Psalm 26, a poetic rendering by Jim Vasquez

James (Jim) Vasquez attends the same church my wife and I do. I have enjoyed reading and hearing scripture that he has put to poetry. He has several books of translated scripture which have been published:

Tate Publishers – Prophets of the Old Testament
Wheatmark Publishers – Women of the Bible, and Men Who Knew Jesus Well
OxBow Press – The Psalms in Verse
Author Press – Words Jesus Spoke

A few months ago my wife and I attended a reading Jim gave at Auntie’s, an independent bookseller in Spokane, Washington. Jim conducted the reading much as a poetry class, explaining rhyme and rhythm patterns in his poetry.

Jim teaches well. Teaching and teaching about teaching is his professional background. Jim has an MDiv degree from Fuller Theological Seminary, and a PhD in Educational Psychology and Psycholinguistics from UCLA. He served on the faculty of the University of Washington for 27 years. He was in the College of Education and taught such courses as: Learning Variables of Minority Students, Language Acquisition, and Seminars in Bilingual Education.

Jim began writing classic poetry shortly before he retired, then switched (almost) exclusively to Bible-based poetry because he thought that was the ministry that would most honor our Lord, given whatever gifts he had.

Jim, like Brenda Boerger in previous BBB posts, has translated the entire book of Psalms to English poetry. I will feature Psalm 26 in this post and Psalm 27 in the next post. I am posting on poetic translation to give ideas on how biblical poetry can be translated to English so that English readers can tell that it is poetry.

Jim introduces his rendering of Psalm 26 with this information about the poetic scheme he uses:

Psalm 26 is in two meters, lines 2 and 3 are in iambic meter while 1 and 4 are in trochaic meter, which is accented on the first syllable and then on every other syllable. Lines 2 and 3 have 8 syllables each while 1 and 4 have 7, which is common in trochaic meter.

The rhyme scheme is a-b-c-b, with lines 2 and 4 rhyming. This is the most common rhyme scheme in the English language, though certainly not the only one.

Psalm 26

Vindicate my soul, O Lord,
A blameless life I’ve led.
I waver not in trusting you,
Nor vain pathways tread.

Test me, Lord, and try me now,
Examine mind and heart,
For in your truth do I abide,
Nor from love depart.

Not with liars will I sit,
The wicked keep at bay.
The hypocrite walks far from me,
There remains for aye.

At your altar innocent
I wash my hands, O Lord,
Proclaiming loud your praise and deeds,
By all men adored.

Where you dwell within your house
I own with love profound,
For there your glory dwells on high,
Angels gathered round.

Purge me not with sinners, Lord,
With men for blood athirst,
Whose hands o’erflow with wicked schemes,
And with bribes well versed.

Blameless is my life each day,
Redeem me now I plead,
And praises midst the throng shall then,
From my mouth proceed.

11 thoughts on “Psalm 26, a poetic rendering by Jim Vasquez

  1. Ernst Wendland says:

    Thanks for making us aware of these poetic renditions of the Psalms, Wayne. They model well what can be done by those whose “heart is stirred by a noble theme” and whose “tongue is the pen of a skilled writer” (Ps. 45:1, NIV). Personally speaking (and considering my location, I am certainly not one to judge), I would think that such lyric translations would probably receive a warmer welcome in a church body that has a strong liturgical tradition (like my own, Lutheran), but perhaps I’m wrong. Some “experts” say that people in the USA no longer appreciate rhymed poetry, but rather prefer rhythmic “free verse” more. Perhaps that would be a hypothesis worth testing more widely. Anyway, thanks again for the recent entries that feature these artistically crafted versions of the Psalms!

  2. David Ker says:

    I’m with Ernst on this. Any reflective and creative process like this is edifying. I’m detecting NASB here. Is this translation, though? The archaisms and meter certainly evoke popular “poetry” from a century ago.

  3. Wayne Leman says:

    David Ker asked:

    Is this translation, though?

    Technically not, David. It’s more like poetic repackaging. I think that the source text(s) was English.

  4. J. K. Gayle says:

    Some “experts” say that people in the USA no longer appreciate rhymed poetry, but rather prefer rhythmic “free verse” more. Perhaps that would be a hypothesis worth testing more widely.

    Interesting theory, Ernst. I do think that translation of the Psalms into English (apart from the Sidney Psalms) has been more often and more widely received in “free verse” than in rhymed. Here’s from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_verse :

    “However, in English the sort of cadencing that we now recognize as a variety of free verse can be traced back at least as far as the King James Bible. By referring to Psalms it is possible to argue that free verse in English first appeared in the 1380s in the John Wycliffe translation of the Psalms and was repeated in different form in most biblical translations ever since. Walt Whitman, who based his verse approach on the Bible, was the major precursor for modern poets writing free verse, though they may have been reluctant to acknowledge his influence.[citation needed]”

  5. Ernst Wendland says:

    Thanks for the reference, Kurk. It also underscores the not so well known or appreciated significance of John Wycliffe in the long history of English Bible translating.
    Here in Africa I’ve been rather disappointed by the general lack of artistic technique in our translations of the Psalms and other poetic texts of Scripture (at least in the languages that I am familiar with). We certainly have a long tradition of oral and sometimes written lyric works to refer to, but these genres–at times even very close functional equivalents–are only rarely employed in Bible translation. There are many reasons for this–project time pressures, poor funding, conservative translation methods, lack of a “poet” on the team, etc.–but another important reason is the absence of a good “model” poetic version in a closely related African language. The rare poetic versions that have been published, e.g., Kifuliiru in the E. Congo, need to be more widely publicized. The crucial attribute of this particular translation is that the text is “singable”, and the entire Psalter is available in a musical version on CDs.

  6. David Ker says:

    Ernst, back in 2000 I was involved in recording a sung version of some Psalms in Kimwani of Mozambique. It was apparently translated in the local metrical form.

  7. Ernst Wendland says:

    Thanks for the reference, David. It would be nice to have a little collection of these examples for a particular world region, e.g., SE Bantu–along with a description of how each version was produced, a sample psalm or two with back-translations (if possible also with actual audio versions), and an evaluation of the response of the primary target audience.

  8. Brenda Boerger says:

    Jim–
    Thanks for sharing these. The meter is much more regular than my own work.

    Ernst and David–
    Re: free verse, it has been my experience that reviewers of the POET Psalms have NOT perceived the unrhymed work as “poetic.” My impression is that published poets may prefer free verse, but that the man on the street leans more toward rhyme as the main feature for English poetry.

    There is also a split in the published poet camp between the formalist (like me, who use FORMS) and the free verse and no form folks. One journal, whose name is escaping me now, publishes ONLY formal poetry, and sponsors a sonnet contest annually.

    I am now co-chairing two MA committees at GIAL each of which is analyzing poetry/song of a language group with an eye to increasing the dynamic equivalence of poetic passages in translation when they leave the US.

    More comments after PS 27.

    ~Brenda

  9. Ernst Wendland says:

    “My impression is that published poets may prefer free verse, but that the man on the street leans more toward rhyme as the main feature for English poetry.”
    This is the very issue that I think might be worth researching, Brenda. I agree with your impression, but I belong to an older generation and a liturgical church tradition. Such research would have to be conducted according to distinct audience groups methinks. Perhaps separate oral and written tests may also be needed. For example, does a poetic lined format influence readers to judge free verse as being “poetic”, whereas those just hearing such a version would not?
    Happy to hear about what your MA students are up to in terms of working towards poetic renditions in other languages–as long as the basic sociocultural communicative functions remain close enough.

  10. James Vasquez says:

    Brenda, I appreciated your comments. And I’d very much like to see a copy of your book of Psalms in verse. Interested in a swap, mine for yours? Where do you teach, Brenda?

    I’ve just become familiar with this site, for that reason have not been responding to others’ comments. Will try to do better now.

    JV

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