Thursday, 16 February 2012

Psalm Translations: Like as the hart

Today I'm going to post a few translations of Psalm 41 (42), best known from its opening line: "Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O God." Let's start with the Latin version and Palestrina's magnificent setting of some of its verses:

1. Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum: ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus.
2. Sitivit anima mea ad Deum fortem vivum: quando veniam et apparebo ante faciem Dei?
3. Fuerunt mihi lacrimæ meæ panes die ac nocte: dum dicitur mihi quotidie, ubi est Deus tuus?
4. Hæc recordatus sum, et effudi in me animam meam: quoniam transibo in locum tabernaculi admirabilis, usque ad domum Dei, in voce exultationis et confessionis, sonus epulantis.
5. Quare tristis es, anima mea, et quare conturbas me? Spera in Deo quoniam confitebor illi, salutare vultus mei.
6. et Deus meus. Ad me ipsum anima mea conturbata est: propterea memor ero tui de terra Iordanis et Hermoniim a monte modico.
7. Abyssus abyssum invocat, in voce cataractarum tuarum omnia: excelsa tua, et fluctus tui super me transierunt.
8. In die mandavit Dominus misericordiam suam, et nocte canticum eius: apud me oratio Deo vitæ meæ.
9. Dicam Deo, susceptor meus es: quare oblitus es mei? et quare contristatus incedo, dum affligit me inimicus?
10. Dum confringuntur ossa mea, exprobraverunt mihi qui tribulant me, dum dicunt mihi per singulos dies: ubi est Deus tuus?
11. Quare tristis es, anima mea, et quare conturbas me? Spera in Deum quoniam adhuc confitebor illi, salutare vultus mei, et Deus meus.

This is the translation most familiar to me, from the Book of Common Prayer:

1. Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks : so longeth my soul after thee, O God.
2. My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God : when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?
3. My tears have been my meat day and night : while they daily say unto me, Where is now thy God?
4. Now when I think thereupon, I pour out my heart by myself : for I went with the multitude, and brought them forth into the house of God;
5. In the voice of praise and thanksgiving : among such as keep holy-day.
6. Why art thou so full of heaviness, O my soul : and why art thou so disquieted within me?
7. Put thy trust in God : for I will yet give him thanks for the help of his countenance.
8. My God, my soul is vexed within me : therefore will I remember thee concerning the land of Jordan, and the little hill of Hermon.
9. One deep calleth another, because of the noise of the water-pipes : all thy waves and storms are gone over me.
10. The Lord hath granted his loving-kindness in the day-time : and in the night-season did I sing of him, and made my prayer unto the God of my life.
11. I will say unto the God of my strength, Why hast thou forgotten me : why go I thus heavily, while the enemy oppresseth me?
12. My bones are smitten asunder as with a sword : while mine enemies that trouble me cast me in the teeth;
13. Namely, while they say daily unto me : Where is now thy God?
14. Why art thou so vexed, O my soul : and why art thou so disquieted within me?
15. O put thy trust in God : for I will yet thank him, which is the help of my countenance, and my God.

Beautiful. So that's Miles Coverdale's translation of c.1540; going back about 150 years (to the last decade of the 14th century), here's a Wycliffite translation:

1. As an hert desirith to the wellis of watris; so thou, God, my soule desirith to thee.
2. Mi soule thirstide to God, that [i.e. who] is a quik [i.e. living] welle; whanne schal Y come, and appere bifor the face of God?
3. Mi teeris weren looues [i.e. loaves - translating panes] to me bi dai and nyyt; while it is seid to me ech dai, Where is thi God?
4. I bithouyte of these thingis, and Y schedde out in me my soule; for Y schal passe in to the place of the wondurful tabernacle, til to the hows of God. In the vois of ful out ioiyng and knoulechyng; is the sown [i.e. sound] of the etere.
5. Mi soule, whi art thou sory; and whi disturblist thou me? Hope thou in God, for yit Y schal knouleche to hym; he is the helthe of my cheer,
6. and my God. My soule is disturblid at my silf; therfor, God, Y schal be myndeful of thee fro the lond of Jordan, and fro the litil hil Hermonyim.
7. Depthe clepith depthe in the vois of thi wyndows. Alle thin hiye thingis and thi wawis passiden ouer me.
8 The Lord sente his merci in the dai, and his song in the nyyt.
9 At me is a preier to the God of my liif; Y schal seie to God, Thou art my takere vp. Whi foryetist thou me; and whi go Y sorewful, while the enemy turmentith me?
10 While my boonys ben brokun togidere; myn enemyes, that troblen me, dispiseden me. While thei seien to me, bi alle daies; Where is thi God?
11 Mi soule, whi art thou sori; and whi disturblist thou me? Hope thou in God, for yit Y schal knouleche to hym; he is the helthe of my cheer, and my God.

