Translating Psalms (21)

Famously quoted during Christ’s Passion, and fittingly translated (though not posted) during Holy Week.  Nowhere else is it more obvious that the psalms are the script and soundtrack of Christ’s life.  Go all out on the typology when you read this: by the end we’ll be singing about the Church, the communion of saints, and the Eucharist!

“Deus, Deus meus” (Psalm 21)

[1] In finem, pro susceptione matutina. Psalmus David.

Unto the end, for the morning undertaking. A Psalm of David.

[2] Deus, Deus meus, respice in me: quare me dereliquisti? Longe a salute mea verba delictorum meorum.

God, My God, regard me: why have You abandoned me?  Far from my safety are the words of my faults.

[3] Deus meus, clamabo per diem, et non exaudies; et nocte, et non ad insipientiam mihi.

My God, I will cry through the day, and You will not hear; and at night, and not unto folly for me.

[4] Tu autem in sancto habitas, laus Israel.

But You, in the holy place You dwell, the Praise of Israel.

[5] In te speraverunt patres nostri; speraverunt, et liberasti eos.

In You have hoped our fathers; they hoped, and You freed them.

[6] Ad te clamaverunt, et salvi facti sunt; in te speraverunt, et non sunt confusi.

To You they cried, and safe were they made; in You they hoped, and were not confounded.

[7] Ego autem sum vermis, et non homo; opprobrium hominum, et abjectio plebis.

I, however, I am a worm, and not a man; the reproach of men, and outcast of the people.

[8] Omnes videntes me deriserunt me; locuti sunt labiis, et moverunt caput.

All seeing me have derided me; they have spoken with lips, and moved the head.

[9] Speravit in Domino, eripiat eum: salvum faciat eum, quoniam vult eum.

He has hoped in the Lord, let Him rescue him: let Him make him safe, for He wishes him.

[10] Quoniam tu es qui extraxisti me de ventre, spes mea ab uberibus matris meae.

For it is You Who has drawn me from the belly, my hope from my mother’s teats.

[11] In te projectus sum ex utero; de ventre matris meae Deus meus es tu;

Unto You have I been hurled from the womb; from the belly of my mother my God art Thou;

[12] ne discesseris a me, quoniam tribulatio proxima est, quoniam non est qui adjuvet.

may You not forsake me, for tribulation is very near, for there is none who may give aid.

[13] Circumdederunt me vituli multi; tauri pingues obsederunt me.

They have compassed me, many calves; fat bulls have besieged me.

[14] Aperuerunt super me os suum, sicut leo rapiens et rugiens.

They have opened over me their mouth, just as the lion seizing and roaring.

[15] Sicut aqua effusus sum; et dispersa sunt omnia ossa mea. Factum est cor meum tamquam cera liquescens in medio ventris mei.

Just as water have I been poured out; and scattered are all my bones.  My heart has been made like wax melting in the midst of my belly.

[16] Aruit tamquam testa virtus mea, et lingua mea adhaesit faucibus meis, et in pulverem mortis deduxisti me.

It has dried up like fired clay, has my virtue, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws, and into the dust of death You have led me.

[17] Quoniam circumdederunt me canes multi; concilium malignantium obsedit me. Foderunt manus meas et pedes meos,

For they have compassed me, many dogs; a council of the malignant has besieged me.  They have bound my hands and my feet, 

[18] dinumeraverunt omnia ossa mea. Ipsi vero consideraverunt et inspexerunt me.

They have counted away all my bones.  They truly have considered and inspected me.

[19] Diviserunt sibi vestimenta mea, et super vestem meam miserunt sortem.

They have divided to themselves my garments, and over my robe they have cast lot.

[20] Tu autem, Domine, ne elongaveris auxilium tuum a me; ad defensionem meam conspice.

You, however, O Lord, may You not withdraw Thy aid from me; unto my defense be witness.

[21] Erue a framea, Deus, animam meam, et de manu canis unicam meam.

Rescue from the spear, O God, my soul, and from the hand of the dog my only.

