Book of Psalms Collected into English Meter went through more than 500 editions by 1700. Sometimes called "Sternhold and Hopkins" after its first two contributors, Thomas Sternhold and John Hopkins, The Whole Book contains poems by at least seven others. Its main contents are the 150 biblical Psalms in English verse with tunes for singing, but also included are English versions of hymns and verse paraphrases of the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer. Most of the poetry is in quatrains of alternating eight- and six-syllable lines known as ballad meter or, when referring to hymns, common meter.
Robert Crowley was the first to translate the entire Book of Psalms, but The Whole Book of Psalms' longevity demonstrates its adaptability. When first published, the psalms were praised and imitated; during Mary I's reign, they were adapted by Protestant exiles; afterward, they were developed into a complete edition for the public. Scholars often cite The Whole Book's significance to the literature and culture of the period and its place in the development of popular devotional materials. See also Sidneain Psalms.
Hamlin, Hannibal. Psalm Culture and Early Modern English
Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Leaver, Robin. Goostly Psalmes and Spiritual Songes: English and Dutch Metrical Psalms from Coverdale to Utenhove 1535-1566. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
"WHO LIST HIS WEALTH AND EASE RETAIN" Sir Thomas Wyatt (1536) This is one of Sir Thomas Wyatt's several poems expanding on the theme of the dangers of court life. The poem starts with two stanzas asserting the perhaps counterintuitive idea that greater safety and security—the "wealth" and "ease" of the first line—is found far from the throne. The important image in the second of these stanzas opposes the harsh weather of the high mountain peaks against the low, mild valleys where the worst storms cannot penetrate. Seen in this light, to be low is a considerably happier position, especially since the worst falls ("grievous") are from great heights (l. 9). This attitude is reminiscent of the traditional view of Fortune.
In the third stanza, the poem seems to turn explicitly autobiographical as the poet shows his regret at the time and effort he has spent for such capricious and temporary returns as one finds in courtly circles; his youth and lust have given way to sore regret. His experience proves that ambition and the will to "climb" ends only in a "revert," meaning eventual failure (l. 14).
The final two stanzas are more specific, referring to Wyatt's imprisonment in the Tower of London (1536) and his firsthand view "out of a grate" (l. 18) of Anne Boleyn's execution. He moralizes on the sight, or on its memory, lamenting that there is no innocence, virtue, or knowledge that can help or secure those caught in the machinations of royal power. The final three lines of the poem are extraordinarily sour, counseling the reader not to "prate" of innocence (l. 23) and to "bear low" (l. 24), essentially realizing that there is no way to avoid or resist monarchial power.
The recurring motif in each stanza is the three-word Latin phrase (from Seneca) circa regna tonat, which translates roughly as "he thunders around thrones." Combined with the heading of the poem, which situates Wyatt's name ("Viat") amongst "Innocentia" (innocence), "Veritas" (truth), and "Fides" (Faith), a connection to the theological virtues, the phrase serves as a commentary on the rest of the poem, contrasting the earthly pleasures in the heading with the raw use of power indicated in the Latin motto.
Read alongside Wyatt's epistolary satires (including "Mine Own John Poins") and with other verse translations such as "Stand Whoso List," this poem provides a clear look into the mind of a man whose close identification with the royal court has led to disaffection and mistrust. It is an autobiographical poem, probably more stridently so than most of his other anticourt lyrics. See also court culture.
Muir, Kenneth. Life and Letters of Sir Thomas Wyatt. Liverpool, U.K.: Liverpool University Press, 1963. Rebholz, R. A., ed. Sir Thomas Wyatt: The Complete Poems. New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press, 1978.
Christopher A. Hill
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