Thinking Out Loud

October 4, 2018

A New Old Edition of Psalm 23

Filed under: bible, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:32 am

We had this article linked yesterday, but I wanted more of you to see it.

Alliterative 23rd Psalm

by Aaron Wilkinson

We tend to think narrowly about poetry. Open most anthologies of English poetry and you’ll find a ubiquitous feature – it rhymes. Specifically, it rhymes at the end of each line and in consecutive or alternating patterns (ie. AABB or ABAB.) You could also rhyme within the line, or rhyme the end of the line with the beginning of the next line, both of which I’ve seen done. But those don’t make it into the anthologies.

That is far from the only way to do poetry. You may have heard the simplified accounts of far-Eastern poetry being about syllable counts (eg. Haikus) and Hebrew poetry being about “rhyming ideas/images.” And you can do even more. Classical Greek and Latin poets seem to love their meter.

And, long ago, poets of old Germanic tongues mastered alliteration! I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with alliterative poetry, reading the Alliterative Morte Arthure and some of Tolkien’s modernizations of Middle English poetry. I’ve been trying to teach myself to write in this ancient English form and I figured I’d share one of my earliest attempts (I hope one of the first of many).

I’ll add a couple comments at the end, but first just one quick note. When reading conventional rhyming poetry, you anticipate the rhyme at the end of the line. So how does alliterative poetry work? What do we expect? What gives it its form? It’s quite simple.

You got two half-lines we call hemistichs (like Hemisphere and Stick). The first hemistich has two alliterating stressed syllables. They can be at the beginning, middle, or end of a word but they gotta be stressed. The second hemistich (separated by a little space called a caesura) gives you one more alliterating syllable to round it off. Once you know what to look for, it gives each line a nice sense of resolution. Like with rhyming poetry, the poet can then subvert those expectations for varying effects. So here’s what that looks like in action.

The Wool-Ward – by Aaron Wilkinson

He who all holds   in His hand is my herdsman.
I grasp not for gold,   my gullet to bloat with,
My needs are nothing,   I am never without.
I’ll want for no wealth,   never wish for more.

By freely flowing   waters refreshing,
And bath-worthy brooks,   bending rivers,
Clear courses bright,   falling through fields,
There I am found,   reclined by the banks.

I graze on green grasses,   enough on the ground,
In the Wool-Ward’s shade   through warmth of noon.
When my throat hisses   for thirst and hunger,
He finds where to feed   refreshing me fully.

When days grow dark   as though dawn was never
And hot sun is hid   by high mount peaks,
Down in the dark dale,   death’s dismal den,
I follow and fare well   knowing no fright.

My courage’s cause   is only your closeness.
I am rallied and righted   by your crook and rood.
In faces of foes   you fill up my table.
The froth of the mead   falls from my mug.

Fate has me followed   by favour and faith
All this loaned life   in the length of days.
The hall of the Holy   I will call home
And sit with the saints   in the seats of that hall.

A few end notes. Many will recognize this as the 23rd Psalm. Most of my experiments in alliterative poetry have been with biblical poems so far. It presents a series of interesting challenges and opportunities. What I’m trying to do is take a Hebrew text replete with Hebrew images and ideas and then describe it with language and images from the medieval English tradition. I’m not yet sure if the result is a funky fusion or a disharmonious mess.

In either case, what I think a new (or rather ‘forgotten’) genre of poetry allows us to do is innovate. Some of those innovations will be victories, others disasters.

A major occasion for such innovations is within the restrictions of the genre. You can’t just state something directly if the words don’t alliterate. I can’t use words like “Shepherd” or “Lord” if it doesn’t fit the context. So I have to invent new ways of describing things, sometimes speaking around or circumlocuting the subject of the line. This can give us all sorts of fun results like “Wool-Ward,” which is my favourite part of this little experiment.

And as a side note for those already in love with medieval English poetry, I do want to admit that I directly imported some language just for fun. Rood (a word related to “rod”) recalls The Dream of the Rood, the mead hall is a common setting especially in Beowulf, etc.

Okay, now go write your own. If you want a better feel for this love-lorn genre, read Tolkien’s modernization of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

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December 4, 2016

For the Honor of God’s Name

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:14 pm

sheep in green pasturePsalm 23 is one of the best known passages of scripture. It is familiar to both believers and the unchurched, and has brought comfort to millions over the years. In this Psalm the Lord is described as a shepherd who does these things:

  • He makes me lie down in meadows of fresh grass
  • He leads me beside calm waters
  • He restores my soul
  • He leads me along the paths of righteousness

At this point the form address changes from He to You:

  • You are with me
  • Your shepherd’s staff brings comfort (security)
  • You prepare a banquet for me as my enemies watch
  • You anoint my head with oil

The results of all this are:

  • I have everything I need (lack nothing)
  • My cup is full to overflowing
  • I have the expectation of His goodness and mercy with me daily
  • I have a certain hope that His house is my home for my whole life (or forever)

(Wording above is an amalgam of various translations.)

That covers the entire Psalm except for two phrases. One of course, concerns walking through the deep, sunless valley of death. The other is our focus today:

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. (v. 3b, NIV)

Other translations have:

  • You are true to your name (CEV) or your Word (Message)
  • for the ·good [sake] of his ·name [reputation] (Expanded Bible)
  • for the sake of his reputation (NET)
  • bringing honor to his name (NLT)
  • truth and righteousness echo His name (The Voice)

Elliott’s Bible Commentary says: “God’s providential dealings are recognized as in accordance with His character for great graciousness.” In other words, his provision in this Psalm is simply a natural consequence of nature in general and his compassion specifically. It’s who he is, which should remind us of the popular worship song, Good, Good Father (see below).

