Translating Psalms (38)

“Dixi custodiam” (Psalm 38)

[1] In finem, ipsi Idithun. Canticum David.

Unto the end, to Idithun himself.  A canticle of David.

[2] Dixi : Custodiam vias meas; locutus sum in lingua mea : posui ori meo custodiam cum consisteret peccator adversum me.

I have said, “I will guard my ways;” I have spoken in my tongue, “I placed on my mouth a guard when he set beset me, the sinner.”

[3] Obmutui, et humiliatus sum, et silui a bonis; et dolor meus renovatus est.

I fell dumb and was humbled and I grew silent from goods; and my sorrow was renewed.

[4] Concaluit cor meum intra me; et in meditatione mea exardescet ignis.

It grew warm, my heart, within me; and in my pondering there began to burn a fire.

[5] Locutus sum in lingua mea : Notum fac mihi, Domine, finem meum, et numerum dierum meorum quis est, ut sciam quid desit mihi.

I have spoken in my tongue, “Make known to me, O Lord, my end, and the number of my days–who is it–that I may know what fails to me.”

[6] Ecce mensurabiles posuisti dies meos, et substantia mea tamquam nihilum ante te. Verumtamen universa vanitas, omnis homo vivens.

Behold, measurable have I placed my days, and my substance like nothing before You.  Yet still all vanity, every man living.

[7] Verumtamen in imagine pertransit homo; sed et frustra conturbatur : thesaurizat, et ignorat cui congregabit ea.

Yet still in image he passes through, does man; but also in vain was he disturbed; he stores treasures, and ignores for whom he will gather them.

[8] Et nunc quae est exspectatio mea : nonne Dominus? Et substantia mea apud te est.

And now what is my expectation; is it not the Lord?  And my substance is before You.

[9] Ab omnibus iniquitatibus meis erue me : opprobrium insipienti dedisti me.

From all my injustices rescue me; a reproach to the fool have You given: me!

[10] Obmutui, et non aperui os meum, quoniam tu fecisti;

I fell dumb and did not open my mouth, for You have wrought;

[11] amove a me plagas tuas.

move off from me Your strokes.

[12] A fortitudine manus tuae ego defeci in increpationibus, propter iniquitatem corripuisti hominem : et tabescere fecisti sicut araneam animam ejus : verumtamen vane conturbatur omnis homo.

From the fortitude of Your hand I myself have failed in murmurings; on account of injustice You have arrested man, and You have made to melt just as the spiderweb his soul, yet still vainly was every man disturbed.

[13] Exaudi orationem meam, Domine, et deprecationem meam; auribus percipe lacrimas meas. Ne sileas, quoniam advena ego sum apud te, et peregrinus sicut omnes patres mei.

Listen out for my prayer, O Lord, and my deprecation; by ears perceive my tears.  Lest You be silent, for a foreigner am I before You, and a pilgrim just as all my fathers.

[14] Remitte mihi, ut refrigerer priusquam abeam et amplius non ero.

Forgive me, that I may be cooled before I go out and will be no more.


v. 5 quis est Million bucks if you can tell me what this is doing in the sentence.  St. Jerome is following the equally-puzzling Septuagint here.  I’d kill to see what he was looking at in the Hebrew.  In the plain sense of the line quis est is irrelevant–David is asking to know two things, his end and the number of his days (device alert: hendiadys, one thing said as two).  It literally looks like a voice-to-text error from the 21st century, like he was recording and someone knocked on his door.

v. 9 a word on my unusual construction at the end of the line.  If God were giving a reproach “to me” that would be mihi in Latin.  What we have here is an accusative predicate, or if you prefer, me is appositive to opprobium.  I am the reproach to the fool.  English renderings usually rework the syntax a little bit to make this clearer, as in “You have given me as reproach to the fool.”  But I do have my idiosyncrasies.

v. 12 increpationibus On a standard look-up you’ll find simple definitions like rebuke or reproof.  Digging etymologically we find the verb crepo, which is onomatopoeic for rattling, crackling, jingling, and on and on.  An increpation then is something like a noise made on or against something, possibly with the idea of the rumblings of the accusing crowd.  I borrowed the Benedictine murmuration here.

v. 14 Remitte mihi It kills me to lose the dative indirect object by going with forgive, but unfortunately “remit to me” doesn’t make sense in English anymore, because we usually mean to actually send something to someone in that case.  The forgiveness sense of the word in English takes a regular direct object (to remit a punishment).  Even I have my limits on how archaic I’ll make my translations, and this is across that line…even if I considered “Send back for my advantage.”  Be forgiving to me conflicts with my word count principle.

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