Author Topic: Thoughts on psalter translations  (Read 1169 times)

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Offline platypus

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Thoughts on psalter translations
« on: December 10, 2018, 03:29:02 PM »
I’ve been going through different translations of the psalter, trying to find one I like, and I decided to share my thoughts with the board. This is what I've read so far.

1. The Psalter According to the Seventy by HTM
Pros
- The translation flows well. The language is somewhat archaic, but fairly readable.
- It's very commonly used. Some parishes use it, the Jordanville prayerbook and horologion both use it, and the old rite prayerbook uses it.

Cons
- It's produced and sold by Holy Transfiguration Monastery.  Despite a sketchy history and the fact that they're in communion with essentially no one, they've got quite a bit of influence on Orthodox liturgy in the English-speaking world.


2. The Psalter of the Prophet and King David by Michael Asser
Pros
- It's an adjustment of the KJV to match the septuagint, so it'll sound pretty familiar to many English-speaking Christians. I used to use the RSV psalms, and Asser's translation felt very familiar.
- The language is somewhat archaic but still fairly readable.
- Includes the nine biblical odes.

Cons
- It's not in print. CTOS sells a heavily-modified version, but to get Asser's unmodified translation you'll have to print the PDF version and put it in a binder.
- I don't think it's used liturgically at all in the US.


3. The Orthodox Psalter by Archimandrite Lazarus Moore.
Pros
- It's the easiest to understand translation I've seen. There's bits of archaic language but the word order and word choice are all quite intelligible. As an example, Psalm 22 starts with "The Lord is my shepherd, and will deny me nothing." That's quite a bit more clear than "I shall not want." As a child I thought this psalm meant David didn't want the Lord his Shepherd. I think Fr. Lazarus went for more of a thought-for-thought translation instead of attempting word-for-word literalism. The result is both beautiful and easy to understand.
- Due to the above, it reads smooth as butter.

Cons
- Also due to the above, the phrasing is unfamiliar. While, for example, the Asser and the HTM Psalter translations are pretty similiar, Fr. Lazarus' is quite different. There's a little part of my brain that screams "I shall not want" when I'm reading Psalm 22, etc.
- The biblical odes aren't included.


4. A Psalter for Prayer by David James
Pros
- Includes a ton of bonus material, including the prayers between kathisma, the nine Biblical odes, some patrisic writing, and more.
- Although translating from the Greek, Mr. James referenced the Slavonic and Latin psalers to see how things have been previously translated. The translators of the other Psalters I mention might do this too, but none of them mention it.
- I've heard (here on oc.net) Jordanville is going to start using this one in their materials.
- The biggest pro: the western rite Divine Office published by Abbot David Colburn adapted the entire David James translation to plainsong. The psalms are meant to be sung, and as far as I know this is the only option for an English translation of the septuagint psalms that's got music for all of them. To clarify, the music is not included in A Psalter for Prayer, only in The Orthodox Divine Office.

Cons
- The language is very archaic. It uses the Coverdale psalms as the base and corrects them to the septuagint. Both the word order and word choice are often very difficult to understand. I like having thee and thou because that's how most of the prayers I've learned are written, but the language of this Psalter was more than I can easily comprehend. The dictionary holpen me immensely.
For example, 78:12: "Reward Thou unto our neighbors seven-fold into their bosom for their blasphemy, wherewith they have blasphemed Thee, O Lord."
For the same verse, Fr. Lazarus wrote "Return sevenfold into our neighbours’ laps the insults with which they insult Thee, O Lord."
« Last Edit: December 10, 2018, 03:29:56 PM by platypus »
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Offline hecma925

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Re: Thoughts on psalter translations
« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2018, 04:59:56 PM »
Nice review.  I only have experience with HTM's and the Psalter for Prayer.  I like them both very much.
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Offline WPM

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Re: Thoughts on psalter translations
« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2018, 05:19:42 PM »
St. Dunstan's Psalter
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Re: Thoughts on psalter translations
« Reply #3 on: December 11, 2018, 01:41:55 PM »
There's a little part of my brain that screams "I shall not want" when I'm reading Psalm 22, etc.

I can relate. When I was a child I read from the KJV. I memorized scripture from that translation. My parish uses the HTM so when I read it aloud I sometimes slip back into the KJV. I actually prefer The Psalter for Prayer. The hard part is hearing the HTM every service and reading it in the text, after awhile it seems to soak in and hearing it any other way seems strange.
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Offline Agabus

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Re: Thoughts on psalter translations
« Reply #4 on: December 11, 2018, 01:52:37 PM »
There's a little part of my brain that screams "I shall not want" when I'm reading Psalm 22, etc.