The Benson Commentary states the phrase means, “Not for any merit in me, but merely for the demonstration and glory of his mercy, faithfulness, and goodness.” As Max Lucado reminds us in a book of the same name, “It’s not about me.” Matthew Poole reiterates this: “not for any worth in me, but merely for the demonstration and glory of his justice, and faithfulness, and goodness.”

Barnes Notes extend this thought:

For His own sake; or, that His name may be honored. It is not primarily on their account; it is not solely that they may be saved. It is that He may be honored:

(a) in their being saved at all;

(b) in the manner in which it is done;

(c) in the influence of their whole life, under His guidance, as making known His own character and perfections.

Finally, Matthew Henry would argue that the previous verse is key to understanding the whole Psalm, namely that this is the testimony of a dying saint who would say,

Having had such experience of God’s goodness to me all my days, in six troubles and in seven, I will never distrust him, no, not in the last extremity; the rather because all he has done for me hitherto was not for any merit or desert of mine, but purely for his name’s sake, in pursuance of his word, in performance of his promise, and for the glory of his own attributes and relations to his people. That name therefore shall still be my strong tower, and shall assure me that he who has led me, and fed me, all my life long, will not leave me at last.

So many times we pray and our prayers may not be entirely unselfish, but their us-focused instead of God-focused. The full accomplishment of God working in our lives should be that His name is honored and glorified.

“I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to anyone else, nor share my praise with carved idols.
Isaiah 42:8 NLT

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus
Col. 3:17a NASB


We’ve looked at Psalm 23 before:


For Psalm 23 in all English translations at Bible Gateway, click this link to get to verse 1, and then change the very last character in the URL in your browser to move to the multiple translations of verse 2, etc.

The classic commentaries on verse 3, with the exception of Matthew Henry were sourced at BibleHub.

May 25, 2009

Confessions of a Psalm 23 Fan

Filed under: bible, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:05 pm

I devoted an entire blog post to Psalm 23 back in January, which was actually an encore of a post from the July previous.   I guess I’m a fan.

Truth is, I have major sleep deprivation issues.   I fall asleep okay, but then I wake up after only three or four hours and simply can’t get back.    So I try various techniques — except for just taking a few deep breaths, which always works,  which I forget to do until about an hour has passed — including reciting memorized scriptures in my head such as The Lord’s Prayer, various Psalms and the chorus Paul quotes in Philippians which talks about Christ humbling himself, taking on the form of a servant.  (And last night, a new one, the five points of James MacDonald’s Downpour book and CDs.)

This of course raises the issue of the lost art of scripture memorization.   But we’ve dealt with that before here, also:

You’ve heard the saying, “A generation that does not impart its sacred texts to its children is one generation away from extinction.”  People are seeing this truth playing out in some communities and recognizing the need for some fine tuning.  Keep the media.  Keep the interactives.   Keep the cool music.   But we’ve got to bring back the memory verse, the memory chapter, and the memory Psalm.

The last few days however, I’ve been struck by the incredible complexity of the best known among the Psalms, the one we call number 23.    At three or four in the morning, there are little phrases of this psalm that seem to be nested in such a way that it’s hard to believe that so few verses can contain so many golden nuggets.

If I were not a Christian, I would still have to marvel at these short lines of lyric poetry for their intricacy and beauty.    How can they possibly be ignored?

It’s also the only passage in the Bible — longer than a single verse — that I have memorized two completely different ways.   I once thought that the music piece I knew as “The New 23rd” was taken from the Living Bible, but I now know it was actually written in 1969 by Ralph Carmichael.

Consider the original if you were fortunate enough to memorize it, and then enjoy “The New 23rd” variation.   And try to get some sleep tonight, okay?

Because the Lord is my Shepherd
I have everything that I need.
He lets me rest in meadows green
And leads me beside the quiet stream.
He keeps on giving life to me
And helps me to do what honours Him the most.
Even when walking through the dark valley of death
I will never be afraid
For He is close beside me.
Guarding, guiding all the way
He spreads a feast before me.
In the presence of my enemies
He welcomes me as His special guest.
With blessing overflowing
His goodness and unfailing kindness
Shall be with me all my life
And afterwards I will live with Him
Forever and ever
In His house.

January 23, 2009

Blogging the 23rd Psalm – Encore Presentation from 7/21/08

Filed under: bible, Christianity, Faith, Religion, theology — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:30 pm

The Lord is my Shepherd
  • Guess that makes me a sheep. Sheep know their master’s voice and follow it. Do I?

I shall not want

  • I have lots of wants. But few actual needs. Some translations say, “I lack nothing.”

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters

  • Notice he has to MAKE me lie down; life is too hectic; too stressful most times

He restores my soul

  • Ever felt that you needed a soul restoration? Probably thought more about getting an oil change.

He leads me in the path of righteousness

  • And then frequently, my sin nature leads me right OFF the path of righteousness

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me

  • Amen, positionally anyway. Practically: Couldn’t we walk AROUND the shadow of death?

Your rod and staff comfort me

  • The signs of your authority over me should make me feel secure

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies

  • In a world of people who neither respect me or believe in You, You have me singled out as Your special guest…

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows

  • …and set apart to do something special; even on days when nothing special is on the agenda

Truly, goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life

  • Your love pursues me, in good days and bad

And I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

  • Our relationship continues beyond this life into the next

Paul Wilkinson (the added part, not the original; that belongs to King David)

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