Sidney: The Critical Heritage

By Martin Garrett | Go to book overview
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parlers, chambers, and other houses necessary for finenesse of workmanship and cleanlinesse within, comparable to Ivory palaces: on each side of the tower were large vaults, with swelling pyramids at every corner, planted above with all kindes of fruitfull trees, and herbes of faire shew and odoriferous smell, with many other such singularities, as may farre better be divined than exprest by tongue. But all the singularities of the place were farre surmounted by the friendly invitations and entertainment of more than courteous Xerxenus.


John Donne


Donne’s poem on the Sidney Psalms, first published in 1635, must have been written between the death of the Countess of Pembroke in September 1621 (she has been ‘translated’ to Heaven in line 53) and Donne’s own death in March 1631. His awareness that Psalms are better ‘attyr’d’ abroad than at home probably reflects an awareness of the Sidneys’ use of the Protestant Psalms of Marot and Bèze as their principal source. Helen Gardner (John Donne, The Divine Poems, Oxford, 1952, p. 103) gives a different explanation: ‘“Abroad”, that is in “chambers”, the Psalms can be found in this admirable version; “at home”, that is in Churches, they are sung in a bad version.’

‘Upon the translation of the Psalmes by Sir Philip Sydney, and the Countesse of Pembroke his Sister’, in The Complete English Poems of John Donne, ed. C.A. Patrides, London, 1985, pp. 467-9.

Eternall God (for whom who ever dare
Seeke new expressions, doe the Circle square,
And thrust into strait corners of poore wit
Thee, who art cornerlesse and infinite)


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