Psalms - intro

 

   
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Le Benedicite

The Psalm poems of Clément Marot

- Introduction -

 

Marot's poetical transpositions of the biblical Psalms are a crucial but often neglected part of his poetic output. He was not the first to versify the Psalter but the way he did it (form, content, perusal of sources, implicit interpretation) makes this part of his Oeuvres more than noteworthy: it is a first rank poetical and scholarly achievement. The fact that they were adopted by the emerging Reformed Churches and provided with melodies to serve in liturgy partly explains their lasting success. The same circumstance also tends to obscure that they are more than a contribution to the Reformation alone: they also belong to the Renaissance as well (NB: no opposition between them). My tip: just read them (if necessary, use the good old King James Bible to help you understand) and be convinced (or not... de gustibus disputandum est). To this end I published the complete text of the Psalter of Marot on a separate page.

 

The Psalms were officially published by Marot in three stages, (1) a rhymed version of Psalm 6 appeared in print in the beginning of the 1530's, (2)  the first collection of 30 Psalms had to wait until 1541 to be officially printed and (3) a second series of 20 Psalms saw the light in 1543. Both editions were accompanied by introductory poems (an epistle to the King (30 Psalms) and to the Ladies of the Court (50 Psalms). In the final edition of these 50 Psalms both liminary epistles were present and an epigram that accompanied the despatch of the 20 Psalms to the King was placed in front of the section with the 20 Pss.

Next to these official publications the Psalm poems circulated in manuscripts before they were published and surreptitious (clandestine) prints appeared with in reform-oriented environments (Geneva 1538 (lost); Strasbourg 1539 and Antwerp 1541). The text printed differs considerably between these editions. Marot not only revised his own work before giving it into print, but he even revised his own - already - printed edition of the 30 Pss. of 1541 when he added the 20 Pss. to it in 1543, thus causing that even authorised editions are not at all identical. This circumstance has given rise to all kinds theories about why Marot changed his earlier versions, especially because the chronology of these texts was still faulty. als problematic was the legend (now falsified) that Marot presented his 30 Psalms as early as January 1540 to the Emperor Charles V (passing through Paris on his way to Ghent). Nowadays the chronology and authority of the main texts can be considered to be established. A summary can be read here

 

In the final edition there was an appendix with some prayers (the Lord's Prayer (Pater), the Angelic Greeting (Ave), prayers before and after dinner), and a liturgical text (the Creed). I published them on a separate page. Idem the Ten Commandments only appearing in the Geneva edition of the 50 Psalms.

 

Finally: Only in the Paris editions (Roffet 1541/1543) a marginal numbering of the text is present (which stops after the 8th Psalm). All other editions either print the texts with indents and/or blank lines, without numbering the stanzas or verses. The numbers present in the Roffet editions are not those of stanzas but reflect the biblical verses. They often collide with Marot's own indications concerning the same issue (he heads the Psalms - but not all of them - with an indication about the number of biblical verses present in every stanza (More explanation can be found in the page with the texts of the Psalms). This suggests that the initiative to add these numbers was not Marot's own idea (but Roffet's?) and that the editor probably consulted a Psalm edition in which the verse-numbers differed from the one used by Marot. This is not far-fetched, since verse-numbering in Bible-editions was not standardised yet. (The Estienne Bible of 1545 was a crucial step towards it). The numbers present in the Roffet edition match the numbering of the Lefèvre Psalter (1509).