When the Episcopal Church set about updating its Book of Common Prayer nearly 50 years ago, its committee to retranslate the Psalms faced a daunting task. Not only did it have to re-translate the Psalms, considered by many the "poetry" of the Bible, but it was losing its one poet on the committee who was moving back to England. It's hard to imagine anyone filling the shoes of W.H. Auden, but the young poet and translator J. Chester Johnson did just that.
In the current issue of Illuminations, J. Chester Johnson reflects on that experience--how he came to replace Auden, correspond with the great poet, and then set about helping the Episcopal Church refine the Psalms in the light of new scholarship. Poet and translator Ann Cefola interviews Johnson about the influence this experience with Auden and the retranslation of the Psalms had upon Johnson's literary career; she also discusses with Johnson the principles and practices that guided the retranslation process that lasted for nearly a decade. The interview encapsulates a critical period in Episcopal Church history and valuable insight into translating sacred texts.
Illuminations, the literary journal of the College of Charleston, has published poets such as Seamus Heaney, Stephen Spender and Carol Anne Duffy, as well as emerging writers, since its inception in 1982. (Click here to read the interview.)