Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Language and the Psalms

I've been having a look at the Revised Grail Psalter, which you can find here, on Wikispooks, next to the Revised NAB version which is used in the States. It is very likely that we will be using the Revised Grail for the Breviary and for the Psalms at Mass in the future.

On the whole, the (old) Grail version has been quite successful; it rarely grates on the ear, with only the occasional infelicities:
'shooting upright men in the dark'
'he sends a scorching wind as their lot'

and the occasional weirdnesses:
'grow higher ancient doors.'

No doubt you can think of some others. And the Coverdale psalms are scarcely free from weirdnesses:
One deep calleth another / because of the noise of the waterpipes.
comes quickly to mind.

But, for good or ill, the Grail has got under our skin now in a way that the Jerusalem Bible and the now-moribund translation of the Mass have failed to do. It has sufficient quality to be familiar and easily known by heart; it reads easily, with the occasional exception.

What pleases me about the new Grail is that while using inclusive language when the sense is inclusive, it retains gender-specific language when it is not. So it recognizes (which too many versions do not) that many of the 'men' referred to in the Psalms are Types of Christ.

They seem to have retained a great deal of the old version, but this is not altogether a good thing, because familiarity can make one confident, and then along comes a change and trips one up. I don't really understand the reason for some changes;

OG: Foundations once destroyed, what can the just do?
NG: Foundations once destroyed, what can the righteous do?
Anyway, so far I'm hopeful that it will work all right, unless a closer inspection reveals anything horrid.


Scott said...

I think any change that seems to do little but adjust the number of syllables (What can the just do > What can the righteous do) is probably meant to make the line easier to sing. In that particular case, I think the problems with "just do" are having two stressed syllables together and the cluster of consonants st-d. "righteous do" is simply easier to say and sing.

My peeve about the Revised Grail is something I hope will be fixed in any new edition: put back the asterisks to indicate the midverse pause so the psalms can be sung to binary psalm tones such as the traditional Gregorian tones. The Grail psalms in the UK Divine Office books are pointed both for Gelineau (strophes, with several stressed syllables per line, where the musical note changes) and for Gregorian-style tones, at least to indicate how the binary verses are divided.

Charles G said...

Dear Father,

The Wikispooks text is, I believe, what the USCCB approved, but not the final text given recognitio by the Vatican. The CDWDS in Rome did make some changes to the translation before giving its recognitio, apparently, as with the Roman Missal. The final versions approved by Rome can be found here:


pelerin said...

Trying to work out what 'shooting upright men in the dark' and 'grow higher ancient doors' meant. The 'noise of the waterpipes' must refer to French plumbing! How did these translations get passed when their meaning is so unclear? 'Grow higher ancient doors' can be a command to doors to grow higher or a command for higher ancient doors to grow. Either way it is very strange and I would not like to have to translate it into another language as I don't know what it means!

Pharmacotherapy said...

GIA publications has two versions of the Grail for sale: one without the pointing and one pointed for signing.