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John Wilson

Stranger in a Strange Land

Words to God's Music: Laurance Wieder's splendid new version of the Psalter

Charter subscribers to Books & Culture may recall that our first issue, September/October 1995, featured George Herbert's rendering of the 23rd Psalm from poet Laurance Wieder's anthology, The Poets' Book of Psalms: The Complete Psalter as Rendered by Twenty-Five Poets from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Centuries (HarperSanFrancisco, 1995). After preparing that volume, which included more than a dozen psalms in his own versions, Wieder set out to do the entire Psalter, not in a strict translation nor even a paraphrase as usually construed but offering the product of his wrestling with each text in the form of a new poem, a new psalm. (Two such poems, Wieder's versions of Psalm 46 and Psalm 147, appeared in this space in the July/August 2001 issue.) Hence Words to God's Music: A New Book of Psalms, just published by Eerdmans, from which the following is taken. Buy a copy for yourself, and one for your pastor, and start thinking of people on your Christmas list. This book is a treasure.

Psalm 90

The WorkLord, where we have always livedBefore the earth and sun were born,You made us children of destructionAnd ask us to return again, returnAlthough an eye blinks and a thousandYears pass, though the night watch hoursCreep crawl to eternity. Days crestPast on the sweeping flood, sleepTo the sleepless, no sooner grown then mownGrass, clippings blown across the walk.Your anger wind time swallows upOur secrets, whistles through our faults,Our faces masks worn in a taleSeventy or eighty years (that'sFor the lucky) told in work and tears.How strong's the wind? More than we fear.So teach us how to weigh a day,To wear the burden of a heart.Because we do not know how longBefore we must return, Lord,Damp the dust with small rain, shadeThe strong sun behind towered cloudsSometimes, so that our children knowA dappled place much like our fathers had,But happy, not the evil we have learnedTo handle, greedy factories of hate,And let some part of what we've made lastTouch upon you, that partA ...

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