1843 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Colman

John Holland, in Psalmists of Britain. Records of upwards of One Hundred and Fifty Authors, who have rendered the Whole or Parts of The Book of Psalms, into English Verse (1843) 2:234-36.



In 1787, this popular dramatic author published three volumes, under the title of "Prose on several occasions, accompanied with some pieces in verse." Among the latter, is an imitation of the thirty-ninth Psalm, in blank verse, dated MDCCLXXVI. It displays no particular merit as a composition; but, as the casual meditation of a witty play-writer — of a man who calls Cowper his "worthy and ingenious friend" — and, moreover, as a smooth Version of that solemn monition of mortality, which the Church of England has so appropriately introduced into her Service for the Burial of the Dead, Colman's lines can hardly be read with indifference.

PSALM XXXIX.
I will take heed, I said, I will take heed,
Nor trespass with my tongue; will keep my mouth
As with a bridle, while the sinner's near.—
Silent I mused, and even from good refrain'd;
But, full of pangs, my heart was hot within me,
The lab'ring fire burst forth, and loosed my tongue.
Lord, let me know the measure of my days,
Make me to know how weak, how frail I am!
My days are as a span, mine age as nothing,
And man is altogether Vanity.
Man walketh in an empty shade; in vain
Disquieting his soul, he heaps up riches,
Knowing not who shall gather them. And now
Where rests my Hope, O Lord? It rests in THEE.
Forgive me mine offences! Make we not
A scorn unto the foolish! I was dumb,
And open'd not my mouth, for 'twas Thy doing.
Oh take thy stroke away! Thy hand destroys me.
When with rebukes thou chasten'st man for sin,
Thou makest his beauty to consume away;
Distemper preys upon him, as a moth
Fretting a garment. Oh, what then is Man?
Every Man living is but Vanity!
Hear, hear my prayer, O Lord! Oh, hear my Cry!
Pity my Tears! for I am in Thy sight
But as a stranger, and a sojourner,
As all my fathers were. Oh, spare me then,
Though but a little, to regain my strength,
Ere I be taken hence, and seen no more!

All things considered, this Psalm by Colman may be pronounced good — perhaps, only less exact than the prose Version in the Bible. Were it not that to gain much by any poetic form, it must be adapted to be sung, and then the lyric metres become indispensable — it might be all that could reasonably be desired, though hardly to be hoped for, to have a Metrical translation as little below the vernacular prose one as this is — how far the best that can be produced in our language may be below the original, it would require a Jew of King David's day with a perfect knowledge of the English of Queen Victoria's, to judge.