by Mary Phil Korsak.

1          Perception.
            Of Philomel. When she was in the dark.

2          Voice of woman: I cry to the goddess.
            Voice of woman: I seek the Hidden One.
3          I pour out before her my plaint.
            My trouble, before her, I tell.

4          When woman spirit is faint within me,
            you, you know my path.
            On the road of crones, of women and girls
            they have buried a trap for me.

5          Look to the right and see:
            no-one recognises me!
            All refuge is lost to me:
            no-one enquires for my soul.

6           I cry to you, Lady, and say,
            You, my shelter,
            my lot in the land of the living.

7          Hear my song,
            for I droop low.
            Deliver me from my pursuers,
            for they are stronger than I.
8          Lead my soul from prison
            to praise your name.
            In me upright women are crowned,
            when you reward me.

            Note: v 5 Look to the right. The right is the position of the advocate.

The book of psalms is made up of 150 poems in praise of the Hebrew god, YHWH. Although tradition attributes them to David, second king of Israel (c. 1000 BCE), they were in reality composed by different authors over a very long period. The book of psalms is made up of various kinds of songs/poems including prayers of supplication such as Psalm 142. These latter prayers have a typical structure, which can be broken down into four stages. First, the suppliant calls on YHWH. Second, there is a description of the ills suffered by the suppliant. Third, the reasons why YHWH must intervene in the suppliant’s favour are presented. Fourth, in conclusion, the suppliant, sure of being heard, tells of the joy his deliverance will cause the just and/or the shame that will be felt by his enemies.
The psalms were accompanied by music and also probably by dancing. It is thought that they were chanted in the temple and in procession.

My feminist version is written in unaffected, vigorous English. It uses rhythm and alliteration (vv 3. 6) to convey the poetic character of the Hebrew. Moreover, it confronts tradition by appropriating the source text in a feminist perspective. The voice of the psalmist, traditionally that of King David, becomes the voice of a woman, Philomel, meaning "nightingale". Instead of the god YHWH, the suppliant addresses a feminine divinity, the goddess.
Furthermore, the words "the Hidden One" ("LORD" in the Revised Standard Version) are introduced into the text by the translator. They represent the hidden, feminine aspect of the Divine which has been erased from tradition. Translators are partly responsible for this loss. In what way? The Hebrew word ruah, meaning "spirit" (also "breath" and "wind") is feminine: the hovering spirit in the opening verse of the Book of Genesis evokes a hovering mother-bird. However, feminine ruah is translated by neuter pneuma in the Greek Septuagint and by masculine spiritus in the Latin Vulgate and these versions have influenced vernacular translations, where no sign of the Divine Feminine is to be found. The feminist adaptation proposed here attempts to recuperate this loss.
The Hebrew word ruah occurs in verse 4 of the psalm 142. It is translated as "woman spirit".
Notice, in passing, the expressive sequence of address: initially the divinity appears to be distant from the suppliant; she is the "Hidden One" and "her". The distance decreases with the direct address "you" in verse 4.
For those who wish to pray the psalm, it may be helpful to remember that the Divine image represents both the transcendent which is beyond human reach and the immanent life force struggling to break the surface within our deepest selves.

With thanks to Athalya Brenner, Professor of Hebrew Studies at Amsterdam University, for her critical comments on the rendering of the psalm. MPK

Published in Psalmen Leben, EB-Verlag, Hamburg 2002