Thursday, September 20, 2007

Psalm 51 - is this prosody or what?

Here is a picture of psalm 51 - colors muted - in the form of 4 stanzas English-Hebrew here, French-Hebrew here. If you are interested - count the versets, lines, strophes etc and see if I have followed John's general rule. I have to admit it is not that easy to juggle and occasionally I feel a bit arbitrary. The stanzas appear to have some conceptual coherence. [French courtesy of Les psaumes redécouverts (51-100) by Marc Girard, Bellarmin 1994]

Now to content - I have not marked enough of the Hebrew sound patterns though my coloring on the original is fantastical. There are the obvious four words for sin, guilt, transgression, and evil where in translation we must find equivalent differences. Then there are less obvious verbal repetitions which even in my raw translation of 9 months ago I have used creative synonyms instead of the same word (but the colors are consistent). E.g. I translated מְחֵה as blot out and erase. I have sinned against this poem in so doing. It is part of a 4-word concentric form that should be maintained: in the English blot out - wash - purify - know - know - pure - wash - erase. That must have been deliberate.

The edge of this circle intersects with the last stanza through sacrificial imagery - offer-rejoice-crush (not symmetric). This in turn surrounds the poet's prayer for renewal - clean heart, new spirit, not to be abandoned.

There are then more subtle relations: like face, eyes, presence, in front of / make evident ... and hide / hidden wisdom, the crushed bones = contrite heart.

I know this psalm in my body and life better perhaps than any - but I cannot translate it yet. I know from John's post that neither Alter nor Kugel is satisfactory. I will try later - how much later I am not sure. I know that if the concentric structure I have already pointed out is to be preserved, then those words must not be used synonymously anywhere else in the circles. And verses 6-8 are the critical centre - what is it that they mean? That God is just and David agrees. That David recognizes his emptiness from his beginnings. That God will teach him yet - wisdom secretly.

1 comment:

John said...

In verses 12 and 19, I think the rhythm changes up to (2:2) (2:2). No wonder: these are "peaks" in the composition.

A response to your sense of arbitrariness in scanning AHP. I understand that. What would have been obvious to people then - the conventions of their native poetry - is not going to be obvious to us. We see through a glass darkly.