In Which I Give a Lukewarm Review


I don’t know what I think about this book. 

It helps, I think, to explain what it is not.  Not a collection of metrical psalms, made for singing.  Not a direct correlation, verse by verse.  Laurance Wieder writes a poem for every psalm (150), shapes them into poems designed to make you see/hear them through different eyes/ears. 

The psalms are the best companions one can have in life.  They run the gambit of praise, grief, guilt, complaint; the psalmist articulates the responses of the heart to all of life.  There are many translations.  There are paraphrases.  Metrical psalms stick as close to the text as possible with meter and rhyme.   

I had arguments with myself.   One me told the other me the whole concept was wrong. / The other me retorted that Wieder did nothing illegal, immoral or indecent.  Give the man a chance. / He missed it!  / But look at this phrase. 
I tried reading the psalm [Bible] and then the poem.  Bad plan.  We had friends over; after dinner I read various poems that corresponded with our guests’ favorite psalms.  Their enthusiasm for his poems was dim.  Very dim.

But some of the poems surprised me and drove me back to the psalms to see where Wieder got that angle. His economy of words is admirable.  He paints with words.

Here’s an [inadequate] analogy.  I love Jane Austen.  She is the master.  One page of her writing is a feast.  But I don’t care for modern knock-offs, updated versions.  I can understand why writers would want to imitate Austen;  I don’t have a clue why any publisher would print them.

Here are two samples.  If you are curious how Wieder handles one of your favorite psalms you can read the book on Google Books.  I was completely floored to read the blurbs on the back.  Paul Auster and Tom Disch–both unfamiliar names–, Luci Shaw and R.L. Stine.  Luci Shaw, the poet, makes perfect sense.  But R.L. Stine? The author of Goosebumps?  Does that hit anyone else as…incongruous? <grin>

86       Of State

Listen, God, I need
You, hear me.
       Cheer me.
In this darkness.
Give me back
(My soul is ready
Now to leave me)
Any answer.
I don’t question
You believe me.
Teach me trust
In the returning
Promise, shame
My enemies
In public, enter
My heart in your
Book of splendors.

96     Jingle

New moon, new song:
Day short, night long.
Break sea, roar winds:
One God, more minds.
Stars blink. Suns cool.
Tongues twist. Souls rule.
Smoke’s sweet. Song doubts.
Times dance. Rain spouts.

Lose hope. Sow seed.
Cast bells. Ring true.
Not want, just need.
First frost. Late dew.


7 thoughts on “In Which I Give a Lukewarm Review

  1. What an undertaking that author took!   Terry’s drive to learn Hebrew was to be able to read the Psalms in their original.  I love the Psalms.  They are so full and multilayered, yet ‘simple’ enough to summarize, as the poems you selected have done. 

  2. Interesting!Some of my favorite hymns are based on a psalm–love, love Watt’s The Lord My Shepherd Is, and Baker’s The King of Love My Shepherd Is, and O Worship The King.I think, though, that the attraction there is that I can sing them.  And music is more meaningful to me than the written or spoken word.

  3. The title grabbed my attention, but it really doesn’t sound like something I would enjoy.  I wonder if it is the sort of book that the author got more out of it by writing it than a reader would get out of reading it?  I do admire that you have wrestled with it. I’m curious to know what made you want to read this?

  4. @DCHammers – I haven’t read The Message, Doug.  I just looked up a link that had a few.  Peterson stays much closer to the text than Weider’s poems.  @scsours – Yes!  I love singing the psalms; at our church we sing at least one every week, often more.  Even Joy to the World is based on five verses in Psalm 98. And the metrical psalms try to stick close to the original.  @wayside wanderer – Welcome wayside wanderer!  I read a glowing review and I love the psalms.  I wanted to like this book; I don’t entirely dislike it.  But…

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