U.A. Fanthorpe: Tyndale in Darkness

for Michael Foot

Almost every good translation of the Bible ... has been undertaken by a single highly gifted zealot. Tyndale was executed before he could complete his task, but he set the English style ... which lives on in the King James Version (1611). A sacred book must be all of a piece, as though written by the hand of God Himself; and this can hardly happen unless a man of strong character, wide knowledge, and natural eloquence, working only for the love of God - perhaps under threat of death - sets his seal on it.

Robert Graves: The Crane Bag

St Jerome also translated the Bible into his mother tongue: why may not we also?

William Tyndale

 
 
 Tuesday     
 Defecerunt sicut fumus dies mei et ossa mea sicut gremium aruerunt. 
 (My days arc consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth)     
                                                    (Ps 102:3)
    
 The Old isn't as easy as the New.   
 Greek's nothing, but I needed Germany       
 To teach me Hebrew. Then the endless trail  
 That drags from Genesis to Malachi! 
 Now the New's finished, printed, launched on the world,     
 Doing its work in England, in plain English,        
 All clinched and Bristol fashion. But I     
 Not there to see it. Flushed out    
 From Gloucestershire first by a rout of clownish priests    
   
 Who, because they are unlearned, when they come together    
 to the ale-house, which is their preaching-place, they      
 affirm that my sayings are heresy.
     
 Then in London, bluffed, swindled, bullied, 
 Hounded at last abroad.     
                    Well, God's work 
 Can be done here too, though I miss the rough sweetness     
 Of English. But on the run always, always I need more time, 
 Space. books and peace to do things properly.       
 
 And light, and warmth. These I miss here
 In my palatial jail, the Emperor's guest. 
 Still. I can get things done. But how I grieve 
 The watery deathbed of my Pentateuch
 In the deep roadsteads off Holland. Back to the start 
 Again. I did them all again. All five. 
 But it held me back. Here I am now 
 Still toiling through the waste of Chronicles, 
 When I could be at the Psalms, dealing with hope, 
 Injury, loss, despair, treachery, joy, 
 Not endless histories, churned out by some
 Dull priest with a long memory. Only five books to go 
 But how long have I? I get used to Death 
 Leaning over my shoulder, with his noose and brand, 
 Breathing at each sentence end. I know he waits his day, 
 But not the day itself. I doubt I'll ever reach 
 So far as the happy man who's like a tree 
 Planted by water, that brings forth his fruit in its season, 
 And look, whatsoever he doeth, it shall prosper.
 Well, Miles gets the Psalms. My heir. He'll bring forth his fruit, 
 The happy man. But I too was planted by water, 
 Born with the tune of Gloucestershire in my head, 
 Knowing our English as much the language of heaven 
 As Jerome's tawdry Latin, pagan patter, 
 That Jesus and His fishers never spoke.
 
 They say it cannot be translated into our tongue it is so rude. It is not so 
 rude as they arc false liars. For the Greek tongue agreeth more with the 
 English than with the Latin. And the properties of the Hebrew tongue agreeth a 
 thousand times more with the English than with the Latin.

 Not many days left me, not many days.
 They keep my working books, my Hebrew Bible, 
 Grammar and dictionary. I'd get on faster 
 If I had them, and light to work in the dark. 
 Sicut fumus dies mei, my days are consumed - 
 Consumed? An empty word. Eaten is better. 
 Defecerunt. Bloodless Latin! But English lives! 
 Will Miles be up to it? - yes, eaten 
 Like smoke, and smoke will finish the
 Here, in the marketplace at Vilvorde. El ossa mea -
 And my bones burned up like a hearth.
 That too. But here, while I live, in the cold and the dark, 
 I long for a whole shirt, and a lamp at night.
 
 I suffer greatly from cold in the head, and am afflicted by a perpetual catarrh 
 ... My overcoat is worn out: my shirts are also worn out ... And I ask to be 
 allowed to have a lamp in the evening: it is indeed wearisome sitting alone in 
 the dark.
 
 Wednesday
 Vigilayi et factus sum sicut passer solitarius in tecto
 (I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top) (Ps 102: 7)
 
 He is the sparrow, the Friday lord.
 I hoped to be the watcher on the rooftop, 
 But He was first. I'm flake of His fire, 
 Leaf-tip on His world-tree.
                    But I watch too,
 As once I stood on Nibley Knoll and looked 
 Out over moody Severn across the Forest
 To the strangeness of Wales, Malvern's blue bony hills, 
 And down on the dear preoccupied people
 Inching along to Gloucester, the trows with their sopping decks      
 Running from Bristol with the weather behind them,
 And none of them knowing God's meaning, what He said to them, 
 Save filtered through bookish lips that never learnt 
 To splice a rope or fill a bucket. So I watched. 
 And saw the souls on the road, the souls on the river, 
 Were the ones Jesus loved. I saw that. Now I see 
 The landscape of my life, and how that seeing 
 Has brought me to this place, and what comes after. 
 So He saw the history of us, His people, 
 From Olivet. And told His men to watch.
 
