My latest at First Things, on the mass proliferation of Bibles and the need for good ones which will only be brought about by bringing poets into the translation process. I’m actually somewhat sanguine on this point, odd for me, since I’m usually melancholy if not saturnine about cultural moments and artifacts. Excerpt:
Having one truly common English Bible might not be desirable, even were it possible (think of how this totalizing impulse led to bloodshed in the English Reformation). But I do think that English Bible translations should never start from scratch but rather should engage in what Alan Jacobs calls “deference to existing excellence” and thus stand in the great stream of English Bibles going back to Tyndale, so that the tradition of our noble and lively tongue might steer a middle course between wooden literalism and sloppy paraphrase, between elite prescriptivism and populist descriptivism.
Doing so might also reintroduce poets to the task of translation, a necessity if we are to produce better Bibles. As Jacobs observes, the great English Bibles were made in an age before “the divorce between literature and theology,” the age of the seventeenth century in which one finds “figures in whom literary excellence and theological acuity would be comfortably blended,” an age in which “the men of letters and the men of God were the same men.”
Jacobs is pessimistic; I’m more optimistic, but, in any event, if we don’t produce beautiful Bible translations, it’s a good thing we already have some.