Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What have I done to the psalms?

In these past 8 weeks I have concentrated on reading out loud in Hebrew. If you have tried with a typical TNK you know how hard it is. The letters are difficult to decipher especially gimel and nun where the print is just too small and the little notch at the base of gimel is invisible. You look at the average TNK for the psalms, and the words are completely mystifying as to the rationale for their placement on the page.

If you read as I have from the four column parallel Hebrew-RSV - NETS - LXX, your eye is constantly jumping from line to line with the conflicting psalm and verse numbers. That's just how it is. The online tools are helpful but they just don't give me what I want to see as well as hear. Mechon-Mamre makes no attempt to show recurrence or to highlight the parallels. There is nowhere that allows the prosodic foot to be seen.  Mosts texts are too concerned about the price of paper to allow visual clues of this nature. We have blocks of text that reveal their riches slowly.

This is what I have done - besides reading, I have laid out the Hebrew and the English side by side so that I can see, feel and hear the parallels and the recurrence and the insistent imperatives in these 150 chapters. And I am beginning to see, feel and hear them. George Herbert's Easter Wings are a good example of prosody gone wild. Maybe there is some of this in the psalms too and we haven't seen it yet.

I continue to work over the presentation and to read carefully and sometimes not so carefully the words and phrases. As I do - sight recognition is improving. Vocabulary retention is improving. I see words that I don't get or that I have translated without reference to possible allusion and I look them up and if necessary fix them in my source and repair them in the post. These posts are perhaps going to be revised and extended over the next year as I evolve the algorithm for finding roots and as I discover things that might be said of these poems along the way. I am now 4 years old in this ancient tongue. I have still a child's perception. But perhaps it can help others learn also how the texts are put together and therefore how the poet thought when they were first performed.

Mostly the Hebrew lines are short - 2, 3, 4 or 5 words. Sometimes I have allowed 1 word on a line to show a parallel later. Where there are 5 or more, it is likely because I have something to fix or that I could not break the English to agree with the Hebrew. I have not intentionally put English words on a line where they do not correspond to the Hebrew, though I might have had to compromise this in an acrostic.

This set of posts is therefore quite foreign to the blog environment, where things are over and done with in a wisp of time. As of this bloggy moment, I have reformatted at least once sometimes twice the emerging forms that I started with, I have reread to Psalm 30, I continue to add musical selections, and I revise and correct whatever else I notice. If there is music or colour in the text, the odds are I have revisited it. I hope it is as much joy to others as it has been to me even this far. Full list of posts here.


  1. Thank you for doing this, and for blogging it. I have an interest in psalmody, but haven't done anywhere near your level of in-depth study.

  2. Kathyrn - very good - thanks for the comment - please feel free to ask and critique as needed. I am in this for the long haul and really hope to learn over the next month as I prep for the conference in Oxford.

  3. "This set of posts is therefore quite foreign to the blog environment"

    Hmmm. That seems to describe my recent series as well. Blogging does force us to think things through, though, doesn't it?

  4. Yes Carl - and I am looking forward to your next post - Rachel means much more to me now than before. Thank-you.