Sidneian psalms The Sidney Psalms Overview Sir Philip Sidney and Mary Sidney Herbert countess of Pembroke

(1599) Begun by Sir Philip Sidney but completed by his sister, Mary Sidney Herbert, countess of Pembroke, the collection contains 150 translations of the biblical psalms. Herbert contributed 107 of the 150. She also wrote two poems that preface the psalms themselves: "To Thee, Pure Sprite," an elegy for her brother, and

"Even Now That Care," which dedicates the collection to Queen Elizabeth I.

The translation tradition was strong in the 16 th century, and translating the Psalms was particularly popular. The Psalms have traditionally been ascribed to king David of Israel as a series of ejaculatory poems praising God, though they include a variety of forms: praise poems, supplications, hymns, and liturgy. Historically, of course, David could not have been the author of the Psalms, but that traditional belief has shaped the way people have approached them for centuries. For instance, Protestant theologians believed that through David's lineage they could be traced forward to Jesus. Moreover, during the Reformation and the years following, the Psalms held particular political significance for the Protestant community. Like David, they felt afraid and overwhelmed and cried out to God for political and spiritual assistance. Translations and versions of the Psalms were so popular that by the mid-17th century, more than 300 versions existed.

The Sidneian Psalms are considered a superior example for a variety of reasons. First, they manage to both capture the spirit of the original Psalms, often using almost literal translations of the Hebrew while simultaneously creating unique and memorable imagery. Scholars continue to debate whether Mary sidney knew Hebrew or received outside assistance (it is generally assumed that Philip did not know Hebrew). At minimum, both Sidneys used a variety of sources—the Geneva Bible, the Vulgate, various commentaries, Hebrew texts (perhaps)—for their translation. In completing the collection, Herbert used 126 verse variants, displaying incredible literary prowess. in at least one case, for example, she changes the Psalm into a sonnet.

The Psalms themselves are considered a monumental achievement in the establishment of Protestant religious discourse and influenced John Donne and George Herbert, among others. While a few critics have looked into the possible crypto-Catholicism of Sir Philip Sidney and the possible ramifications for the Psalms, a great deal of scholarship has examined the Sidneian Psalms as reflecting a Calvinist sprit, wherein humanity is incomplete and ineffectual without the grace of God for assistance. The dedication to Queen Elizabeth takes on political dimensions in this light—she becomes "David," defender of the true faith. The Sidneian Psalms also had an impact on later British literature, not only on other psalm collections, but also on general poetry: John Donne wrote a poem in celebration of them, for example.

See also "To the Thrice-Sacred Queen Elizabeth," Whole Book of Psalms Collected into English Meter, The.

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