Saturday, 27 September 2008

Hath the Rain a Father..?

I was staying in Cambridge the night before last for an interview, enjoying the excellent hospitality and kindness of a good friend of a good friend. My learned host and I were discussing books that had formed us late that night, and he mentioned Mary Midgley's Beast and Man. He read out the final, powerful paragraphs to me, which included the most wonderful quotation from the Book of Job. Job made little impact upon the early medieval mind (except for Gregory the Great's massive Moralia in Iob), so I'm not familiar with it; but I was stunned by its wierd, uncanny brilliance and beauty. And so here it is, in the King James Version.

38:22 Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail, 38:23 Which I have reserved against the time of trouble, against the day of battle and war? 38:24 By what way is the light parted, which scattereth the east wind upon the earth? 38:25 Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lightning of thunder; 38:26 To cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness, wherein there is no man; 38:27 To satisfy the desolate and waste ground; and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth? 38:28 Hath the rain a father? or who hath begotten the drops of dew? 38:29 Out of whose womb came the ice? and the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it? 38:30 The waters are hid as with a stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.

38:31 Canst thou bind the sweet influences of the Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? 38:32 Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth* in his season? or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons? 38:33 Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth? 38:34 Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, that abundance of waters may cover thee? 38:35 Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go and say unto thee, Here we are? 38:36 Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts? or who hath given understanding to the heart? 38:37 Who can number the clouds in wisdom? or who can stay the bottles of heaven, 38:38 When the dust groweth into hardness, and the clods cleave fast together? 38:39 Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion? or fill the appetite of the young lions, 38:40 When they couch in their dens, and abide in the covert to lie in wait? 38:41 Who provideth for the raven his food? when his young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of meat....41:1 Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook?

* What Mazzaroth is or are is subject to dispute - possibly a constellation, or a planet, or the twelve signs of the zodiac itself.

The Welsh equivalent - the majestic and sonorous 1588 Morgan Bible - can be viewed through the National Library of Wales website, and this passage is most beautifully rendered. 'A aethost ti i dryssorau'r eira : neu a weli di dryssorau y cenllysc?...A oes dad i'r glaw : neu phwy a genhedlodd defnynnau'r gwlith? O groth pwy daeth yr ia allan?'

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