Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Lost in Translation...(2)

There are things from the Vulgate that to me seem so much more inspired than later translations that have worked from more sources. I would be grateful if anyone can point me to passages where the opposite is true and later translations have specific poigniancy for the reader and where the Vulgate translation seems bland. Below is one small example of significance to me as this psalm is my main scriptural prop these days.

Consider Psalm 84 (83) Quam dilecta

try the second stanza:
For the sparrow has found herself a house, and the turtle a nest for herself where she may lay her young.

Even the sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young.

RSV: sparrows and swallows are good; a home bird and a migratory bird both finding a home in the dwelling places (tabernacles) of the Lord.

D-R: sparrow is there too, and maybe I'm reading to much into this but the turtle rather than the swallow takes this to another level. (Yup, I know I should check the Latin/Greek for the correct fauna, but the whole point of this post is that you shouldn't have to, it isn't an option for most people.) The turtle is an animal that makes a nest for her young and leaves them there in trust never to return. Somehow, I relate to this. So often I find I offer up what I have and what I am before the Lord before returning to the wasteland, trusting it entirely to His safekeeping.

Consider the later stanza:
Blessed are men whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.

Blessed is the man whose help is from thee; in his heart he hath disposed to ascend by steps, in the vale of tears, in the place which he hath set.

Undoubtedly the RSV is more poetic and obviuously draws from more material, however again it is the D-R that is more inspiring. Both versions show ascent to the Lord, highways to Zion or ascend by steps. But it is so much more personal inthe D-R; the man with the singular determination to ascend from the vale of tears, from where he is right this moment, with gritted teeth and determination from whatever abject state he may now be in. Again, this is so much easier for me to relate to.

Why am I mentioning all this? Just this notion that translation ought to be inspiring as well as accurate. Yup, I know that is a subjective thing and it is a good thing that we have so many translations available, and I not knocking using other sources apart from the Vulgate, it is just for me, time and time again, it is the Vulgate that inspires and gets to the heart of the matter.

Just don't get me going on the Grail psalms in the Office.......

A turtle (the author of this blog)


berenike said...

Um. I think the turtle = turtle dove."The voice of the turtle is heard in our land", e.g. (song of songs) Sadly, because I love turtles, and the only distressing aspect of our one family holiday ever since 1981 is that everyone else saw a turtle in the wild and I didn't.

Also, the DR is a translation of the psalms in the Vulgate, which is one of the books (the only book?) in it that is not actually translated by St Jerome - if I recall correctly, people weren't having any suggestion of a new psalter when they were quite happy with the one they had, thank you very much. St Jerome did do a translation, but it didn't go into the standard collection. Something like that.

The new vulgate psalms are rather good - they are very much in the style and vocabulary of the old ones, but iron out some of the weirdnesses.

Rita said...


I thought it might be turtle doves, but I'll stick with turtles....no point in having sparrows and turtle doves (too similar).

I think I like the wierdness in the old vulgate.

Interesting information about the D-R psalms, I'd not heard that before, but I don't understand where the translation did come from if it wasn't originally St Jerome.

berenike said...

He wasn't the first to put the Bible into Latin. St Augustine didn't know any Greek, which I suppose means most of his congregation didn't either: they used Latin texts. St A and St J had long and interesting epistolary fights about the merits of the Septuagint and whatnot.