That phrase in verse 7, 'the vois of thi wyndows', struck me as extremely odd; how can cataractarum possibly be translated as 'windows', I asked myself? So I went to the OED, which is enlightening as always (under 'window', 3b):

windows of heaven n. openings in the firmament through which rain was thought to pour. A literalism from Hebrew 'ărubbōth hashshāmayim, which is rendered in the LXX by καταρράκται τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, in the Vulgate by cataractæ cæli = ‘the floodgates of heaven’ (Douay version); in the early Wycliffite version ‘the goteris of heuene’: cf. cataract n. 1.

And under 'cataract', 1a:

pl. The ‘flood-gates’ of heaven, viewed as keeping back the rain (with reference to Gen. vii. 11, viii. 2, where Hebrew has 'rbt lattices, windows, LXX καταρράκται, Vulgate cataractæ, the former prob., the latter certainly, = flood-gates, sluices; hence also French cataractes du ciel). This, the earliest use in English, is now Obs.

Obsolete - I should say so! But how interesting. So that's the connection between windows and waterspouts.

The other bit of linguistic history which this translation gets us into is medieval words for 'sad' - a nice cheerful subject! The Wycliffite translation perfectly illustrates the semantic change in the word 'sorry' since its Old English beginnings. Old English sarig means 'sorrowful, sad', though the word is actually etymologically unrelated to sorrow but instead belongs with sore (and cognate words from other Germanic languages have a semantic range including painful, sensitive, scabby as well as sad). However, to quote the OED once more:

Already in Old English [sorry was] closely associated with the etymologically unrelated word sorrow n. (and its derivatives), which occupied the same semantic field of distress and suffering... As a result, sorrow n. has exerted semantic and possibly formal influence on the present word. While cognates of sorry adj. and the related words sore n.1 and sore adj.1 denote both physical and mental suffering in early use (and are now largely restricted to aspects of pain), sorrow n. and its cognates primarily express the idea of mental and emotional suffering, and the narrowing of the present word to this branch of meaning has been attributed to its long-standing association with sorrow n.

You can see easily enough how this development would come about, and in the Wycliffite translation sorry evidently means 'sorrowful' - sorry is used to translate tristis and sorrowful to translate contristatus, so the translator obviously saw these words as related. We would not use sorry in this way today, but it's still comprehensible; perhaps more so than Coverdale's 'full of heaviness'.

That's not the case for the word our second medieval translation uses for tristis, which is dreary. This is from the thirteenth-century Surtees Psalter:

1. Als yhernes hert at welles of watres to be,
Swa yhernes mi saule, god, to þe.

2. Thristed mi saule night an dai
To god, quicke welle þat es ai:
When I sal come and schewen in sighte
Bifor þe face ofe god ofe mighte.

3. Mine teres vnto me þai wore
Laues dai and night þarfore,
Whil ilkadai es said to me:
“Whare es þi god? what es he?”

4. Þis haf I mined what mai be,
And I yhet mi saule in me:
When I sal fare in stede of selkouth telde,
Vnto þe hous ofe god to welde,

5. In steuen of gladschip and ofe schrifte—
Dine of etand þat es swifte.

6. Whi, mi saule, dreri ertou?
And whi todroues þou me nou?

7. Hope in god; for yhit sal I to him schriue,
Hele of mi face, and mi god ofe liue.

8. Mi saule todreued es at me;
For þat sal I mine ofe þe
Ofe þe land of Iordan, and Hermon
Ofe þe littel hille on-on.

9. Depnes depnes inkalles hegh,
In steuen of þi takenes slegh;

10. Alle þi heghnes and stremes of þe
Forth þai ferden ouer me.

11. In dai sent lauerd his merci,
And bi night his sange for-þi.

12. At me bede to god of mi life nou.
I sal sai to god: mi fanger ertou;

13. Wharfore, if þi wille be,
Haues þou forgeten me?
And wharfore murned in I go,
Whil þat twinges me þe fo?

14. Whil broken ere mi banes on-an
Vpbraided me þat droue, mi fan,

15. Whil al dai þai sain to me:
"Whare is þi god, whare is he?"

16. Whi, mi saule, driried ertou?
And whi todroues þou me nou?

17. Hope in god, for yhit sal I to him schriue,
Hele of mi face, and mi god of liue.

Now dreary has experienced a drastic semantic shift, somewhat parallel to that undergone by the word moody which I've discussed before (here and here). You presumably know what dreary means today - 'dull, boring, causing sadness or gloom', as one online dictionary has it. This is a considerable weakening of its medieval meaning, as you can see from its etymology:

