Friday, 23 September 2016

23rd Psalm as Shakespeare may have sung it

The English Psalter of Sternhold and Hopkins was in common use in all English churches, from the start of the reign of Elizabeth 1st. Metrical psalms were used for all congregational singing in the fashion of Geneva, until about 1800.  There had been no congregational singing before the Reformation, just choirs.

This is the 23rd Psalm (by "W.W) probably written in the mid- sixteenth century. For me, it has all the appeal of our native country language, as yet unpolished, not yet jacked up to 'high flown'. There are very rural English phrases such as "at death's door" for "in the valley of the shadow of death" and "shepherd's crook" for "staff".  There is the word "sast", apparently for "close". I've modernised the spelling. The metre is supposed to be ababcdcd but it is inconsistent.

Psalm 23 in the English Psalter

The Lord is only my support,
   and he that doth me feed.
How can I then lack anything
   whereof I stand in need?
He doth me fold in coats most safe,
   the tender grass sast by:
And after drives me to the streams
   which run most pleasantly.

And when I feel myself near lost,
   then doth he me home take:
Conducting me in his right paths,
  even for his own name's sake.
And though I were even at death's door
  yet would I fear none ill:
For with thy rod and shepherd's crook
  I am comforted still.

Thou hast my table richly decked,
  indespite of my foe:
Thou hast my head with balm refreshed
   my cup doth overflow.
And finally, while breath doth last,
  they grace shall me defend
And in the house of God will I,
  my life forever spend.

My next task is to reunite it with its tune. Its C clef is a tricky to read (and the copy is poor quality).

By William Blake - The Shepherd

1 comment:

  1. I found it here, already all copied (words, score ecc.) with information the author, etc. In particular, the Psalm you refer to is here: (W. W. is Whittingham, William, d. 1579). The music corresponds to Psalm 18 and can be found here: