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Psalm 1

Posted by Remy on September 8, 2009

This is my own translation. I’m not a Hebrew scholar, so I rely on other translations and various online tools. My goal is a poetic translation. Comments appreciated.

Psalm 1

Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
nor in the way of sinners stand,
nor in the seat of mockers sit,
but the law of Yahweh is his delight
and in his law he meditates day and night.

He is as a tree planted by rillets of water,
his fruit he bears in his season,
his leaf does not wither,
and all he does matures.

The wicked are not so,
but are husks scattered by Wind.
Therefore the wicked do not rise in judgment,
neither are sinners in the congregations of the righteous,
for Yahweh knows the ways of the righteous,
and the ways of the wicked will be destroyed.

15 Responses to “Psalm 1”

  1. Matt Yonke said

    Good translation. I’m not enough of a scholar or poet to be too helpfully critical, but I like a lot of your word choices. Matures rather than the more common “prospers” strikes me as quite nice.

    I’m also interested in your use, that I’ve noted elsewhere, of Yahweh. As you might know, the Catholic bishops in America recently put the kibosh on the use of the Name in worship songs and I’m not quite sure where I stand. Seems to me, the Hebrews couldn’t say it, we’ve got not textual warrant I’m aware of that indicates an inter-covenantal change, so where do we get off?

  2. Steve said

    shouldn’t the second line read “stands” instead of “stand” and “sits” instead of “sit” since the subject is singular (“man”)?

    And, in response to Matt’s comment, according to the Encyclopaedia Judiaca, the tetragrammaton was pronounced up until the destruction of the temple in 586 B.C.:

    “At least until the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E. this name was regularly pronounced with its proper vowels, as is clear from the Lachish Letters, written shortly before that date. But at least by the third century B.C.E. the pronunciation of the name YHWH was avoided, and Adonai, “the Lord,” was substituted for it, as evidenced by the use of the Greek word Kyrios, “Lord,” for YHWH in the Septuagint, the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that was begun by Greek-speaking Jews in that century.”

  3. Remy said

    Glad you liked “matures”, Matt. I didn’t want to change things simply to be different so I kept “prospers” there for a long time. But the idea here isn’t so much “everything we touch turns to gold” but “establish Thou the work of our hands”.

    I think it is important to call on the name. God gave it to be sung, He gave His name to pray in, not in the rubric of “in my name”, but in His name.

    Steve, I attach “Blessed” to each of the three things listed, so: blessed is the man that does not walk, blessed is the man that does not stand, blessed is the man that does not sit”.

  4. Matt Yonke said


    Interesting. I did not know that. So whence the silence about the Name? Was it due to the destruction of the temple? I got the (obviously errant) notion somewhere that it just wasn’t uttered, hence the renderings without the vowels.

  5. Matt,

    It’s actually written with incorrect vowels–which if they are pronounced make the “word” Jehovah–but that only proves that the Masorites didn’t pronounce the name. I’m conflicted because the Septuagint didn’t use YHVH, and so the New Testament didn’t either. Which means that if we write YHVH wherever the Hebrew says YHVH, we water-down New Testament references to Christ as YHVH, like “And whence [is] this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” And anyway, if the Apostles thought “Lord” was correct, who am I to quibble with them.

    Also, because YHVH doesn’t have an English history, its use makes for very awkward English, and moreover, for English that sounds distinctly Hippyish. And for that reason Jehovah is better English, though worse Hebrew. Also, I don’t call Jesus Jehoshua.

    That said we should call God by His name. But His name now is Jesus–as in the icons of the Old Testament, God is identified with Jesus, so too we should read Jesus for YHVH, at least often (I’m not sure it makes sense of say Psalm 110).

  6. The lack of parallelism in the first two lines is buggin’ me — not in the sense of poetic parallelism, but just plain grammatical parallelism. And without a fix on the parallelism, Steve’s criticism of the subject verb agreement stands.

  7. Remy said

    I go with Yahweh because that’s the least intrusive translation of what the Hebrew says. I don’t get hung up over why the later Jews didn’t pronounce it. I don’t think we can infer the “position” of the Apostles simply because they used the Septuagint. I also don’t get hung up over the fact that we say Jesus, which is not how they would pronounce it.

    And Valerie, I contest that it is grammatically correct, though it might not sound so. To maintain the parallel it has to be: blessed is the man who does not walk, does not stand, does not sit. It would be weird to say “blessed is the man who does not walk, who does not stands, who does not sits.”

    I suppose it could be: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, stands not in the way of sinner, and sits not in the seat of mockers” but the Hebrew word order places the verb at the end and that is where, if you were to sing it, you’d put the emphasis. I also don’t like antiquated “walks not”.

    But it’s also in poor taste for me to put up a translation and ask for comments and then unload on everyone. So pardon my defensiveness. Obviously, the beauty I was aiming for has been missed for the first two lines.

  8. Valerie,

    “Stand” is subjunctive.

    Like “clap” in Yeats Sailing to Byzantium

    An aged man is but a paltry thing,
    A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
    Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
    For every tatter in its mortal dress,
    Nor is there singing school but studying
    Monuments of its own magnificence;
    And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
    To the holy city of Byzantium.

    (At least I think that’s what’s going on, it may be “nor in the way of sinners (does he not) stand…)

    And I like the first two lines.

  9. Er…that should be “nor in the way of sinners does he stand.”

    But I think it’s subjunctive.

  10. Valerie

    The more I think about it, the more sure I am it’s subjunctive. It’s a relative clause of characteristic.

    We don’t use the Subjunctive in English very often anymore, mostly just in contrary to fact statements “I wish I were in the land of cotton”; but the the old present subjunctive singular looks like the plural indicative. Thus Christ (KJV): “Unless a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die it remaineth alone, but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” Even today (in America) we see the present subjunctive in statements like “My dad asked that my brother fix dinner.” Where “fix” agrees with “brother” because it is a subjunctive, in this case, an indirect command. (Though British English is less conservative and they would probably say “that my brother should fix dinner.”) Likewise we understand, and occasionally use, future less vivid constructions like the one from the Gospel I quoted above. And it is also used as here, (with a rather antiquated or poetic feel), in a characteristic clause.

  11. Remy said

    Matthew, I don’t think I’ve ever noticed “clap” in Sailing and I’ve read that poem many times.

  12. The first time I read the poem “clap” (and “sing”) really confused me. But I found a gloss that said they were subjunctive, which lead to a fascination with the English subjunctive (and the Latin one too). I’ve even checked out several book-length treatments of the subjunctive (or conjunctive) in English before.

  13. You should do the other 149. We need good verse translations of the Psalms, and the Sidney Psalms are impossible to find.

  14. John said

    Good job, Remy. For comparison purposes (and not “I’m right and you’re wrong”), here’s my translation:

  15. Remy said

    John, I should’ve cited you among the “other translations” specifically. You were my cheat-sheet alright.

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