Friday, September 23, 2011

Sir Philip Sydney and Mary Herbert

The act of writing poetry with a constraint goes well beyond 'meaning', and rhyme or pulse.

Here's a comparison of the Hebrew of Psalm 1 with the first poem in that stunning and wonderfully varied collection begun by Sir Philip Sydney and completed by his sister, Mary Herbert, and praised by John Donne.

Can you match the English to the Hebrew? Really quite an insight into the mind of the 16th century poet.

Psalm 1


אַשְׁרֵי הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא הָלַךְ
בַּעֲצַת רְשָׁעִים
וּבְדֶרֶךְ חַטָּאִים לֹא עָמָד
וּבְמוֹשַׁב לֵצִים לֹא יָשָׁב
1He blessed is who neither loosely treads
the straying steps as wicked councel leads
Nor for bad mates in way of sinners waiteth
nor yet himself with idle scorners seateth
כִּי אִם בְּתוֹרַת יְהוָה חֶפְצוֹ
וּבְתוֹרָתוֹ יֶהְגֶּה יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה
2But on Gods law his whole delight doth bind
Which night and day he calls to marking mind
וְהָיָה כְּעֵץ
שָׁתוּל עַל פַּלְגֵי-מָיִם
אֲשֶׁר פִּרְיוֹ יִתֵּן בְּעִתּוֹ
וְעָלֵהוּ לֹא יִבּוֹל
וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר-יַעֲשֶׂה
3He shall be like a freshly planted tree
To which sweet springs of waters neighbours be
Whose branches fail not timely fruit to nourish
Nor withered leaf shall make it fail to flourish
So all the things whereto that man doth bend
Shall prosper still with well succeeding end
לֹא-כֵן הָרְשָׁעִים
כִּי אִם כַּמֹּץ אֲשֶׁר-תִּדְּפֶנּוּ רוּחַ
4Such blessing shall not wicked wretches see
But like wild chaff with wind shall scattered be
עַל-כֵּן לֹא-יָקֻמוּ רְשָׁעִים
 בַּעֲדַת צַדִּיקִים
5For neither shall the men in sin delighted
Consist when they to highest doom are cited
Ne yet shall suffered be their place to take
Where goodly men do their assembly make
כִּי-יוֹדֵעַ יְהוָה
דֶּרֶךְ צַדִּיקִים
וְדֶרֶךְ רְשָׁעִים
6For God doth know and knowing doth approve
the trade of them that just proceedings love
but they that in sinfull breast do cherish
The way they go shall be their way to perish