Vital Signs

On the Sullivan Translation of David

This is the first part of a speech Timothy Murphy has delivered to Catholic and Protestant congregations on the High Plains.  The second part will appear in a subsequent issue.  Alan Sullivan, a frequent contributor to Chronicles, died on July 9, right after finishing his last work of translating David into meter, and we shall miss his contributions of prose and verse.

The Sumerian epic Gilgamesh predates King David by 2,000 years, so we know that poetry was an ancient art in the time of the king.  But David is the first poet in human history whom we know by name, and we regard him as the father of lyric poetry.  I also regard him as the most influential of all poets, because his poems are revered as divine writ by 3.2 billion people—Jewish, Christian, and Islamic.  David is an exceptionally gifted formal poet, whose works are exactly structured in strophes and stiches that predate our lineation and stanzas.  He employs assonance (like vowel sounds), alliteration (like consonant sounds), internal rhyme, exotic forms of parallelism, paranomasia (think of that as a spiritually serious pun!), acrostics—in short, a dazzling array of formal devices.  His rhetorical devices are equally sophisticated.  But he has been singularly unfortunate in his translations into English.

We Catholics hear a reading from the Psalms about 355 days each year—about half those...

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