Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
More options …

Open Theology

Editor-in-Chief: Taliaferro, Charles

Open Access
See all formats and pricing
More options …

Poeticizing the Psalter in an African Language

From Poetry into Poetry, with Special Reference to Psalm 13 – “How long, O Lord…!?”

Ernst R. Wendland
Published Online: 2016-04-20 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opth-2016-0013


This study illustrates the application of a literary methodology to the analysis and translation of biblical poetry. The aim is twofold: first and foundational, to reveal salient aspects of the beauty and power of Psalm 13 in the original Hebrew; and second, to experiment with different methods of communicating the original meaning of the psalmist’s passionate prayer with respect to lyric form, content, and function in Chichewa, a major Bantu language. After a thorough examination of the principal structural and stylistic features of the biblical text, a typical lament psalm, several published and unpublished Chewa translations are critically discussed. The ultimate purpose is, as the title of this paper suggests, to produce an acceptable, functionally equivalent, poetic version of the Hebrew text in the vernacular. In conclusion, the main principles illustrated in this study are summarized in an effort to encourage more dynamic, idiomatic, indeed melodic translations of the Scriptures in local languages, where circumstances allow. “How long” must so many reader-hearers suffer under the burden of a less than communicative version of the Psalter in their mother tongue?

Keywords: Psalms; Literary Analysis; Biblical Poetry; Poetic Translation; Bantu Language


  • Alter, Robert. The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007. Google Scholar

  • Bratcher, Robert G. and William D. Reyburn. A Handbook on Psalms. New York: United Bible Societies, 1991. Google Scholar

  • Broyles, Craig C. Psalms (New International Biblical Commentary). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999. Google Scholar

  • Brueggemann, Walter and William H. Bellinger, Jr. Psalms (New Cambridge Bible Commentary). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Google Scholar

  • Craigie, Peter C. Psalms 1—50 (Word Biblical Commentary). Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983. Google Scholar

  • deClaissé-Walford, Nancy, Rolf A. Jacobson, and Beth LaNeel Tanner. The Book of Psalms (NICOT). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014. Google Scholar

  • Gerstenberger, Erhard S. Psalms, Part 1, with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry (FOTL). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988. Google Scholar

  • Goldingay, John. Psalms (Volume 1): 1—41. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006. Google Scholar

  • Harmon, Allen. Psalms (Volume 1): 1—72. Fearn, UK: Mentor, 2011. Google Scholar

  • Hatim, Basil. Teaching and Researching Translation (2nd ed). Harlow, UK: Pearson Educational, 2013. Google Scholar

  • Howard, David M., Jr. “Psalm 88: Praising God in the Bad Times,” in Andrew J. Schmutzer and David M. Howard, Jr., eds., The Psalms: Language for All Seasons of the Soul, 247-254. Chicago, IL: Moody, 2013. Google Scholar

  • Landers, Clifford E. Literary Translation: A Practical Guide. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters, 2001. Google Scholar

  • Lederer, Marianne. Translation: The Interpretive Model. Manchester, UK: St Jerome, 2003. Google Scholar

  • Mays, James L. Psalms (Interpretation). Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1994. Google Scholar

  • McCann, J. Clinton, Jr. A Theological Introduction to the Book of Psalms. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1993. Google Scholar

  • Nida, Eugene A. and Charles R. Taber. The Theory and Practice of Translation (TAPOT). Leiden, NL: E.J. Brill, 1969. Google Scholar

  • Nord, Christiane. Translating as Purposeful Activity: Functionalist Approaches Explained. Manchester, UK: St Jerome, 1997. Google Scholar

  • Ross, Allen P. “The ‘Thou’ Sections of Laments,” in Andrew J. Schmutzer and David M. Howard, Jr., eds., The Psalms: Language for All Seasons of the Soul, 135-150. Chicago, IL: Moody, 2013. Google Scholar

  • Terrien, Samuel. The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003. Google Scholar

  • VanGemeren, Willem A. Psalms (Expositor’s Bible Commentary). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991. Google Scholar

  • Wendland, Ernst R. Buku Loyera: An Introduction to the New Chichewa Bible Translation. Blantyre, MW: CLAIM, 1998. Google Scholar

  • Wendland, Ernst R. Translating the Literature of Scripture. Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2004. Google Scholar

  • Wendland, Ernst R. Survey of Translation Studies. Stellenbosch, SA: Centre for Bible Interpretation and Translation in Africa, 2015. https://www.academia.edu/11318453/SURVEY_OF_TRANSLATION_STUDIES Google Scholar

  • Wendland, Ernst R. Studies in the Psalms: Literary-Structural Analysis with Application to Translation. Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2016 (forthcoming). Google Scholar

  • Westermann, Claus; J. R. Porter, trans. The Living Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989. Google Scholar

About the article

Received: 2016-02-19

Accepted: 2016-03-09

Published Online: 2016-04-20

Citation Information: Open Theology, Volume 2, Issue 1, ISSN (Online) 2300-6579, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opth-2016-0013.

Export Citation

©2016 Ernst R. Wendland. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License. BY-NC-ND 3.0

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in