Friday, 4 November 2011

Psalm Translations: I will lift up mine eyes

In a long-delayed follow-up to this post, here are some medieval translations of Psalm 121, which in the King James Bible goes like this:

1. I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
2. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.
3. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
4. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
5. The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand.
6. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
7. The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
8. The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

The youtube video has nothing to do with translations of this psalm (though for reference, it is of course the text of the Book of Common Prayer, not the KJV), but my goodness, it is beautiful. Anglican chant is one of the loveliest things in the world.

Anyway, this is the same psalm in the Wycliffite Bible (late 14th century):

1. I reiside myn iyen to the hillis; fro whannus help schal come to me.
2. Myn help is of the Lord; that made heuene and erthe.
3. The Lord yyue not thi foot in to mouyng; nether he nappe, that kepith thee.
4. Lo! he schal not nappe, nether slepe; that kepith Israel.
5. The Lord kepith thee; the Lord is thi proteccioun aboue thi riythond.
6. The sunne schal not brenne thee bi dai; nether the moone bi nyyt.
7. The Lord kepe thee fro al yuel; the Lord kepe thi soule.
8. The Lord kepe thi goyng in and thi goyng out; fro this tyme now and in to the world.

To be honest, the thing that strikes me about this translation is not very scholarly or devout: the word 'nap' is really funny. We can be glad that subsequent translators have decided that 'slumber', a considerably more dignified word, was more appropriate. A good number of the citations for nappen in the Middle English Dictionary are from Wycliffite texts, so either it didn't seem comical to them or it was part of the 'everyday diction' thing they had going on.

The repetition of keep and keepeth follows the Latin Vulgate, which has custodit or custodiat six times in eight verses; the KJV, note, has versions of 'keep' three times and then switches to 'preserve' (also three times) to translate the same word. Who knows what they thought the difference was.

For comparison, this is a rhymed version from the Surtees Psalter, from thirteenth-century Yorkshire:

1. I houe mine eghen in hilles, to se
Whethen sal come helpe to me.

[according to the OED, hove meaning 'raise' has been obsolete for a few centuries now, but it's related to Modern English heave. Whethen = whence]

2. Mi helpe sal be lauerd fra,
Þat maked heuen, erthe als-swa.

[fra = from; the first line scans in Middle English because lauerd, 'lord', has two syllables, from OE hlaford]

3. Noght in stiringe mi fote giue he,
Ne he sal slepe þat yhemes þe.

[yeme, 'to care for, to guard', didn't make it out of the Middle English period, but it's a nice word. This was the translator's choice for custodit, and it's a good one.]

4. Loke noght sal slepe ne, slepe sal wele,
Whilke þat yhemes Iraele.

[no napping here. Whilke = that same one]

5. Lauerd yhemes þe, lauerd þi schilder be
Ouer þe righthand ofe þe.

6. Bi dai noght þe sunne skalde þe sal
Ne þe mone bi night with-al.

7. Lauerd fra alle iuel yheme þe;
Lauerd þi saule yheme he.

8. Lauerd yheme þine ingange and þine outgange,
Fra hethen and in to werlde lange.

[hethen = hence]

'in to werlde lange' in the last verse is the same phrase as the Wycliffite 'in to the world', both attempting to translate 'in saeculum'. We're so used to 'world without end' now that other versions of it sound odd, but Old and Middle English had a number of versions of the phrase. The OED is instructive on the subject:

In various phrases with the sense ‘for ever and ever, for all time, throughout eternity’. Chiefly in religious context or with religious connotation. [After various post-classical Latin phrases containing saeculum, e.g. usque in saeculum, in saeculum saeculi, in saecula saeculorum, all attested in the Vulgate, in turn after various Hellenistic Greek phrases containing αἰών aeon n. (e.g. εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, εἰς αἰῶνα αἰῶνος, ἕως τοῦ αἰῶνος τῶν αἰώνων) in the Septuagint, which render various biblical Hebrew phrases containing ʿōlām age, aeon, long duration (in post-biblical Hebrew also ‘world’).
Post-classical Latin in saeculum saeculi and in saecula saeculorum (and their Greek models) imitate a biblical Hebrew idiom expressing a superlative or elative, also seen in e.g. holy of holies n. at holy n. 5 (see note at that entry) and Song of Songs at song n. 2b, in which the construct state of a noun is followed by the plural of its absolute state; although this construction is apparently unattested with ʿōlām , compare synonymous biblical Hebrew phrases like lĕ-ʿōlām wā-ʿeḏ ‘for ever and ever’, lit. ‘to ages and ages’, where ʿōlām is paired with its near synonym ʿeḏ ‘perpetuity’.]

The various phrases are:

a. to (also oth on, into, unto) (the) world. Obs.
Quotations from OE to c.1425.

b. in (the) world of world(s) (also in to (occas. to, through) (the) world(s) of world(s)). In Old English (and early Middle English) on (also þurh, geond) worulda woruld. Obs.
Quotations from OE to ?1591.

c. Similarly in (also into, through) all (the) worlds (of worlds) (in Old English (and early Middle English) on (also þurh, geond) ealra worulda woruld). Also in (or for) everlasting worlds, world always. Obs. (arch. in later use).
Quotations from OE to 1842 - the last is Tennyson, the one considered archaic, presumably: I heard his deep ‘I will’, Breathed, like the covenant of a God, to hold From thence thro' all the worlds.

e. from world into world(s). Also fro the world and in to the world. Obs.
Quotations from c.1225-1447.

And on 'world without end':

d. (a) world (occas. worlds) without end. In later use also hyperbolically: endlessly, eternally, for ever. In Old English (and early Middle English) also (on, to) worulde (a) butan ende.
[Frequently used to translate the post-classical Latin phrases saeculum saeculi, saecula saeculorum, etc.; especially with reference to the final words of the doxology, after its post-classical Latin text sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum, lit. ‘as it was in the beginning, and now, and always, and in the ages of ages’, itself after Hellenistic Greek καὶ νῦν καὶ ἀεὶ καὶ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων , lit. ‘now as well as always and into the ages of the ages’. In a biblical context the phrase world without end is first attested translating post-classical Latin saeculum saeculi (and variants) in Coverdale's Bible and also appears in the A.V., but quot. lOE (which does not translate a known Latin original) shows that an equivalent phrase was used in one English version of the doxology at an earlier date... Compare also Anglo-Norman secle sanz fin (c1240 or earlier).]


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