April 23, 2018

The Magazine, Talisman, Recently Reviewed “Auden, The Psalms, And Me”.

The Magazine, Talisman, Recently Reviewed Auden, The Psalms, And Me. The Review Appears Below.

Mark Snow
J. Chester Johnson, Auden, the Psalms, and Me (Church Publishing, 2017)
Auden, The Psalms, And Me

As the postmodern fades away together with its notion that there is no essence, no origin, no genesis to which a given word refers or which it perpetuates, it is no longer easy to argue that language is essentially fluid, not a vessel to transport the past to the future, but an unending transformation, ungrounded, too opaque and moving too fast to convey an unchanging essence in the nature of words. The journal in which this review will appear is known for its broad eclecticism and its resistance to any one poetics. The journal has generally stayed clear of theory and works that encroach on territory commonly thought to be theological. Even its well known attention to Gnosticism has been concerned principally with gnostic awareness in a secular poetics. When the editor asked that I review J. Chester Johnson’s Auden, the Psalms, and Me, I hesitated, given what I know of the journal’s history, but after reading the book closely, I realized that it embodied an argument that went far beyond its stated subject — the translation of the psalms for liturgical use within the Episcopal church. In fact, at stake was the very issue of poetic translation and the degree to which, and means through which, any translation might be judged accurate — indeed raising the question, what is meant by calling a translation “accurate.”

At stake is the translation of the psalms by Miles Coverdale, which had long been the “official” version adopted by the Episcopal Church and which were largely incorporated in the 1928 edition of the church’s Book of Common Prayer, but although Coverdale’s translations were expert poetry in English, there were instances where they diverged from the Hebrew originals and, however well they might read in English, were in that way simply wrong. Although Auden’s specific contributions to the new translation were seemingly few, his advocacy of the Coverdale translation had immense importance. Auden was a member of the Episcopal church’s drafting committee for the psalms for the Book of Common Prayer. (Johnson was his successor as a poet on the committee.) Auden was concerned with preserving the Coverdale versions, and he was not alone in advocating Coverdale, but it would seem likely that he spoke with an authority that was not easily challenged. The committee in charge of the translation include scholars focused on a precise literal translation, not necessarily on the more poetic phrasings in Coverdale.

Then what is the lesson that, in this context, Johnson’s book can teach? Is it just a tempest in a theological teapot — a conflict of marginal interest to poets in a secular world? In fact underneath the work of the Auden's position is a major question: what is it that matters more in translation: sound or “accuracy”? The same could be asked of any translation of any poetry. However the church might judge the final, published version of the translations (which in fact has been overwhelmingly positive), the underlying problem of translation will not go away. The committee was fortunate in having Auden and then Johnson among its members. After all, the translators were dealing with some of the most widely read works in any language. In any case, a literal translation, however faithful to the original, does not say what can be expressed through rhythm and sound, and what is expressed depends on matters that mere scholarship overlooks: most importantly, on how what is said is said. A poet should know that; a scholar might.

Auden the Psalms and me available at Amazon


RECENT POSTS


J. Chester Johnson Presented At The Troubadour And At Grosvenor Chapel.


J. Chester Johnson Presents on Auden, the Psalms, and Me in London and in Oxford


A Review of Auden, the Psalms, and Me – Posted On The Florida Diocese of the Episcopal Church Website


The Magazine, Talisman, Recently Reviewed Auden, The Psalms, And Me.


Review of Presentation by J. Chester Johnson on His Two Recent Books, Now And Then: Selected Longer Poems and Auden, the Psalms, and Me, held at The Culture Center, NYC


American Book Review Features Poetry of J. Chester Johnson


J. Chester Johnson Makes Three Presentations As McMichael Lecturer – Fayetteville, Arkansas


J. Chester Johnson Is Guest for National Radio Interviews on “Ed Tyll Show” - 1/11/18


J. Chester Johnson Presenting His Two Newest Books at Poet's House


Video for Auden, the Psalms, and Me authored by J. Chester Johnson


J. Chester Johnson Interviewed on the Televised ‘In The Arena’ Program


Save the Dates!
Upcoming Events Related To My Two Books Published In 2017


Distinguished Alumnus J. Chester Johnson spoke on April 26th & 27th, 2017 at the University of Arkansas


Reflection and Reconciliation: The Elaine Race Massacre – Delta Cultural Center, 141 Cherry Street, Helena, Arkansas on Sunday, April 23rd, 2017


MULTI-MEDIA PERFORMANCE: PERSONA VOICES FROM THE LITERARY WORK, “ELAINE RACE MASSACRE,” Written by J. Chester Johnson


ARCHIVES

October 2018
August 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
October 2017
September 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
November 2016
September 2016
June 2016
March 2016
January 2016
December 2015
September 2015
June 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015