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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Panting heart (Psalm 38:10)

In the KJV Psalm 38:10 begins "my heart panteth." All other English versions I checked use more natural, understandable English:
My heart throbs (RSV, NRSV, ESV, NASB, REB)
My heart pounds (NIV, TNIV, NCV)
My heart is pounding (TEV, GW)
My heart beats quickly (NET)
My heart races (HCSB)
My heart is beating fast (CEV)
My heart beats wildly (NLT)


At Sat Mar 11, 03:23:00 PM, Blogger Ian Myles Slater said...

KJV is unsatisfactory for another reason; it can be confused, especially when heard, with "as a hart panteth (after the water brooks)" in Psalm 42:1. Which has not only a different English noun, but a different Hebrew verb.

NJPS offers what strikes me as a cliche "My mind reels," which (obviously) I don't particularly like. But it gives a better idea of the heart as the (failing) seat of thought.

Apparently the committee wanted to distinguish it from the following "my strength" (koachi), instead offering it as a physical symptom of exhaustion, which seems to be the approach of the translations quoted.

I would think that either is acceptable.

At Sat Mar 11, 04:08:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

This is a very good reason for changing the obsolete "hart" in Psalm 42:1 to the more modern "deer", as in most modern translations.

The particular verb form in Psalm 38:10 (38:11 Hebrew) is used only here. It is a derived stem from a well known verb meaning "go around, travel". But since its meaning is not otherwise known, it must be understood largely from the context. That certainly supports "throbs" or "beats quickly". I don't know where "panteth" comes from - an ancient translation maybe? There is nothing in the Hebrew to justify this strange image.

At Sat Mar 11, 09:05:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Out of curiosity, since I didn't see it listed, I looked up the verse in the NKJV.

What do you know: "My heart pants..."

At Mon Mar 13, 06:40:00 AM, Blogger Talmida said...

The JPS at Mechon-Mamre has "My heart fluttereth."

At Tue Mar 14, 08:08:00 AM, Blogger Steven said...

Dear Sir,

I'm always a bit bemused when people want to make these kinds of substitutions in the translation of poetry. I know that you want a more direct translation, but this kind of approach is absolutely deadly for poetry. Now, it may be that the actual language of the Hebrew does not support "panteth", but read the verse in context and see why "panteth" not only works, but is better than any of these other contenders because of its poetic resonance.

"My heart throbs, my strength goes from me; and the light of my eyes--it also has gone from me."

Heart throbbing is not associated with weakness, but rather with a rather different emotion (at leastin a modern context). The meaning is certainly NOT races, beats quickly, beating fast, or beats wildly, all of which convey an "up" or "excited" state. I could conceivably buy "pounding" but even that is not complementary to the remainder of the verse.

The best fit in meaning here, which "panteth" conveys is, "faints, grows weak, is failing." The remainder of the words used are normative English, but they convey completely different emotional states than provided by the remainder of the verse. When translating poetry, it seems that one cannot go word by word, but one must go for the entire meaning and sense of what is conveyed.

One of the huge problems I have with most modern biblical translations is that they have absolutely no feel for poetry or any real sense of how poetry should be translated. I have not the expertise to advise on the meaning of words, but I do know that a word for word translation for poetry will always fall short of the orginal--and in some cases will miss the point entirely.

Let's consider for a moment--assume that the Hebrew word means "beats wildly." What is the understanding of the emotional state of someone whose "heart beats wildly" from the Ancient Hebrew's perspective. That is what should be captured in the translation--not merely the direct word translation, which would give the modern reader a very mistaken and confusing impression of what is being said. I do not know what it may mean, but what if "beating wildly," contrary to our sense of excitement or fear, conveys dread, faintness, or weakness, which the remainder of the verse would seem to imply. It would be a more proper translation to perhaps note the exact meaning of the word and then convey in footnotes what the nuance is (if one is going for an absolutely literal translation) or if one is heading toward a more "dynamic equivalence" translation, to use the words that convey the appropriate tone.

In this case, I will politely disagree with you all. Panteth speaks to me of exhaustion close to despair in a way the other words do not. I don't argue that it is the best possible translation. In the overall context, something like "my heart fails," might be more to the point.

Just a thought from one who has spent a life in poetry and the translation thereof (admittedly only French and some latin.)




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