That was generally my issue with the Grail Psalter. A very easy adaptation, reading-wise, but the shift from already familiar phrasing was much more abrupt than, for example, the HTM.
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Offline RaphaCam

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Re: Thoughts on psalter translations
« Reply #5 on: December 11, 2018, 02:50:25 PM »
Excellent review, thanks!
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Offline Iconodule

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Re: Thoughts on psalter translations
« Reply #6 on: December 11, 2018, 02:54:51 PM »
I like the Psalter for Prayer but due to both my own changing attitude and my current parish placement, my preference is not for pervasive archaism in the psalms. I find the Holy Dormition Monastery psalter to be a good 'modern' psalter, generally in the KJV tradition and often retaining familiar phrases.
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Offline platypus

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Re: Thoughts on psalter translations
« Reply #7 on: December 12, 2018, 11:21:42 PM »
I like the Psalter for Prayer but due to both my own changing attitude and my current parish placement, my preference is not for pervasive archaism in the psalms. I find the Holy Dormition Monastery psalter to be a good 'modern' psalter, generally in the KJV tradition and often retaining familiar phrases.

Does the Holy Dormition Monastery psalter retain the archaic pronouns, or is it full-modern?
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Offline Iconodule

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Re: Thoughts on psalter translations
« Reply #8 on: December 12, 2018, 11:24:20 PM »
I like the Psalter for Prayer but due to both my own changing attitude and my current parish placement, my preference is not for pervasive archaism in the psalms. I find the Holy Dormition Monastery psalter to be a good 'modern' psalter, generally in the KJV tradition and often retaining familiar phrases.

Does the Holy Dormition Monastery psalter retain the archaic pronouns, or is it full-modern?

No archaic pronouns.
“Steel isn't strong, boy, flesh is stronger! That is strength, boy! That is power! What is steel compared to the hand that wields it?  Contemplate this on the tree of woe.” - Elder Thulsa Doom of the Mountain of Power

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Offline platypus

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Re: Thoughts on psalter translations
« Reply #9 on: November 22, 2019, 09:48:30 PM »
After seeing Alpha60 mention Brenton's psalter a few times on this board, I've given it a shot.

Pros:
- The language is semi-archaic. It retains the thees and thous but not the haths and holpens. Like Fr. Lazarus Moore's psalter, it's quite easy to understand, but still traditional enough mesh with KJV language without a stark contrast. Like Fr. Lazarus, Sir Lancelot had the distinct advantage of growing up Anglican, and thus immersed in poetic liturgical English.
- It is in the public domain, so any parish or jurisdiction can freely print it, copy it, and use it however they'd like without obtaining anyone's permission or making any payments. The utility of this cannot be overstated.

Cons:
- The only thing I noticed that bothered me was that half the first verse of Psalm 69 is missing. I assume it wasn't in the manuscript that Brenton translated from, but it's used as the opening versicle and response for a great deal of Western Rite material.
V. O God, make speed to save me.
R. O Lord, make haste to help me.

I wonder why Brenton's is not commonly used already? Or perhaps it is, and I just don't realize it.


I also got through the Coverdale Psalms in the St. Dunstan's Plainsong Psalter.

Pros:
- There's a ton of lovely musical settings for the Coverdale Psalms.
- The psalms themselves have a very nice rythem when read aloud, one shared by David James' Psalter for Prayer. Psalm 135 (MT numbering) really sold me on the beauty of the Coverdale translation.

Cons
- It's not a translation of the Septuagint, so it doesn't fit in quite as well with the New Testament or the Liturgy. For example, every time I read "Out of the mouth of very babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength" I find myself distracted thinking about how I'd prefer to see "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou perfected praise." Like Fr. Patrick Reardon, I don't think the Hebrew Psalms are wrong, but I've developed a preference for the LXX psalms common to the universal Church.
- In some places the archaic language is now bad English. For example, in Psalm 137 (MT) "As for our harps, we hanged them up, upon the trees that are therein." In current usage, hanged is only used to describe hanging a person, and hung would be the more appropriate term for hanging a harp. There were also several places where the word order seemed very odd to my modern ears.
"Eternal truth finds no favorable soil where one encounters at every turn the skeptical, sarcastic query 'what is truth,' where life insurance takes the place of eternal hope." -Hieromonk Antonius

Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity. -Ecclesiastes 12:8