...it's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there...

December 22, 2004

Poetry Wednesday

The most poetic Bible translation is, i think, the New International Version. I don't know anything about its accuracy, but the NIV sure has beautiful rhythm.

Here's Isaiah, chapter 40. Read it as if it were a poem, listen to the meter, and you'll see what i mean. Feel the beauty and power in these words of prophesy, whose fulfillment we Christians celebrate this-coming Saturday.

Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord's hand
double for all her sins.

A voice of one calling:
"In the desert prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the wilderness
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all mankind together will see it.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken."

A voice says, "Cry out."
And I said, "What shall I cry?"

"All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God stands forever."

You who bring good tidings to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
"Here is your God!"
See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
and his arm rules for him.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
or weighed the mountains on the scales
and the hills in a balance?
Who has understood the mind of the Lord ,
or instructed him as his counselor?
Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him,
and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge
or showed him the path of understanding?

Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires,
nor its animals enough for burnt offerings.
Before him all the nations are as nothing;
they are regarded by him as worthless
and less than nothing.

To whom, then, will you compare God?
What image will you compare him to?
As for an idol, a craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and fashions silver chains for it.
A man too poor to present such an offering
selects wood that will not rot.
He looks for a skilled craftsman
to set up an idol that will not topple.

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

"To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One.
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and complain, O Israel,
"My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God?"
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Much as i love the poetry of the NIV, i can't read Isaiah 40 and not hear in my head the music of Händel's Messiah Oratorio, set to the King James translation.

O thou that tellest good
tidings to Zion,
get thee up into the high mountain.
O thou that tellest good
tidings to Jerusalem,
lift up
thy voice
with strength;
lift it up,
be not afraid;
say unto the cities of Judah,
behold your God!
behold your God!
behold your God!

for thy light is come,
the glory of the Lord
is risen upon thee.


Posted by annika, Dec. 22, 2004 |
Rubric: Poetry


Amen. Not many minutes ago I read Chaplain's account of the attack on Mosul, and I began to feel grief and sadness for these soldiers, and their families, and their comrades. I posted a prayer onto my blog, asking for comfort and strength and wisdom for our nation and for Iraq, and for comfort for myself. And I felt a bit better. Not quite willing to go to bed, I came over here, and read this comforting and beautiful verse. Thank you for posting this. Its a lovely poetry Wednesday.

Posted by: gcotharn on Dec. 22, 2004

I'll have to disagree with you on this one Annika. While this passage of the NIV is quite poetic, on the whole the King James Version is more poetic. How can you get much better than the whole bible written in the English of Shakespeare? It practically drips iambic pentameter. It might be a little hard for some people to get because of some of the anitquated lanuage, but I think it sounds better to the ear when read aloud.

Posted by: The Maximum Leader on Dec. 22, 2004

That's why i posted the excerpt from Messiah, ML!

Posted by: annika on Dec. 22, 2004


Posted by: Dex on Dec. 22, 2004

I tend to be an NIV guy -- it's my evangelical side coming out. When I am feeling like a liberal Episcopalian, I run to the New Revised Standard Version. But in certain areas, the KJV is lovely.

I remember, long before I was a believer, seeing "Chariots of Fire" (my favorite film EVER) for the first time -- and in that picture, we get a sermon preached on the closing verses of Isaiah 40. When I did my fastest marathon, I had them written on my race bib.

Thanks, Annika.

Posted by: Hugo on Dec. 22, 2004

I love the NKJV, myself (much preferable to the butchering of the text that was supposed to produce the 'contemporary' Message translation). In fact, that old language is one thing I really love about the Christmas season with its traditional prayers and hymns. Just love it.

Posted by: candy girl on Dec. 22, 2004


Personally, I like the NKJV too.

But, y'know what? The meaning is there shining through whatever the translation.

Isaiah 9:2 "The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined."

Merry Christmas!

Posted by: Romeocat on Dec. 22, 2004

Isaiah had a gift for poetic imagery, but it is worth considering that chapters 40 onward are believed to be written by other people. Chapter 45 has a reference to Cyrus who ruled Persia in 6 BC, centuries after the time of the other Isaiah of Jeruselem.

That the different chapters are probably the work of a number of men was not conceded by the church until around 1970.

Posted by: d-rod on Dec. 23, 2004