John Donne

Helen Gardner (ed.), John Donne: The Divine Poems (Second Edition)

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Upon the translation of the Psalmes by Sir Philip Sydney, and the Countesse of Pembroke his Sister

  • Editor’s Note1Eternall God, (for whom who ever dare
  • 2    Seeke new expressions, doe the Circle square,
  • 3And thrust into strait corners of poore wit
  • 4Thee, who art cornerlesse and infinite)
  • pg 345I would but blesse thy Name, not name thee now;
  • 6(And thy gifts are as infinite as thou:)
  • 7Fixe we our prayses therefore on this one,
  • 8That, as thy blessed Spirit fell upon
  • 9These Psalmes first Author in a cloven tongue;
  • 10(For 'twas a double power by which he sung
  • 11The highest matter in the noblest forme;)
  • 12So thou hast cleft that spirit, to performe
  • 13That worke againe, and shed it, here, upon
  • 14Two, by their bloods, and by thy Spirit one;
  • 15A Brother and a Sister, made by thee
  • 16The Organ, where thou art the Harmony.
  • Editor’s Note17Two that make one John Baptists holy voyce,
  • 18And who that Psalme, Now let the Iles rejoyce,
  • 19Have both translated, and apply'd it too,
  • 20Both told us what, and taught us how to doe.
  • 21They shew us Ilanders our joy, our King,
  • Critical Apparatus22They tell us wby, and teach us how to sing;
  • 23Make all this All, three Quires, heaven, earth, and sphears;
  • 24The first, Heaven, hath a song, but no man heares,
  • 25The Spheares have Musick, but they have no tongue,
  • 26Their harmony is rather danc'd than sung;
  • 27But our third Quire, to which the first gives eare,
  • Critical Apparatus28(For, Angels learne by what the Church does here)
  • 29This Quire hath all. The Organist is hee
  • 30Who hath tun'd God and Man, the Organ we:
  • 31The songs are these, which heavens high holy Muse
  • 32Whisper'd to David, David to the Jewes:
  • 33And Davids Successors, in holy zeale,
  • 34In formes of joy and art doe re-reveale
  • 35To us so sweetly and sincerely too,
  • 36That I must not rejoyce as I would doe
  • 37When I behold that these Psalmes are become
  • Editor’s Note38So well attyr'd abroad, so ill at home,
  • 39So well in Chambers, in thy Church so ill,
  • 40As I can scarce call that reform'd untill
  • pg 3541This be reform'd; Would a whole State present
  • 42A lesser gift than some one man hath sent?
  • 43And shall our Church, unto our Spouse and King
  • Editor’s Note44More hoarse, more harsh than any other, sing?
  • 45For that we pray, we praise thy name for this,
  • Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus46Which, by this Moses and this Miriam, is
  • 47Already done; and as those Psalmes we call
  • 48(Though some have other Authors) Davids all:
  • 49So though some have, some may some Psalmes translate,
  • 50We thy Sydnean Psalmes shall celebrate,
  • 51And, till we come th'Extemporall song to sing,
  • 52(Learn'd the first hower, that we see the King,
  • Critical Apparatus53Who hath translated these translators) may
  • 54These their sweet learned labours, all the way
  • 55Be as our tuning, that, when hence we part
  • 56We may fall in with them, and sing our part.

Notes Settings


Critical Apparatus
Upon the translation of the Psalms &c. 1635 MS.: O'F
Editor’s Note
ll. 1–4. Eternall God &c. Donne adds to the description of God as a circle, a favourite commonplace of his, the jesting reference to squaring the circle—a problem much debated in his century—and the play on the two meanings of 'corners': 'hidden nooks' and 'angles of a square'. Cf. 'God is a circle him selfe, and he will make thee one; Goe not thou about to square eyther circle, to bring that which is equall in it selfe, to Angles, and Corners …' (Sermons, vi. 175).
Editor’s Note
ll. 17–19. Two that make one John Baptists holy voyce, &c. These two make a single 'Voice … crying in the wilderness' and, being islanders, carry out the precept of Ps. xcvii. 1. Donne is plainly not aware that Sidney's share ended with Ps. xliii.
Critical Apparatus
22 sing;] sing. 1635
Critical Apparatus
28 here] heare 1635, O'F
Editor’s Note
l. 38. So well attyr'd abroad, &c. 'Abroad', that is in 'chambers', the Psalms can be found in this admirable version: 'at home', that is in Churches, they are sung in a bad version. There are constant complaints of the badness of the Old Version at this period. Puritans attacked it for not being sufficiently literal, while men of letters complained of its feeble style.
Editor’s Note
l. 44. More hoarse, more harsh than any other. This is probably a reference to the excellence of the French versions of the Psalms, by Clement Marot, and possibly also to the richness in hymnody of the Lutheran Churches.
Critical Apparatus
46 this o'f: thy 1635.
Editor’s Note
l. 46. this Moses and this Miriam. Cf. Exod. xv. 20, where Miriam, the sister of Moses, takes up her brother's song.
Critical Apparatus
53 these O'F: those 1635, Gr
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