Last Sunday I was tasked to read the 23rd Psalm; in a church; from a pulpit: so everyone could see me. As the Vicar said in his address later on in the service, Psalm 23 is very often read at funeral services because a) it mentions death b) it is hopeful about the future. In the Church of England it used to be that the King James Version [KJV] of 1611 was ubiquitously used. It was from close study of the KJV that I won the Junior Scripture Prize at the age of 11. But in any conventional setting, it is a good idea to shake things up a little to make folk sit up and pay attention rather than letting the words wash over them in a warm flood of unconsidered familiarity.
So my first thought was to read it in the John Wycliffe's first English translation which was published in 1384 more than 200 years earlier than the KJV and nearly 100 years before William Caxton brought printing to England. Wycliffe was a contemporary of Geoffrey "Canterbury Tales" Chaucer, and both are readable with a little effort because their Middle English is a longish way from wot we txt now. I share Wycliffe's words with you here [his bible calls this the 22nd Psalm]:
- The Lord gouerneth me, and no thing schal faile to me
- in the place of pasture there he hath set me. He nurschide me on the watir of refreischyng;
- he conuertide my soule. He ledde me forth on the pathis of riytfulnesse; for his name.
- For whi thouy Y schal go in the myddis of schadewe of deeth; Y schal not drede yuels, for thou art with me. Thi yerde and thi staf; tho han coumfortid me.
- Thou hast maad redi a boord in my siyt; ayens hem that troblen me. Thou hast maad fat myn heed with oyle; and my cuppe, `fillinge greetli, is ful cleer.
- And thi merci schal sue me; in alle the daies of my lijf. And that Y dwelle in the hows of the Lord; in to the lengthe of daies.
Il Signore è il mio pastore, nulla mi mancherà
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
On one level it's a bit pretentious gittery but then again it hints at the fact that my mother was quite comfortable talking with anyone: ratings and admirals; tanned and untanned; domestic or foreign.