Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Psalms - second attempt

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A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was intending to read and 'chant' through the Psalter (the Book of Psalms in the Bible, specifically the Authorized/ King James version) every month until I began to know them.

Well... I almost managed this for a month, but did not quite keep-up the rate.

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And now it comes to start the cycle again I find that - although the experience was very worthwhile - I seem utterly unable to learn the Psalms - and have only managed four lines of a single Psalm thus far...

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I wondered why this might be, and concluded that the reason was that - although the Psalms in the KJB or Book of Common Prayer/ Coverdale versions are supremely poetic - they are not in fact poems.

Poems are memorable - that is indeed one of their main functions.

But while the KJB Psalms are superbly speak-able (being designed for euphonious reading) they are not actual poems since they lack regular rhythm, rhyme and formal alliteration.

Yet I wanted to memorize the Psalms, so they would be with me when I needed them.

What to do?

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Then I recalled from childhood the 'metrical' version of Psalm 23, which had lodged in my mind and was a lovely lyric:

The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want.
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.

(etc.)

A little Internet research revealed that version this was from the Scottish Psalter of 1650 - mostly done in England but finished and adopted by the Scottish Church. This is a classic of scriptural translation, designed to be both easily understandable, and easily singable - every psalm is done in the Common Metre

Ti-tum Ti-tum Ti-tum Ti-tum
Ti-tum Ti-tum Ti-TAY
Ti-tum Ti-tum Ti-tum Ti-tum
Ti-tum Ti-tum Ti-DAY

In principle, and if necessary, therefore all the Psalms could be sung to a single tune! - bringing performance of the entire Psalter within the scope of the most minimally-musical congregation (in-line with reformation ideals).

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So... Although the Scottish Psalter has not quite the beauty and variety of the KJB/ BCP versions, it does comes from the same great post-reformation era of English Christian translation, bears the hallmarks of being an inspired work, and has the crucial virtue of memorability.

So... I have ordered a copy of the Scottish Psalter and will try again on cycles of reading - hoping this time to learn at least some of the Psalms by heart.

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