For centuries, men and women have turned to the Psalms more frequently than to any other book in the Bible. The reasons are not hard to find. With their passionate lyricism, their wild fluctuations between faith and fear, and their marvelous, incantatory rhythms, the Psalms provide the most extended and deeply personal treatment of the human call to God. The emotional power of such prayers, and the literary artistry with which they are expressed, are as compelling today as they were 2000 years ago.
That power and artistry are made magnificently apparent in Sixty-One Psalms of David. This is not so much another translation as an inspired and engagingly fresh rendition of the Psalms. Following the tradition of Ezra Pound's versions and Robert Lowell's Imitations, David R. Slavitthimself an esteemed poet and translator of Ovid, Virgil, Seneca, and otherscasts the Psalms into a modern idiom that stays faithful to the original but strikes the ear remarkably like contemporary speech. Perhaps the most innovative and immediately appealing feature of these renditions is Slavitt's skillful use of traditional poetic forms. Here the Psalms are compressed, clarified, and given the satisfying shapes and textures of English poetry. Working most often in rhymed tetrameter quatrains, but also employing rhymed couplets and other forms, Slavitt brings all the subtlety and expressive power of English versification to these Psalms, and the result is a poetry that fits comfortably in the lineage that includes Sir Philip Sydney, John Donne, William Blake, and Richard Wilbur. Metrically supple, vividly physical, and marked by felicitous phrasing throughout, these renditions preserve the spiritual directness of the originals while giving readers the added pleasures of a new, and seemingly effortless, formal variety. As poet and Jewish folklorist Howard Schwartz has observed on this collection, "In Slavitt's hands the Psalms become an intense, one-sided conversation with God. They cohere in the only way a fine book of poems can, unified by the poets voice. The full range of emotion emerges, especially fear, disgust at the foibles of humanity, loathing of one's enemies, and awe and trust in God."
Readers well familiar with the Psalms will want to have Slavitt's new renditions alongside the Bible on their shelves, as a highly inventive and illuminating counterpoint. And readers coming upon these verses for the first time will feel themselves blessed to discover poetry and prayer so beautifully joined.
About the Author
About the Translator:
David R. Slavitt is a renowned poet, novelist, journalist, critic, and translator. Also the translator of The Hymns of Prudentius, he has taught at Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania and lives in Philadelphia.