Translating Psalms (54)

First psalm of the season that took a little time.  Not only is it longer, but every verse has some point of grammar or another that I care about at least a little.  It seems like the coordination of all my idiosyncrasies!

I take this psalm to be early in David’s flight from Saul’s assassins in I Samuel 19.  The sorrow and isolation expressed herein is of someone whose world has just been turned upside down in most unexpected fashion.  In those early days of exile his beloved friend Jonathan worked to reconcile David to his father Saul, so that David still had some connection to his home and people even while hiding in the loneliness of exile.

This one has enough going on in it that I should probably go for a full-length commentary at some point.  The job below is half-done.

“Exaudi, Deus” (Psalm 54)

[1] In finem, in carminibus. Intellectus David.

Unto the end, in songs.  An understanding of David.

[2] Exaudi, Deus, orationem meam, et ne despexeris deprecationem meam;

Hear, O God, my prayer, and look not away from my deprecation;

[3] intende mihi, et exaudi me. Contristatus sum in exercitatione mea; et conturbatus sum

hasten to me and listen for me.  I am all-saddened in my striving and all-troubled

[4] a voce inimici, et a tribulatione peccatoris. Quoniam declinaverunt in me iniquitates, et in ira molesti erant mihi.

by the voice of the enemy and by the trouble of the sinner.  For they have laid down on me injustices and in anger have they been burden to me.

[5] Cor meum conturbatum est in me, et formido mortis cecidit super me.

My heart is all-troubled in me and the panic of death has fallen over me.

[6] Timor et tremor venerunt super me, et contexerunt me tenebrae.

Fear and tremor have come over me and they have full-covered me, have shadows.

[7] Et dixi : Quis dabit mihi pennas sicut columbae, et volabo, et requiescam?

And I have said, “Who will give me pinions of a dove? and I will fly and I will rest?”

[8] Ecce elongavi fugiens; et mansi in solitudine.

Behold I have been afar off fleeing, and I have remained in isolation.

[9] Exspectabam eum qui salvum me fecit a pusillanimitate spiritus, et tempestate.

I was on the lookout for Him who made me safe from small-mindedness of spirit and from the tempest.

[10] Praecipita, Domine, divide linguas eorum; quoniam vidi iniquitatem et contradictionem in civitate.

Headlong, O Lord, divide their tongues, for I have seen injustice and quarrel in the city.

[11] Die ac nocte circumdabit eam super muros ejus iniquitas; et labor in medio ejus,

Day and night will injustice compass it above its walls and toil is in its midst

[12] et injustitia : et non defecit de plateis ejus usura et dolus.

and wickedness; and there does not fail in its streets usury and fraud.

[13] Quoniam si inimicus meus maledixisset mihi, sustinuissem utique. Et si is qui oderat me super me magna locutus fuisset, abscondissem me forsitan ab eo.

For if my enemy had spoken ill against me, all the same would I have persevered.  And if he who hated me had spoken great things over me, I would have hidden myself perhaps from him.

[14] Tu vero homo unanimis, dux meus, et notus meus;

But you a man same-souled, my leader and my friend;

[15] qui simul mecum dulces capiebas cibos, in domo Dei ambulavimus cum consensu.

who alike with me used to take food; in the house of God we walked with shared vision.

[16] Veniat mors super illos, et descendant in infernum viventes : quoniam nequitiae in habitaculis eorum, in medio eorum.

Let it come, death, over them, and let them descend living into hell, because of wickedness in their dwellings, in their midst.

[17] Ego autem ad Deum clamavi, et Dominus salvabit me.

I rather have cried to God and the Lord will save me.

[18] Vespere, et mane, et meridie, narrabo, et annuntiabo; et exaudiet vocem meam.

Evening and morning and noon will I tell and announce, and He will listen for my voice.

[19] Redimet in pace animam meam ab his qui appropinquant mihi; quoniam inter multos erant mecum.

He will redeem in peace my soul from these who draw near to me; for among many they were with me.

[20]Exaudiet Deus, et humiliabit illos, qui est ante saecula. Non enim est illis commutatio, et non timuerunt Deum.

God will listen and He will humble them, Who is before the ages.  For there is no change in them and they have not feared God.

[21] Extendit manum suam in retribuendo; contaminaverunt testamentum ejus;

He will extend His hand in repaying; they have befouled His covenant;

[22] divisi sunt ab ira vultus ejus; et appropinquavit cor illius. Molliti sunt sermones ejus super oleum; et ipsi sunt jacula.

they are divided by the wrath of His face and its heart draws near.  His words have made soft above oil and they are javelins.

[23] Jacta super Dominum curam tuam, et ipse te enutriet; non dabit in aeternum fluctuationem justo.

Cast upon the Lord your care and He will nourish you; He will not give unto endless swells for the just.

[24] Tu vero, Deus, deduces eos in puteum interitus. Viri sanguinum et dolosi non dimidiabunt dies suos; ego autem sperabo in te, Domine.

But You, God, You will lead them down unto the well of destruction.  Men of bloods and treacherous will not halve their days; whereas I will hope in You O Lord.


v. 3 exercitatione Should I take on the military connotations here?  Works out nicely with David’s story.

v. 4 declinaverunt and molesti.  Digging into the etymology of molesti (from moles, heap or pile) to get a rendering that pairs with declinaverunt.  Suggests a rare case where declinaverunt is transitive.

v. 5 We haven’t seen formido in a while.  I wrote up a little something on it while translating the prayers of St. Anselm.

v. 7 pennas Is it cheating to use the French form of pennas to translate?  I say no.

v. 9 eum qui salvum me fecit I take this as a double-entendre not only in the spiritual sense but in the letter: Jonathan and God.  God gets the capitalized pronoun.  Actually, I should consider more seriously the possibility that Samuel is the referent here: David flees to his home when he escapes Saul’s assassins in I Samuel 19.  However, see v. 14 below.

v. 10 in civitate Hard to say what city this is, and hence I should probably translate it as people or tribe instead.  David won’t conquer Jerusalem for many years to come and it’s not clear that Israel even had a capital under Saul.  Most likely Saul ruled from his hometown of Gibeah (which has its own epic history of evil from the time of judges) which in turn leads me to guess that David lived there as well prior to his flight from Saul.  It may also just be David’s own home town, not far from the territory of Benajmin.  That’s how I will take it here, with the caveat that this could be an anachronism in the original psalm and the city really is meant to be Jerusalem.

v. 13 inimicus meus That is, if Saul were David’s only problem he could have hidden and persevered and stayed out of Saul’s way.  It is that the king seems to have so many wicked on his side that causes David to flee, leaving behind his wife and homeland.

v. 14 unanimis…dux…notus If you know the story of David and Jonathan this line is a real tear-jerker.  It’s also what drives the decision in v. 9 to include Jonathan and exclude Samuel.  One “one-souled,” see I Samuel 18:1-4, I Samuel 20:14-17, and II Samuel 1:26.  David refers to him as dux because of Jonathan’s seniority in Saul’s army.  Notus literally means “one known” but with an easy extension to “friends, acquaintances.” Normally it’s in the plural in that sense, and it’s too casual a word for the friendship of David and Jonathan, but I forbear digging around for a more profound rendering.

v. 15 Just…just gotta get a speck of dust out of my eye.  Is it dusty in here?  Gah!

v. 22 illius.  Perplexing.  If it were eius I would immediately translate as His, just like vultus eius in the preceding phrase.  But the variation of illius forces me to consider a different antecedent.  Stupid heteroclite means I can use a noun of any gender and the only good options are ira and testamentum (vultus, being the most recent noun, would more naturally become huius).  Wrath’s heart?  The covenant’s heart?  Sigh.  How about we assume St. Jerome is making a metrical decision and illius is, like eius, just God?  Done and done.  I really need to scan these psalms or read a book  by someone who has already done it so I can solve this open-ended question about scansion.

You can tell how perplexed I am based on how I totally ignore the bizarre figure of speech about God’s words being softening javelins (???).

v. 23 fluctuatione The famous “waters of chaos” of ancient near east myth.  The overwhelming tide of sin and wickedness of the psalms.  Contrast with the well of destruction in the next verse.  Great, fine, cool.  Now how to translate in a single word?  I almost went with chaos but I wanted to keep a marine word in place to pair with v. 24.  Swells?  Bellows?  White-caps?  Sigh.  Just recite it in Latin.

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