 Vigilate ergo (nescitis enim quando dominus domus veniat; 
 nero, an media node, an galli canto, an inane), ne cum venerit repente, 
 inveniat vos dormientes.*
 They couldn't keep their eyes open. poor souls.
 
*(Watch ye therefore, for ye know not when the master of the house 
cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the 
morning: lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.)

 Vigilate. As well tell them to stand on their heads.
 Erant enim oculi eorum gravati. For their eyes were heavy. 
 I doubt I'd have done much better. 
 It must have been a hard day for them, 
 And they weren't used to late nights, the disciples, 
 But to early mornings, when the shoals come in. 
 Hard-headed men with blisters on their palms 
 From the nets. Why did He ask them to stay awake 
 When He knew they couldn't'? Because He always does. 
 He picks the amateurs who follow Him 
 For love, not devout professionals 
 With a safe pair of hands. Look at Peter, 
 A man permanently in hot water, chosen, 
 Perhaps, for that very thing. God sets His mark 
 On us all. You start, and it's easy: 
 I heard the ploughboy whistling under Coombe Hill, 
 And I thought, I could do that. Give him God's word, 
 I mean, in his own workaday words. And I did, 
 But it got so difficult: exile, hardship, shipwreck, 
 Spies everywhere. The prison, and the fire. 
 God's mark on me, as on Peter. I would have slept, too.
 
 Thursday
 Principes persecuti sunt me gratis.
 (Princes have persecuted me without a cause) (Ps 119: 161)
 
 What can you do with power except misuse it? 
 Being so mighty makes these men afraid
 That we, their subjects, might guess they're men too. 
 That I can understand. It's the followers 
 Who turn my stomach. The glib climbers 
 Greedy for money, land, influence, jobs for the boys.
 
 They're drawn by the power and the glory,
 And kings aren't fastidious. Consider Henry's men -
 Cuthbert the cloth-eared Bishop of London; 
 Wolsey the Suffolk wolf; and foul-mouthed More, 
 The bitterest tongue in England. Consider also 
 Their noble master Henry, the subject-harrier, 
 Who drove me here. Well then, consider them. 
 They fear me. So they should. I plan
 The invasion of England by the word of God. 
 And it will come. Just now, they burn my books. 
 An easy step from that to burning clerks, 
 Burning this clerk for doing what God wants, 
 Turning God's word to King's English.
                       But not the King's;
 The people's; England's English. That's where Christ is. 
 Not a king to do business with Popes and chancellors, 
 But a servant, a man beneath us, who washes our feet, 
 Who goes before to try out the hard things first, 
 Who opens gates so we can go easily through,
 That is the king, one and only, who speaks our own words. 
 The powerlessness and the glory.
 
 Princes have persecuted me. Perhaps they have a cause.

 Friday
 Scribantur haec in generationem alteram et populus qui creabitur 
 laudabit Dominum
 (This shall be written for those that come after: and the people which shall 
 be horn shall praise the Lord) (Ps 102: 18)

 The powerlessness. This is the day He dies,
 Jesus, the Friday sparrow, the watcher on the cross
 Who forgives those who put Him there. He's dying now, 
 And His world is dying too. I made this world twice 
 After God; twice I translated Genesis. I know 
 The deep places in it. And God said, 
 Let there be light, and there was light. 
 The accurate voice of God. And after Him, me; 
 Tyndale of Nibley. The human small-scale words 
 For the unimagined thing. And as Jesus hangs dying, 
 That same immense familiar light, that shines 
 Over Nibley and Bristol, London and Flanders, 
 Over all the countries we know glancingly of, 
 Goes out, as the world. more faithful than its people, 
 Mourns for its maker. The world itself dies. 
 God says, Let there be no light.
 And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land 
 until the ninth hour.
 
 Starlings think it night, celandines shut their petals 
 Trees in Westridge Wood stand frostily waiting. 
 No light. No light. God said, Let there be no light, 
 While Jesus is dying.
                       I want to die like that,
 Brave and forgiving. I may not be able. 
 The grace is not in us. We have to ask.
 We must also desire God day and night instantly to open our eyes. 
 So little time. We have to hustle God 
 Who, in His unhorizoned sphere of time, 
 Can hardly know how short our seasons are. 
 And I pray too for resurrection in the word. 
 This shall be written for those who come after. 
 And still, these tedious Chronicles waiting for me, 
 These kings and priests and rulers of this world, 
 These Jeroboams and Jehoiakims, 
 Between me and beatus vir, the happy man, 
 Whose leaf shall not wither. Unlike mine. 
 And look, whatsoever he doeth it shall prosper.
 Et omnia quaecumque facies prosperabuntur.
 Prosperabuntur? God's teeth, what a word
 For Christian tongues to wrestle with. Language for liars! 
 Our dear and patient English shall rip out 
 The rubbish Jerome stuffed in the Church's mouth. 
 I must get on. Day and night. Instantly. 
 The Psalms are waiting. So are the English. 
 Vile the place is, but still my Father's house. 
 Lampless or not, He lights it.

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