Bickley, Francis Lawrence. The Life of Matthew Prior. London: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1977. Eves, Charles Kenneth. Matthew Prior, Poet and Diplomatist.
New York: Columbia Press, 1939. Johnson, Samuel. Lives of the English Poets. Vol. 1. New
York: E. P. Dutton, 1958. Legg, L. G. Wickham. Matthew Prior: A Study of his Public Career and Correspondence. New York: Octagon Books, 1972.
Lindsay, David W., ed. English Poetry, 1700-1780: Contemporaries of Swift and Johnson. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1974. Nelson, Nicolas H. "From 'Reason's Dazled Eye' to Diving Love and Omnipotence: Matthew Prior's Poetry of Faith." Christianity and Literature 48, no. 1 (autumn 1998): 5-27.
"PSALM 58 SE VERE UTIQUE" Mary Sidney Herbert, countess of Pembroke (1599) "Psalm 58 Se Vere Utique" by Mary Sidney Herbert, countess of Pembroke, translates as "Psalm 58 If Indeed Holy." It is one of more than 100 psalm translations included in the collection started by Herbert's poet brother, Sir Philip Sidney, who was killed in battle before he could complete his task of translating all the Psalms. Herbert took up her brother's work where he had stopped at Psalm 43 and continued through number 150. While the manuscript was completed in 1599 and presented to Queen Elizabeth I, to whom it was dedicated, it would not be published through traditional means until 1820. Members of the 16th-century aristocracy rarely made public their work, an act believed to be vulgar. "Psalm 58" well illustrates Herbert's wide stylistic range and her confidence in attempting difficult rhythm and expression. The poem consists of four eight-line stanzas, each with a meter of iambic pentameter and rhyme scheme of ababcdcd.
The first stanza opens with a consideration of the Psalm's theme of justice, as the speaker questions, "And call ye this to utter what is just / You that of justice hold the sovereign throne?" The speaker assumes an accusatory tone, demanding of a group termed in the third line "o sons of dust" how exactly they define justice. Their definition, based on a "long malicious will," obviously does not please the speaker, who accuses that group of oppressing others, while serving justice only to themselves. The second stanza continues utilization of the rhetorical question, opening with "But what could they, who even in birth declined / From truth and right to lies and injuries?" The speaker suggests that those who demonstrate injustice have never known "truth and right" but were born to lie and injure others. The Psalmist adopts the traditional biblical honoring of one's birthright, adding an ironic twist to that concept. The figurative language of metaphor is used in an extended comparison of such individuals to serpents, who "show the venom of their cankered mind," where cankered means "infected with evil." Even an "aspic," or poisonous asp, could not "contend" with this perfectly abhorrent group. The snake charmer "all in vain applies / His skilfull'st spells," to no avail, "While she," a personification of justice, "self-deaf and unaffected, lies." Herbert uses the term lies in wordplay, as it reflects on the previous accusation of pre-varification and injury against the group the Psalmist castigates.
In the third stanza the speaker calls upon the Lord to exact vengeance, to "crack their teeth!" and "crush these lions' jaws!" A simile requests that the evil ones "sink as water in the sand," suggesting they will be absorbed in a way that leaves no trace they had ever existed. Herbert incorporates extraordinary imagery as she imitates a fearful voice:
When the deadly bow their aiming fury draws, Shiver the shaft ere past the shooter's hand. So make them melt as the dishousid snail, Or as the embryo whose vital band Breaks ere it holds, and formless eyes do fail To see the sun, though brought to lightful land.
The Psalmist's violent tendencies are revealed in the allusion to a deadly bow, which he hopes will kill the one who draws it. Herbert adopts alliteration with the repetition of the sh sound three times, the "shoosh-ing" effect imitating the swish of the arrow in a skillful use of onomatopoeia. The speaker does not wish mere destruction, but rather hopes for revenge, made plain by the wish for a death comparable to a snail allowed to bake and melt in the heat without protection of its shell. Readers might react with revulsion at the image of a fetus whose umbilical cord breaks to cut off life-giving support, its eyes never formed and never exposed to the sun as intended. However, reflecting on the previous description of these wicked souls as born to evil, the image proves effective in supporting the speaker's purpose of calling for total destruction of such miscreants.
The final stanza inflicts the speaker's desire for death also on the offspring of the evil, "a brood of springing thorns," whom he wishes to "Be by untimely rooting overthrown." Finally,
The good with gladness this revenge shall see
And bathe his feet in blood of wicked one
While all shall say, "The just rewarded be;
There is a God that carves to each his own."
The Psalmist exhibits the traditional Old Testament attitude to justice, fantasizing that God will turn the evil men's ways back upon themselves. That such death and destruction could fill the "good with gladness" marks the stanza as pre-Christian; no thoughts of mercy or redemption haunt the Psalmist's dreams.
"PSALM POEMS, THE" John Milton (1648
and 1653) John Milton transformed a total of 17 psalms into poetry, meant to be set to music and used as praise in worship. He translated Psalms 80-88 in April 1648, noting, "Nine of the Psalms done into Meter, wherein all but what is in a different Character, are the very words of the Text, translated from the Original." Psalms 1-8 followed five years later in April 1653. Critics disagree about the importance of the Psalms, some claiming them valuable evidence that Milton could read and translate Hebrew, and others disputing that claim.
Barbara K. Lewalski explains that Milton may have used the Psalms in 1653 to express his anxieties and hopes, both personal and political. In politics he observed a chasm that developed between those virtuous few who craved liberty and proved capable of heading the government and the ignorant masses. In his personal life he found his work Eikonoklastes under attack by forces whose beliefs he did not understand and could not tolerate. The translations of Psalms 1-8 thus prove more meditative than the earlier Psalms, written during the second Civil War. Psalms 80-88 bid God to exact revenge from those who threatened his "dear Saints" who fought the evil Royalists and Catholics. They focus on God's displeasure with the chosen ones who occupied a country filled with conflict between friends and threatened by enemies from beyond its borders, a state Milton felt paralleled that of England.
Milton adopted the form of the psalter, alternating octosyllabic lines with lines containing six syllables. He may have written with a view that they be included in a revised psalter. In any event he selected the form that would most closely match that of "Hebraic psalmic parallelism," according to Lewalski.
One may compare a few lines from the familiar Psalm 8 in the King James Version to Milton's translation and take away a sense of his approach. In the King James Version, the first two lines read: "O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! Who hast set thy glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger." Milton devotes the first two four-line stanzas of his translation to those lines:
O Jehovah, our Lord, how wondrous great And glorious is thy name through all the earth!
So as above the Heavens thy praise to set
Out of the tender mouths of latest birth,
Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou Hast founded strength because of all thy foes,
To stint th'enemy, and slack th' avenger's brow That bends his rage thy providence to oppose.
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