Friday, April 15, 2011

What I am trying to do

In case of interest I thought I would ask the questions Travis asks in his recent posts here and here.

Do I dare write? What is my why, my how, and my what?

Can you say - over your head?  שְׁגִיאוֹת מִי יָבִין (Psalm 19:12) (13 Hebrew)

I have just glossed psalms 64-67. I changed my translation in almost every verse. Missed things, extra-ed things, extraneous things, irrelevant things, things of inertia and 16th century memory. In the last 10 days I have changed, refined, corrected, etc 271 verses out of the total 2525. I am just over 48% through putting all my glosses into the database (9418/19583 - count went up - found some missing words).  To be positive, in the past 70 days I didn't change 2000 verses but I still have 1000+ to review in detail. When I am finished, I will be able to see my decisions on glosses in Hebrew order at a glance - and the remaining perplexities and misfires will stand out like many sore thumbs.

With a little jiggery-pokery I could probably figure out how to sort them by the longest English part of the gloss to see how many times I have failed to find a suitable separate English gloss for differing Hebrew words.

It seems that 45 years in data processing has taught me methods for finding my own errors (or at least being consistently wrong).

Undoubtedly that will give me more reason to ask if more precision is possible. This exercise is mine - but anyone can chime in - anytime.  Some of you know it is a part of my futility.  But it is learning and it is polishing and it makes the poems more transparent for me.  It shakes me out of my complacent reading and lazy memory.  It forces me to think when I implicitly move from cause to effect, from forcing one reading rather than allowing many, and from missing connections that maybe should be there. Hey! - it's also fun or I wouldn't be doing it. It's just possible that I may discover something.

So what am I doing: transparency of the poems - that's what. There may be times when I will not dare. For instance I was thinking about Psalm 31:13 (14 Hebrew)
 יַחַד עָלַי לָקַחַת נַפְשִׁי זָמָמוּ 
and wondering if snatch, even rape might be a possible gloss. (This word is used in Ruth when Boaz takes a quorum, and then takes Ruth, and when Naomi takes the child - all in chapter 4 - so it is a harmless enough word with wide usage like 'take' in English).

In this same verse we have one of the words that are very hard to make transparent in translation. נפשׁ is such a one. It could be one of several glosses: life, me, self, being, soul, throat, or even not translated. Maybe this verse could be rendered
'together against me they plan to throttle me.' 
But it would be hard in the translation to see or hear the recurrence with נפשׁ in the earlier and later verses. Eventually I let it be this (for now, tame):
they planned together against me to lay hold of my being
(Translation here - anyone who wants can comment. I know, I know.)  Soul, by the way, is not in my language. I love the word, but I never use it.

So why am I doing this? In a word, there's something good in the Psalms. The New Testament writers loved these poems. So why shouldn't I? There is ancient Eliot, Donne, Herbert, Milton, and Pembroke in this collection and they are all passionate about something. You can see my bias towards the metaphysicals. I never liked poetry much till I sang Donne's Holy Sonnets (Britten) and had to slow down my reading. How long does it take to learn to love language?

This 'why' is difficult to put in so many words. It is in the gaps. Like Debussy's music. It was, you may say ...

In short, the experience that the poet records in this historical collection - holds too much to ignore. And the NT authors knew it.

So how? I use layout, tables, computer (Oracle) to hold the intricate relations and possible allusions, always searching, knowing a little, waiting for several weeks or months before publishing notes - give them time to simmer, updating all my previous 150 posts from last year as I refine the translations - ! - very unbloglike altogether.  Probably should have waited longer - anyone who can change hundreds of verses in 10 days must have earlier had only one eye half open. And sometimes I changed them back again - but not often.

And dedication? It may be observable. I haven't been counting my hours - probably running around 60 a week some weeks these past months, but more like 40 most weeks - spread over 7 days and evenings. But there have been many more over the past five years in this bootstrap process and I am trying to put to bed a complete draft before October when I begin a fellowship at the University of Victoria. It's part of my serious preparation. I hope to figure out ways of presenting these ideas at that time and listening to whatever interest and feedback they stimulate.