A multiplicity of translations

Over at the Liturgy blog, Rev Bosco Peters has a series of posts on the new Revised Grail Psalter. In the first post he links to the full text of the psalter, and laments the multiplicity of translations, though he does say “An English psalter for worship needs to balance accuracy on the one hand with rhythm for proclaiming, chanting, and singing on the other.” I don’t have the book he recommends as an accurate translation — though it is inexpensive and I might well look into it. If I am curious about translations I go first to the Psalter Kata Bob.

In a second blog post, Rev Bosco goes on to lament the use of antiphons coming from the Revised Grail Psalter (which is translated directly from the Hebrew) together with others coming from the Latin Mass. In addition to not fulfilling Liturgiam authenticam, which is defined as a translation of the Latin Mass, this leads to a certain lack of liturgical coherence. I am sure that this is regrettable, but as at St Andrew’s we use the Common Worship texts it doesn’t affect me directly.

In a third blog post, Psalm 2 is appraised with regard to translation and sources; it appears to be something of a mash-up between the original Grail translations, the NRSV, and new translations for the Revised Grail Psalter. Interesting; I don’t know how much of this sort of mashing-up is present in other psalm translations. But I thought I might present some other translations of Psalm 2:

There is the 1662 Book of Common Prayer version, of course:
Quare fremuerunt gentes?

WHY do the heathen so furiously rage together : and why do the people imagine a vain thing?

2 The kings of the earth stand up, and the rulers take counsel together : against the Lord, and against his Anointed:

3 Let us break their bonds asunder : and cast away their cords from us.

4 He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh them to scorn : the Lord shall have them in derision.

5 Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath : and vex them in his sore displeasure:

6 Yet have I set my King : upon my holy hill of Sion.

7 I will preach the law : whereof the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.

8 Desire of me, and I shall give thee the nations for thine inheritance, : and the utmost parts of the earth for thy possession.

9 Thou shalt bruise them with a rod of iron : and break them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.

10 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings : be learned, ye that are judges of the earth.

11 Serve the Lord in fear : and rejoice unto him with reverence.

12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and so ye perish from the right way, if his wrath be kindled, (yea but a little) blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

There is the “Old Version”, a metrical setting of the text by Sternhold and Hopkins:

1 Why did the Gentiles tumults raise?
What rage was in their brain?
Why do the people still contrive
a thing that is but vain?

2 The kings and rulers of the earth
conspire and are all bent
Against the Lord, and Christ his Son,
whom he among us sent.

3 Shall we be bound to them? Say they,
let all their bonds be broke;
And of their doctrine and their law
let us reject the yoke.

4 But he that in the heav’n doth dwell,
their doings will deride;
And make them all as mocking-stocks
throughout the world do wide.

5 For in his wrath he shall reprove
their pride and scornful way,
And in his fury trouble them,
and unto them shall say,

6 I have anointed him my King
upon my holy hill;
I will therefore, Lord, preach thy law
according to thy will:

7 The law whereof the Lord himself
hath thus said unto me,
Thou art my only Son, this day
have I begotten thee.

8 The people I will give to thee,
as heirs at thy request
The ends and coasts of all the earth
by thee shall be possessed.

9 Thou shalt them bruise e’en like to those
that under foot are trod,
And as a potter’s vessel break
them with an iron rod.

10 Now ye, O kings and rulers all,
be wise therefore and learned,
By who the matters of the world
are judged and discerned.

11 See that ye serve the Lord above
in trembling and in fear;
See that with rev’rence ye rejoice
when ye to him draw near:

12 See that ye do embrace and kiss
his Son without delay;
Lest in his wrath ye suddenly
Perish from the right way.

13 If once his wrath (but little) shall
be kindled in his breast,
Then only they that trust in him
shall happy be and blest.

There is the “New Version”, that is, the metrical setting by Tate and Brady:

1 With restless and ungovern’d rage
why do the heathen storm?
Why in such rash attempts engage,
as they can ne’er perform?

2 The great in counsel and in might
their various forces bring;
Against the Lord they all unite,
and his anointed king.

3 “Must we submit to their commands?”
presumptuously they say;
“No, let us break their slavish bands,
and cast their chains away.”

4 But God, who sits enthroned on high,
and sees how they combine,
Does their conspiring strength defy,
and mocks their vain design.

5 Thick clouds of wrath divine shall break
on his rebellious foes;
And thus will he in thunder speak
to all that dare oppose:

6 “Though madly you dispute my will,
the king that I ordain,
“Whose throne is fixed on Zion’s hill,
shall there securely reign.”

7 Attend, O earth, whilst I declare
God’s uncontrolled decree;
“Thou art my Son, this day my heir
have I begotten thee.

8 “Ask and receive thy full demands;
thine shall the heathen be;
“The utmost limits of the lands
shall be possessed by thee.

9 “Thy threat’ning scepter thou shalt shake,
and crush them every where;
“As massy bars of iron break
the potter’s brittle ware.”

10 Learn then, ye princes, and give ear,
ye judges of the earth;
11 Worship the Lord with holy fear;
rejoice with awful mirth.

12 Appease the Son with due respect,
your timely homage pay;
Lest he revenge the bold neglect,
incensed by your delay.

13 If but in part his anger rise,
who can endure the flame?
Then blest are they whose hope relies
on his most holy name.

More recently there is the Common Worship version:

1 Why are the nations in tumult, •
and why do the peoples devise a vain plot?

2 The kings of the earth rise up,
and the rulers take counsel together, •
against the Lord and against his anointed:

3 ‘Let us break their bonds asunder •
and cast away their cords from us.’

4 He who dwells in heaven shall laugh them to scorn; •
the Lord shall have them in derision.

5 Then shall he speak to them in his wrath •
and terrify them in his fury:

6 ‘Yet have I set my king •
upon my holy hill of Zion.’

7 I will proclaim the decree of the Lord; •
he said to me: ‘You are my Son; this day have I begotten you.

8 ‘Ask of me and I will give you the nations for your inheritance •
and the ends of the earth for your possession.

9 ‘You shall break them with a rod of iron •
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.’

10 Now therefore be wise, O kings; •
be prudent, you judges of the earth.

11 Serve the Lord with fear, and with trembling kiss his feet, •
lest he be angry and you perish from the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.

12 Happy are all they •
who take refuge in him.

And then, of course, there is the Latin:

The thing that I find fascinating is that all of these are words I would happily use, in different contexts. I would probably use the metrical settings in congregational worship where people are less familiar with the psalms or with singing chant; the Common Meter texts are easy to sing as a group and the vocabulary is relatively simple, though the translation is a little, er, “free” at times to the point of being quite unsuitable for interfaith gatherings. I would use the Common Worship text for said psalmody as it’s nearer than the other examples to the way people actually speak today; I would use Common Worship or the BCP version for Anglican chant, and either Common Worship or the Latin for plainsong, depending on the type of service. Anglican chant can work in very small and intimate services, as I’ve discovered by attending Evensong at Christchurch Wanstead, but where people want sung, non-metrical psalmody to be performed by a choir and there isn’t already a certain familiarity with Anglican Chant, plainsong seems to work better. I don’t think I’d like to be limited to just one psalter, and I am grateful for the “multiplicity of translations” which others lament. I’m grateful, too, that in the Church of England we are free to use any translation of scripture that is not banned, subject to the approval of the incumbent as per Canon B5 — and as yet, no translation has been banned.

Alas, there’ll be none of it for me tomorrow morning as we have a gradual hymn instead of a psalm. But that’s a post for another day…

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