Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Psalm 27 - a reflection

I recently updated my translation of Psalm 27, our lectionary psalm on Sunday. I am still in favour of terse poetry when translating Hebrew. But that doesn't stop the elaboration of the prayer. I have coloured what may be keywords in the psalm. These are words that bind the thought of the psalm together. They are often repeated in patterns - so stop. look. and listen. as you 'read'. (Also see the link below to Neale's commentary now fully online and rich in detail of the reception history of the psalms within Christendom.)

of David
This is a song of the beloved for the gifts known in a complex and troubled world
my light and my deliverance
whom will I fear?
the strength of my life
whom will I dread?
Do we need the copula - an endless progression of forms of the verb 'to be'?  Does the translator have to force one reading of the text? (It is common for the translator to spell out one of many possible ways of combining nouns in Hebrew verbless clauses. This is sometimes more a paraphrase than a translation. It is always a choice.)
in drawing near to me
 to break
to eat even my flesh
my troublers and my enemies
I used 'break' to allude to psalm 2 - 'you will break them with a rod of iron'. Also reflecting on the Eucharist, break and eat show the king absorbing the evil brought against him.
they - to me
they stumbled and fell
You can make one sentence out of these 6 lines as in the traditional translation (When the wicked, [even] mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.) but why not pause and savour the construction? The pronoun 'they' is explicit and the construction 'to me' is repeated. Here is the warning not to eat the Eucharist lightly. (See the comment on this verse in the link to Neale below where this idea is also expressed in the Gallican tradition.)

If an army against me is armed
my heart will not fear
if war arises against me
in this I - even I will trust
'this' is unspecified as to its antecedent. Is it the confidence of verse 1 or does it refer to the armies armed against me? I have repeated the 'I' since the pronoun is (again unnecessarily) explicit in the Hebrew.
One thing I have desired from יְהוָה
 that thing I will seek
that I may live in the house of יְהוָה
all the days of my life
to gaze on the beauty of יְהוָה
 and to reflect in his temple
What in his temple will I reflect? Or is the gloss 'inquire' better? I chose reflect because of the visual sense of the prior word and the 'seek' is already suggesting determined inquiry.
for he will treasure me in his booth in a day of evil
he will hide me hidden in his tent
on a rock he will raise me up
Some degree of concordance is required to show the poet's use of language even in translation - so I have chosen 'hide' for those roots related to hide and treasure for the other (re treasure compare Exodus 2:2-3 and Song 7:13 - the word is also a theme in Job. See my brief and incomplete word study on cover, secret, hide, conceal, withdraw.)
and now my head will be raised up above my enemies surrounding me
and I will offer in his tent sacrifices of joy
Sacrifice and offering from the one who is raised up. I wonder if people have used this as anticipation of the intercession of the risen Jesus as described by the letter to the Hebrews. (See what you can find in J. M. Neale 4 volume commentary on the Psalms, primitive and medieval writers and from the various office books and hymns of the Roman, Mozarabic, Ambrosian, Gallican, Greek, Coptic, Armenian, and Syriac Rites. Online and open at the right page here.)
I will sing and I will give praise to יְהוָה
Hear יְהוָה
my voice
I will call
have mercy on me and answer me
The encounter is heart to heart and face to face.
You said to my heart
seek my face
even your face יְהוָה
I will seek

do not hide your face from me
do not push your servant away in anger
Notice how hide surrounds this part of the text. I always look for such repetition in prose and poetry.
There is a little motet by Farrant based on this verse.

You became my help
you will not leave me and you will not forsake me
O God of my deliverance
for my father and my mother forsake me
but יְהוָה
will gather me
I did not use salvation but deliverance here and above. I like salvation but it is so talked about that we cannot hear its impact. Deliverance followed by trouble is the outer envelope of this psalm. Evil turns up once in the middle too itself surrounded by the seek-hide paired sequence.
Teach me יְהוָה
your way
and lead me in a plain path for the sake of my watchers
do not give me to the throat of my troublers
for false witnesses are set against me breathing violence
Who are the players in this psalm: the troublers, the enemies, the watchers, the false witnesses? (The watchers as a word occurs 5 times only and all these are in the psalms. That gloss for (shurar) שורר is in BDB  page 1004 but is not noted in my Hebrew-Latin concordance. The KJV renders the word as enemies - but what sort of enemies? Plug it into Google translate and see what you get.)
...what if I had not believed I would see the goodness of יְהוָה
in the land of the living?
One could see life and living as another word pairing.
wait on יְהוָה
be resolute and he will assure your heart
so wait on יְהוָה

No comments: