration. Although it is not a particularly exciting tune, I am therefore retaining it. The other recommendation is Oxford Old, Anon in A Minor, which is the tune for this psalm in Playford and is provided for Forget Former Things in Book 6. With its slight ‘early music’ quality, that tune would be particularly suitable when this psalm is used for Compline. There are, though, many other Common Metre tunes that would also be suitable.

It has an odd number of verses and I do not think any verse can be omitted without playing fast and loose with the overall meaning of the psalm. Nevertheless, for Compline especially, it would also work very well in DCM with the addition of the Doxology after the last verse. The tune below, Pentatone, which will in due course be added to the collection as either a ‘spare’ tune or the tune for something else might be particularly suitable. It is by H. Walford Davies (1869-1941).  The version below was taken from one originally in E Major.  Here it has been transposed into E♭Major.  It has also been simplified slightly at the end of the second line. It is possible that the version I was taking it from might even have contained a misprint.

Pentatone in Hymn Format in E♭
Pentatone in Hymn Format in E♭

Here is a link to Pentatone on Soundcloud.

More musings on metre

Many of the metrications I have been working on recently have been canticles, and many of them have been from the New Testament. Rewriting Psalm 4, it struck me once again how naturally many psalms seem to fit Common Metre. The fit is not perfect. The originals were written in Hebrew with a different metrical and musical culture. Common Metre seems to have developed naturally in English sometime in the middle to late Middle Ages, out of our language’s specific speech patterns. But compared with other metres, the underlying structure of a typical psalm, the length of the thoughts in them and the way they are grouped, do seem so often to fit Common Metre in a way that is nothing like so much the case with other passages from scripture, and particularly with those which were not originally written or spoken poetry in Hebrew. Even the subtle flexibility in Common Metre helps this, the way that in Common Metre lines can either be markedly eight and six syllables long, or with enjambment can be a different version of a fourteen syllable line.  Some patterns within that work and some do not, but too rigid a regular eight-six pattern or too regular compliance with a iambic rhythm sounds monotonous.

Of course 10 10 10 10 iambic pentameters are also deeply embedded in the language’s natural speech patterns. For verse intended to be read, spoken or used on the stage, there is no doubt that the fifth metric foot in each line gives space for an extra rhythmic subtlety. For song-writing, though, this makes it less suitable and almost certainly explains why there are fewer hymn tunes in that metre.  Compared with Common Metre tunes, those in that metre are much less likely to be interchangeable. There is usually a natural pause point, a slight caesura, somewhere in a ten foot line, but there are different points in the line where it can come.  Frequently, it does not come at the same point in different lines or the same line in different verses. As poetry, subtle metrical variation between successive verses often contributes to the dynamic of that metre. It does not, though, always make it easier to fit ten syllable lines to music.

I have mentioned before that an issue that does cause problems for writing in Common Metre is the way many modern people dislike word inversions and non-conversational word order. There are good reasons for this objection but all to often this aspiration is at odds with something that is fundamental to the nature of Common Metre.  This is particularly so when one is writing for singing which allows for less flexibility when it comes to adding or reducing the number of syllables in a line. With Common Metre, it also matters which words coincide with the rhymes and the relationship not just between the rhythm of the words and the syllables that carrying the stresses, but also the meaning, which words are more important and which less. Both rhyme and rhythm need to fall on words that carry a natural emphasis. This is not just a matter of rhythmic stress.  It also needs to fit the sense of the line. One needs to accept that and live with it. If it forces a word inversion or a non-conversational word order, so be it.

The picture

An abstract is a recent step for me and a new step for the pictures on these blogs. Let me know what you think. I’d be curious also to know what you think inspired me to paint it.

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