For some reason, I find myself dealing with 17th and 18th century poetry in recent days. That’s neither my strength or my favorite, but this topic does interest me. I’ve created a Prezi presentation for my Bible as Literature class on the topic of metrical Psalms. These are the English translations of Psalms that have been rendered in traditional English poetic meters so to better fit hymn tunes. If you’ve sung a good bit out of hymnals, you might well have sung such a metrical Psalm without knowing it.
Some of these strike adaptations strike me as quite lovely, while others convolute the language so terribly that it simply does not read well. No wonder, when people sing this sort of artificial verse, they feel disconnected from the hymnody. I’m particularly impressed, though, with the example from Isaac Watts. His Psalms of David, first published in 1719, provides the text for several hymns that have survived to the present day. This man, like William Cowper, wrote texts that could be read and understood.