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This review is taken from PN Review 114, Volume 23 Number 4, March - April 1997.

WIERD AND WONDERFUL The Psalms in English, Edited by Donald Davie (Penguin)

Donald Davie rightly suggests that one result of juxtaposing many different translations of the Psalms could be confusion; but the overwhelming impression given by this book is one of richness - of the many ways, weird and wonderful, in which people of all kinds have converted the Psalms to their own and others' needs. The richness separates into two main strands. One strand aims to be literal, as the translations are intended for liturgical use, and they are based on a reverence for Scripture: these include both prose, such as Coverdale in the Book of Common Prayer, the Authorised Version, or Frost for the Alternative Service Book, and metrical singing versions. The second strand freely reinterprets and adds to the Psalms, often with no less spirit of reverence; these include the explicitly and boldly Christianising Isaac Watts, who aimed 'to accommodate the Book of Psalms to Christian worship'; and many poets throughout the five centuries paying tribute with their art to a great tradition, expanding and pondering on the Psalms, for people to read privately.

Davie is more interested in the second strand; he prefers to treat Psalmody as a purely literary genre, and to ignore the history of the Psalms as worship, though he includes plenty of Coverdale for comparison (and rather too much Frost). A long introduction touches on the complexities of the history behind the Psalms, Bibles translation, the Psalms as poems, metrical Psalms, and the Psalms and music. Most of his comments are ...


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