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Psalm 74 translated by Mary Sidney Herbert

November 4, 2012

Of all the Sidney Psalms of Sir Philip and of Mary the Countess of Pembroke, one that stands out is Psalm 74.  It deserves to be read.  It calls for careful study.  The entire poem is given below.

Notable lines and stanzas by Mary Sidney here, written in the world of men, are the following.  Whereas the King James Version translators have:

Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces,
and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.

she makes the senses of possession and of consumption a bit more embodied and explicitly so:

Thou crusht that monsters head
Whom other monsters dread,
And soe his fishy flesh did’st frame,
To serve as pleasing foode
To all the ravening brood,
Who had the desert for their dame.

She has the psalmist questioning God in English this way where the “seed” is “sacrilegious”:

The chosen folk of thy deare fold?

Ah! think with milder thought
On them whom thou hast bought,
And purchased from endlesse daies:
Thinck of thy birthright lott,
Of Sion, on whose plott,
Thy sacred house supported staies.

Come, Lord, O come with speed,
This sacrilegious seed
Roote quickly out, and hedlong cast:
All that thy holy place
Did late adorne and grace,
Their hatefull hands have quite defast.

And look where she finds the hand of God, hidden, idle, asleep:

Woe us! what is the cause
Thy hand his help withdrawes?
That thy right hand far from us keepes?
Ah lett it once arise,
To plague thine enimies,
Which now, embosom’d, idely sleepes.

Hear the hierarchical language, the violence in it and the vulnerability crying out beneath it:

Thou then still one, the same,
Thinck how thy glorious name
These brain-sick mens despight have borne,
100 How abject enimies,
The Lord of highest skies,
With cursed taunting tongues have torne.

Ah! give noe hauke the pow’re
Thy turtle to devowre,
Which sighes to thee with moorning mones:
Nor utterly out-rase
From tables of thy grace
The flock of thy afflicted ones.

But call thy league to mynd,
For horror all doth blind,
No light doth in the land remayne:
Rape, murther, violence,
Each outrage, each offence,
Each where doth range, and rage and raigne.

Again, how differently did the men translating for King James think.  Here’s the whole Psalm (and below it a link to one place all the Sidney Psalms may be found and read and studied).

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