Sir Thomas Wyatt’s Psalm 38


(I have for readability modernized Wyatt’s poem, primarily changing spelling and archaic diction.)

Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503?-1542) was a courtier in the time of Henry VIII. Some historians believe that Wyatt fell in love with the woman King Henry also desired to marry, and that this may have been one of the reasons for his two imprisonments. Wyatt’s life was spared, and he lived to be an ambassador to France, Spain, and Italy.

Wyatt imported many verse forms from continental Europe, helping establish the sonnet in England.  Though not published until 1557, fifteen years after his death, he was the most represented poet in Tottel’s Miscellany, with 96 poems. That volume was the first anthology of English poetry.

Wyatt made versions, perhaps too loose to be called translations, of the seven “Penitential Psalms”. They are Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143. All of Wyatt’s versions employ terza rima, which is an interlocking rhyme scheme aba bcb cdc etc. In this Psalm 38 the rhyme pattern may have been useful to express instability and the desire for constancy.

This link opens to the KJV translation of the same psalm, made a bit later, at the turn of the 17th century, [Psalm 38 in the King James Bible.] Wyatt’s is a good distance from the original text. His version is 50% longer than the more literal King James Version. But Hebrew is a very concise language, and Psalm 38 in the KJV is more than 300% longer, by word count, than the original.

Sir Thomas Wyatt’s Version of David’s Psalm 38

O Lord, as I have thee both prayed and pray,
Although in thee be no alteration,
But that we men, like as our selves we say
Measuring thy Justice, by our mutation,
Chastise me not (oh lord) in thy furor
Nor me correct, in wrathful castigation.
For that thy arrows, or fear, or Terror
Of sword, of sickness, of famine, of fire
Sticks deep in me, I (lo) from my error
Am plucked up, as horse out of the mire
With stroke of spur; such is thy hand on me
That in my flesh, for terror of thy ire
Is not one point of firm stability
Nor in my bones, there is no steadfastness:
Such is my dread of mutability
For that I know my fearful wickedness.
For why? my sins above my head are bound
Like heavy weights, that do my force oppress
Under the which I stoop, and bow to the ground
As willow plant, hailed by violence;
And of my flesh, each not well cured wound
That is festered by folly and negligence,
By secret lust, hath rankled under skin
Not duly cured, by my penitence.
Perceiving thus the tyranny of sin
That with weight, hath humbled and depressed
My pride by grudging of the worm within
That never dies, I live without rest
So are my entrails infected with fevered sores
Feeding my harm, that have my wellness oppressed
That in my flesh, is left no health therefore.
So wondrous great has been my vexation
That it forced my heart to cry and roar.
O lord you know the tears of my lamentation
Cannot express my heart’s inward restraints.
My heart pants, my force I feel it quail,
My sight, my eyes, my look decays and faints,
And when my enemies did me most assail
My friends most sure, wherein I set most trust—
My own virtues—soonest then did fail
And stood apart. Reason and wit unjust
As kin unkind, were farthest gone at need.
So had they place their venom out to thrust
That sought my death by naughty word and deed.
Their tongues reproach, their wit did fraud apply
And I like one deaf and dumb with no lead,
Going without heed abroad, nor has to reply
Not one word again. Knowing that from your hand
These things proceed, and thou lord shalt repay
My trust in that where I stick and stand,
Yet have I had, great cause to dread and fear
That you would give my foes the upper hand.
For in my fall they showed such pleasant cheer,
That therefore, I always in the lash
Abide the stroke, and with me everywhere
I bear my fault, that greatly does abash
My doleful cheer; for I my fault confess,
And my desert does all my comfort dash.
In the mean while my enemies still increase
And my provokers hereby do augment,
That without cause to hurt me do not cease.
In evil for good against me they be bent
And hinder shall, my good present of grace.
Lo now my God, that sees my whole entente,
My lord, I am thou knowest in what case.
Forsake me not, be not far from me gone
Haste to help, haste lord, and haste apace,
O lord, the lord, of all my health alone.

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