Nonfiction > Trent and Wells, eds. > Colonial Prose and Poetry
Trent and Wells, eds.  Colonial Prose and Poetry.  1901.
Vol. I. The Transplanting of Culture: 1607–1650
The Bay Psalm Book
THE Bay Psalm Book has the distinction of being the first book published in British America. It was the joint product of Richard Mather, founder of that distinguished family of New England divines, Thomas Welde and John Eliot, the missionary to the Indians. It was printed by Stephen Daye at Cambridge in 1640, was amended in 1650, and remained in general use for many years among the New England clergy. The question as to whether it was right to sing to the Lord with a cheerful voice or any other continued to be a subject of bitter controversy, in which John Cotton took the more liberal side. Although modern hymnbooks contain verses hardly less painful to the cultivated ear, it is hard to realize how such a crude performance could have ministered to edification, for it outdid Sternhold and Hopkins in harsh crudity of style, metre and rhythm. Yet it was the product of university men. Mather had been a student at Oxford; John Eliot was a graduate of Cambridge. They must have served their apprenticeship at Latin verse-making, and it is incredible that they should not have been able to write better English verse had they so desired. But they were determined that the Lord’s praises should be sung according to his own will, and with their ideas of literal Biblical inspiration, they were willing to sacrifice every element of poetry to what they imagined was faithfulness to Hebrew originals. They tell us in their preface that they “attempted conscience rather than elegance, fidelity rather than poetry.” That they thought these qualities contradictory illustrates the fatal flaw in Puritan æsthetics. How numbing this moral discipline had been to the harmonies and amenities of life may be judged from the fact that few congregations knew more than five tunes, and but ten are known to have been used for the first half-century of the Bay Psalm Book’s existence.  1
[From the Preface.]

  IF therefore the verses are not always so smooth and elegant as some may desire or expect; let them consider that God’s Altar needs not our polishings: Ex. 20. for we have respected rather a plain translation, than to smooth our verses with the sweetness of any paraphrase, and so have attended conscience rather than elegance, fidelity rather than poetry, in translating the Hebrew words into English language, and David’s poetry into English metre; that so we
may sing in Sion the Lord’s songs of praise ac-
cording to his own will; until he take us
from hence, and wipe away all our
tears, and bid us enter into our
master’s joy to sing eternal
Psalm XXIII.

          THE EARTH Iehovah’s is,
        and the fulness of it:
  the habitable world, and they
        that there upon do sit.
2  Because upon the seas,
        he hath it firmly laid:
  and it upon the water-floods
        most solidly hath staid.
3  The mountain of the Lord,
        who shall thereto ascend?
  and in his place of holiness
        who is it that shall stand?
4  The clean in hands, and pure
        in heart; to vanity
  who hath not lifted up his soul,
        nor sworn deceitfully.
5  From God he shall receive
        a benediction,
  and righteousness from the strong-God
        of his salvation.
6  This is the progeny
        of them that seek thy face:
  of them that do inquire for him:
        of Iacob ’tis the race.        Selah.
7  Ye gates lift-up your heads,
        and doors everlasting,
  be ye lift up: and there into
        shall come the glorious-King.
8  Who is this glorious-King?
        Iehovah, puissant,
  and valiant, Iehovah is
        in battle valiant.
9  Ye gates lift-up your heads,
        and doors everlasting,
  do ye lift-up: and there into
        shall come the glorious-King.
10  Who is this glorious-King?
        lo, it is Iehovah
  of warlike armies, he the King
        of glory is; Selah.
Psalm XXIX.

          UNTO the Lord do ye ascribe
        (o Sonnes of the mighty)
  unto the Lord do ye ascribe
        glory and potency.
2  Unto the Lord do ye ascribe
        his name’s glorious renown,
  in beauty of his holiness
        unto the Lord bow down.
3  The mighty voice of Iehovah
        upon the waters is:
  the God of glory thundereth,
        God on great waters is.
4  Iehovah’s voice is powerful,
        God’s voice is glorious,
5  God’s voice breaks cedars: yea God breaks
        cedars of Lebanus.
6  He makes them like a calf to skip:
        the mountain Lebanon,
  and like to a young Unicorn
        the hill of Syrion.
7  God’s voice divides the flames of fire.
8      Iehovah’s voice doth make
  the desert shake: the Lord doth cause
        the Cadesh-desert shake.
9  The Lord’s voice makes the hinds to calve,
        and makes the forest bare:
  and in his temple every one
        his glory doth declare.
10  The Lord sate on the floods: the Lord
        for ever sits as King.
  God to his folk gives strength: the Lord
        his folk with peace blessing.
Psalm LXIII.
A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.

          O GOD, thou art my God, early
        I will for thee inquire:
  my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh
        for thee hath strong desire,
  In land whereas no water is
        that thirsty is and dry.
2  To see, as I saw in thine house
        thy strength and thy glory.
3  Because thy loving kindness doth
        abundantly excel
  ev’n life itself: wherefore my lips
        forth shall thy praises tell
4  Thus will I blessing give to thee
        whilst that alive am I:
  and in thy name I will lift up
        these hands of mine on high.
5  My soul as with marrow and fat
        shall satisfied be:
  my mouth also with joyful lips
        shall praise give unto thee.
6  When as that I remembrance have
        of thee my bed upon,
  and on thee in the night watches
        have meditation.
7  Because that thou hast been to me
        he that to me help brings;
  therefore will I sing joyfully
        in shadow of thy wings.
8  My soul out of an ardent love
        doth follow after thee:
  also thy right hand it is that
        which hath upholden me.
9  But as for those that seek my soul
        to bring it to an end,
  they shall into the lower parts
        of the earth down descend.
10  By the hand of the sword also
        they shall be made to fall:
  and they be for a portion
        unto the foxes shall.
11  But the King shall rejoice in God,
        all that by him do swear
  shall glory, but stopped shall be
        their mouths that liars are.

          THE RIVERS on of Babilon,
        there where we did sit down,
  Yea even then we mourned when
        we remembered Sion.
2  Our harp we did hang it amid,
        Upon the willow tree,
3  Because there they that us away
        led in captivity
  Requir’d of us a song, and thus
        ask’t mirth us waste who laid,
  Sing us among a Sion’s song,
        unto us then they said.
4  The Lord’s song sing can we? being
        in stranger’s land, then let
5  lose her skill my right hand if I
        Jerusalem forget.
6  Let cleave my tongue my palate on
        if mind thee do not I,
  if chief joys o’er I prize not more
        Jerusalem my joy.
7  Remember Lord, Edom’s sons’ word,
        unto the ground said they,
  it raze, it raze, when as it was
        Jerusalem her day.
8  Blest shall he be that payeth thee
        daughter of Babilon,
  who must be waste, that which thou hast
        rewarded us upon.
9  O happy he shall surely be
        that taketh up, that eke
  thy little ones against the stones
        doth into pieces break.

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