Old English dréorig gory, bloody, sorrowful, sad, < dréor gore, falling blood, apparently < Old Germanic type *dreuzo-z; in ablaut relation to Old Saxon drôr , Old High German trôr gore, blood ( < *drauzo-z), and to Old Norse dreyri ( < drauzon-) gore, blood, whence dreyrigr gory, bloody. Generally referred to the verbal ablaut stem *dreuz- , Old English dréosan to drop, fall.

In Old and Middle English it can thus mean 'gory, dripping with blood' and 'cruel, hateful, terrifying', as well as 'sad, sorrowful'. From 'sorrowful' it came to mean 'dismal, gloomy' around the middle of the seventeenth century, but didn't really take on the weaker meaning of 'dull, boring' until the end of the nineteenth.

It continued to mean 'sorrowful' well into the nineteenth century; you may be familiar with the hymn 'Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us', written by James Edmeston (1791-1867), which contains the line, "Lone and dreary, faint and weary, through the desert thou didst go". The meaning here is obviously 'sorrowful', although that has not prevented various ignorant preachers (in my hearing) mocking this line for "calling Jesus boring". Modern hymnals often amend the line, usually to something stupid (one example is splendidly demolished here). This is a great shame, not only because it reminds us how idiotic people can be, but also because dreary is a dignified and heroic word and its previous meaning, though now obsolete in everyday speech, shouldn't be airbrushed out of our language. The word appears in Beowulf, for goodness' sake; are we too clever to sing it in church? Congregations understand that language changes; the chapel where I heard the preacher make fun of it still sings Coverdale's psalms (heaviness and all), so you'd think we could cope with dreary.

Anyway, that's my little rant over. Let's close with Philip Sidney's beautiful version of Psalm 42 (note that he also uses sorry):

1. As the chased hart, which brayeth
Seeking some refreshing brook,
So my soul in panting playeth,
Thirsting on my God to look.
My soul thirsts indeed in me
After ever-living Thee;
Ah, when comes my blessed being,
Of Thy face to have a seeing?

2. Day and night my tears out flowing
Have been my ill-feeding food,
With their daily questions throwing,
Where is now thy God so good?
My heart melts rememb'ring so,
How in troops I want to go:
Leading them, His praises singing,
Holy dance to God's house bringing.

3. Why art thou, my soul, so sorry
And in me so much dismayed?
Wait on God, for yet His glory
In my song shall be displayed,
When but with one look of His
He shall me restore to bliss
Ah, my soul itself appalleth,
In such longing thoughts it falleth.

4. For my mind on my God bideth,
Ev'n from Hermon's dwelling led,
From the grounds where Jordan slideth,
And from Mizzar's hilly head.
One deep with noise of his fall
Other deeps of woe doth call:
While my God, with wasting wonders,
On me, wretch, His tempest thunders.

5. All Thy floods on me abounded,
Over me all Thy waves went:
Yet thus still my hope is grounded
That, Thy anger being spent,
I by day Thy love shall taste,
I by night shall singing last,
Praying, prayers still bequeathing,
To my God that gave me breathing.

6. I will say, O Lord, my tower,
Why am I forgot by Thee?
Why should grief my heart devour,
While the foe oppresseth me?
Those vile scoffs of naughty ones
Wound and rent me to the bones,
When foes ask, with foul deriding,
Where hath now your God His biding?

7. Why art thou, my soul, so sorry,
And in me so much dismayed?
Wait on God, for yet His glory
In my song shall be displayed.
Unto Him a song of praise
Still my thankful heart shall raise;
He who helps my case distressed,
Even my God for ever blessed.

As well as Palestrina, other musical settings of words from this psalm include:

Orlando di Lasso's 'Quare tristis es, anima mea?'.
Settings of 'Was betrübst du dich, meine Seele?' by J. S. Bach and Heinrich Schütz
Mendolssohn's 'As the hart pants'
Handel's 'As the hart pants' (only part of which is on youtube, as far as I could see)

And perhaps most famously, Herbert Howells:

P.S. All the above links are worth checking out, but if you do nothing else you absolutely must watch this wonderful little video:

1 comment:

heliopause said...

This is wonderful to read -- I've just been through the word "dreary". Thank you.