Johnson’s latest book, Auden, The Psalms, and Me, the story of the retranslation of the psalms as contained in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, including particular attention to the role of the eminent poet, W. H. Auden, in the retranslation, has roots in England. After all, Auden was born in England and remained loyal to his Anglican upbringing for much of his life. In fact, both of his grandfathers were Anglican clerics. In addition, the first Book of Common Prayer and the Great Bible of 1540 of Miles Coverdale from which the psalms contained in the prayer-book were derived, were English compilations. In recognition of these connections, J. Chester Johnson made a series of presentations on his book in London and Oxford this fall. While in London, he read his own poetry at The Troubadour, a musical and poetry venue located in London, on the evening of October 15th.
The Episcopal Church’s 1979 version of the Book of Common Prayer includes a revision of the psalms that has become a standard. The little-known backstory in the retranslation of the psalms is the vital part played in it by acclaimed poet W. H. Auden. “Few people, even in the literary world, were aware of Auden’s intellectual and emotional engagement during the last years of his life in the revision of the Book of Common Prayer,” says poet J. Chester Johnson in his new book, Auden, The Psalms, and Me. Johnson replaced Auden in 1971 as the poet on the drafting committee for the retranslation of those psalms and continued in that role until final publication of the new version of the psalms in 1979.
Auden held an ambivalent view toward the whole revision of the prayer-book process. For the psalms, he realized that there were mistranslations from the 1540 Great Bible, but at the same time, Auden preferred traditional Anglican liturgy and argued that changes to Coverdale’s psalms should be minimal and reflective only of mistranslations. In addition to the historical background for the retranslation and Auden’s participation, Johnson will discuss the correspondence that he and Auden exchanged about the project and liturgical language generally.
Set forth below are the locations where Johnson also discussed in England the special nature of the Episcopal retranslation of the psalms, including the qualities and concerns brought to the endeavor by W. H. Auden.
Thursday, September 20: St. Philip’s Church, Earl’s Court Road; 6:30-8pm
Sunday, October 14: Grosvenor Chapel, 24 S. Audley St., Mayfair
Monday, October 15: The Troubadour, 263-267 Old Brompton Road; in addition to a discussion of Auden, the Psalms, and Me, Johnson read a few selections from his latest book of verse, Now And Then: Selected Longer Poems; also presenting her verse was the American poet, Elizabeth Powell, managing editor of Green Mountains Review; 8:00pm
Thursday, October 25: St. Mary Magdalene Paddington, Rowington Close
Sunday, October 28: St. Peter’s Church, Eaton Square; at 11:15am Sung Eucharist
Thursday, October 11: St. Giles’ Church, 10 Woodstock Road; 12:30-1:30pm
J. Chester Johnson