[22] Salva me ex ore leonis, et a cornibus unicornium humilitatem meam.

Save me from the mouth of the lion, and from the horns of unicorns my humiliation.

[23] Narrabo nomen tuum fratribus meis; in medio ecclesiae laudabo te.

I shall tell Thy name to my brothers; in the midst of the assembly I shall praise You.

[24] Qui timetis Dominum, laudate eum; universum semen Jacob, glorificate eum.

You who fear the Lord, praise Him; all the seed of Jacob, glorify Him.

[25] Timeat eum omne semen Israel, quoniam non sprevit, neque despexit deprecationem pauperis; nec avertit faciem suam a me: et cum clamarem ad eum exaudivit me.

Let all the seed of Israel fear Him, for He has not scorned, nor despised the prayer of warding of the poor; nor has He turned his face from me: and whenever I cried to Him He has heard me.

[26] Apud te laus mea in ecclesia magna; vota mea reddam in conspectu timentium eum.

Before You my praise in the great assembly; my votives shall I render in the sight of those fearing Him.

[27] Edent pauperes, et saturabuntur; et laudabunt Dominum qui requirunt eum; vivent corda eorum in saeculum saeculi.

The poor shall eat, and be made full; and they shall praise the Lord, those who seek after Him; their hearts shall live unto the age of age.

[28] Reminiscentur et convertentur ad Dominum universi fines terrae; et adorabunt in conspectu ejus universae familiae gentium;

They shall remember and turn to the Lord, shall all the ends of the earth; and they shall adore in His sight, shall all the families of the nations;

[29] quoniam Domini est regnum, et ipse dominabitur gentium.

For dominion is the Lord’s, and He shall be lord of the nations.

[30] Manducaverunt et adoraverunt omnes pingues terrae; in conspectu ejus cadent omnes qui descendunt in terram.

All the fat of the earth have eaten and adored; in His sight shall fall all who stoop upon the earth.

[31] Et anima mea illi vivet; et semen meum serviet ipsi.

And my soul shall live to Him; and my seed shall serve Him.

[32] Annuntiabitur Domino generatio ventura; et annuntiabunt caeli justitiam ejus, populo qui nascetur, quem fecit Dominus.

It shall be announced to the Lord, a generation to come; and the heavens shall announce His justice, to a people who will be born, which the Lord hath made.


I’m struck again, as with previous psalms, at how seemlessly the text transitions from one speaker to another.  Important to remember that these are sung, and have multiple voice-parts.  Don’t worry about smoothing out the grammar, just imagine another singer entering.

There’s our friend framea again.  That’s three times on the watch list (Psalms 9, 16, and 21) and still no sight of proper Roman words like hasta or pilum!  Check out my commentary on Psalm 9 if you care to see more about framea and where it’s coming from.  This psalm (21) is where I finally realized that St. Jerome was translating the Septuagint’s rhomphaia.

Right next to him is the interesting unicam.  It’s where we get unique, via French, and it’s not super-obvious how to render the sense of the Latin phrase here.  If it were not so thematically inappropriate I would word-play in English with sole.  I think the idea is that my soul is the only thing I have left at this point.  But even more interesting is the Septuagint, because unicam is translating the Greek monogene–sure, unique, but much more famously Only-Begotten.  Talk about going over-the-top with typology!

Soon after our friend deprecationem shows up again, we have a chance to add another dimension to our family of prayer words with vota.  Votum (which gives us both vow and vote in English) has as its most basic idea a promise to someone–religiously, a promise to God/a god.  It’s also a thing promised to them, and so can mean offering, and then by extension the thing we hope to get in return, and so prayer/request/wish.  In this verse, I’m trying to dance the line between an offering and a prayer to get something in return, so I go with votives (as in votive offerings).  Remember to light votive candles for the deceased of your family, people.

The final three verses hang together a bit strangely in the Latin/Greek.  Translations working off the Hebrew end up with a pretty different rendering.  As given here, that last verse is talking about a new people being born from the death of the Christ…

One thought on “Translating Psalms (21)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s