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"The very words of the text": A rhetorical and comparative analysis of Milton's Psalm renditions

Thomas Lew Kaye-Skinner, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Amid the richness of scholarly attention to the works of John Milton, less than a fair share has been given to his Psalm renditions. His juvenile renditions of Psalms 114 and 136 reflect the exuberance of a talented and intelligent youth. His renditions of Psalms 80–88 reflect the more mature concerns of a man engaged in public life and deep religious searching. Done after his blindness, his renditions of Psalms 1–8 reflect the same concerns as the previous group, but with less concern for public worship. Scholarly attention has focused primarily on the political, personal, and intertextual contexts while deprecating the drab common meter, prosody of Psalms 80–88. Employing my own knowledge of Hebrew, I demonstrate that Milton was a quite thoroughly grounded Hebrew scholar, as his often untested reputation holds. In all the renditions, Milton uses a wealth of poetic technique, built on both English and Hebrew models, and follows the Authorized Version quite closely, seldom departing from it in favor of the Geneva or any other Bible version. He expands on the AV in nearly every verse, employing additions, alterations, and doublings that often correspond to word choices to be found in a variety of other psalters, some of which have not previously been connected to Milton. Milton's purpose in the mature groups was different, but it is impossible to determine why he stopped where he did or why he began with Psalm 80. After an introduction, review of the literature, and brief discussion of methodology, I survey the Bible versions and psalters that were available to Milton as he did his own work. I then devote a chapter to the juvenile renditions and each of the mature groups, considering the context, the prosody, and the meaning of the text. My conclusions are summarized in prose, marked in a printing of Milton's renditions, and represented in tables of his major variations from the AV and of his correspondences with other versions. ^

Subject Area

Religion, Biblical Studies|Literature, English

Recommended Citation

Kaye-Skinner, Thomas Lew, ""The very words of the text": A rhetorical and comparative analysis of Milton's Psalm renditions" (2000). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9967379.