Replication and interpretation have always been useful learning tools. As an art student, I remember being asked to attempt a copy of a famous painting of my choice. The idea was that I would thereby be forced to look more closely at an artist’s work than I had ever looked before. As parents, we teach our children first to copy us. Later, when they are confident in their learning, they interpret; they make the learning their own.
And so, one recent sleepless night I decided that it would be an interesting exercise to take a popular psalm and, rather than meditate on it, attempt to rewrite it—that is, to render an interpretation in a different form that would convey my own sense of meaning. I chose perhaps the best-known biblical song, the Twenty-Third Psalm. Neither this exercise nor the choice of this verse was novel. This psalm has been recast in many forms over many centuries.
For my purpose, I decided to use another song form, the sonnet, combining a traditional Shakespearean rhyme scheme with a free-meter line cadence. I share the result below, not because it is particularly artistic—indeed, it’s probably no better than the copied painting I produced in student days—but because it illustrates, again, the value of closely examining any artwork, whether the expression is visual, auditory, or literary. I found doing so insightful. Thus, with apologies to William Shakespeare:
Divine Presence is my guide
and so I need nothing more.
My soul is like still water inside
that Presence will restore.
I am led to walk an upright path,
feeling the Divine within me,
and I do not know fear or wrath
even though, at times, I cannot see.
Among worldly shadows of gloom,
Divine Presence wipes away fear.
I feel no foreboding sense of doom.
Presence-filled, I hear, I hear…
O my soul, I know that heart, that hand;
and thus, now and forever, I understand.
Doing this exercise did not induce sleep for me. (It may or may not have a soporific effect on you, Dear Reader.) But I did find that it caused me think more deeply about the meaning I took from the Twenty-Third Psalm than I might have done by simply reading it.