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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.

[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.
  • 2Because upon the seas,
  • he hath it firmly laid:
  • and it upon the water-floods
  • most solidly hath staid.
  • 3The mountain of the Lord,
  • who shall thereto ascend?
  • and in his place of holiness
  • who is it that shall stand?
  • 4The clean in hands, and pure
  • in heart; to vanity
  • who hath not lifted up his soul,
  • nor sworn deceitfully.
  • 5From God he shall receive
  • a benediction,
  • and righteousness from the strong-God
  • of his salvation.
  • 6This is the progeny
  • of them that seek thy face:
  • of them that do inquire for him:
  • of Iacob ’tis the race.Selah.
  • 7Ye gates lift-up your heads,
  • and doors everlasting,
  • be ye lift up: and there into
  • shall come the glorious-King.
  • 8Who is this glorious-King?
  • Iehovah, puissant,
  • and valiant, Iehovah is
  • in battle valiant.
  • 9Ye gates lift-up your heads,
  • and doors everlasting,
  • do ye lift-up: and there into
  • shall come the glorious-King.
  • 10Who 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.
  • 2Unto the Lord do ye ascribe
  • his name’s glorious renown,
  • in beauty of his holiness
  • unto the Lord bow down.
  • 3The mighty voice of Iehovah
  • upon the waters is:
  • the God of glory thundereth,
  • God on great waters is.
  • 4Iehovah’s voice is powerful,
  • God’s voice is glorious,
  • 5God’s voice breaks cedars: yea God breaks
  • cedars of Lebanus.
  • 6He makes them like a calf to skip:
  • the mountain Lebanon,
  • and like to a young Unicorn
  • the hill of Syrion.
  • 7God’s voice divides the flames of fire.
  • 8Iehovah’s voice doth make
  • the desert shake: the Lord doth cause
  • the Cadesh-desert shake.
  • 9The Lord’s voice makes the hinds to calve,
  • and makes the forest bare:
  • and in his temple every one
  • his glory doth declare.
  • 10The 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.
  • 2To see, as I saw in thine house
  • thy strength and thy glory.
  • 3Because thy loving kindness doth
  • abundantly excel
  • ev’n life itself: wherefore my lips
  • forth shall thy praises tell
  • 4Thus 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.
  • 5My soul as with marrow and fat
  • shall satisfied be:
  • my mouth also with joyful lips
  • shall praise give unto thee.
  • 6When as that I remembrance have
  • of thee my bed upon,
  • and on thee in the night watches
  • have meditation.
  • 7Because that thou hast been to me
  • he that to me help brings;
  • therefore will I sing joyfully
  • in shadow of thy wings.
  • 8My soul out of an ardent love
  • doth follow after thee:
  • also thy right hand it is that
  • which hath upholden me.
  • 9But as for those that seek my soul
  • to bring it to an end,
  • they shall into the lower parts
  • of the earth down descend.
  • 10By the hand of the sword also
  • they shall be made to fall:
  • and they be for a portion
  • unto the foxes shall.
  • 11But the King shall rejoice in God,
  • all that by him do swear
  • shall glory, but stopped shall be
  • their mouths that liars are.
  • Psalm CXXXVII.

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