Translating Julian

Every morning as part of our daily devotions, my wife and I recite the following prayer from chapter five of Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love as translated by M. L. del Mastro:

God, of your goodness, give me yourself, for you are enough for me. I can ask for nothing less that is completely to your honor, and if I do ask anything less, I shall always be in want. Only in you I have all.

Last night at the Atlanta Julian Meeting, the group members discussed using this prayer to close our meetings. However, the group is reading a different edition of Julian’s book: Revelation of Love, translated by John Skinner. That translation goes like this:

God, of your goodness, give me yourself; for you are enough to me; and I may nothing ask that is less that may be full worship to you. And if I ask anything that is less, I am ever left wanting; but only in you I have all.”

Predictably, I favored the del Mastro translation, simply for force of habit. But other members of the group prefer the Skinner version, particularly because of the use of the word “worship” rather than “honor.” Intrigued, I said I wanted to go back to Julian’s original words and see what they say. So when I got home from the meeting last night, I consulted the Norton Critical Edition of the Showings of Julian of Norwich, edited by Denise N. Baker. Based on the Paris manuscript (one of four surviving early manuscripts of Julian’s book), in it the prayer reads like this:

God, of thy goodness geve me thy selfe, for thou art inough to me, and I maie aske nothing that is lesse that maie be full worshippe to thee. And if I aske anie thing that is lesse, ever me wanteth, but only in thee I have all.

So “worship” wins out over del Mastro’s paraphrased “honor.” Just to make sure, I consulted Julia Bolton Holloway’s magisterial Showing of Love: Extant Texts and Translation which includes all four of the early manuscripts. The Amherst manuscript, the shortest and oldest of the four, does not include this prayer. But the London and Westminster manuscripts both agree with the Paris manuscript.

So… del Mastro’s translation is (in my opinion) the more poetic, but also more of a paraphrase. Skinner’s translation is much more faithful to the original text, but suffers from a certain clunkiness which obscures the lyrical prayer in Julian’s own middle English voice (incidentally, overall I really like Skinner’s translation, and find it highly readable). If you know some of the issues surrounding Bible translation, this issue of accuracy vs. readability is a perennial challenge: highly transliteral versions like the New American Standard or the New American Bible are difficult to read, while more eloquent translations like the New Jerusalem Bible or the Revised English Bible are not always as word-for-word faithful to the original text.

At any rate, finding that I’m not entirely happy with either of the two translations of Julian’s prayer under consideration, I took the most logical third course, and tried my hand at translating it myself. And here’s what I came up with:

God, of your goodness, give me yourself, for you are enough for me. I may ask nothing less that is fully to your worship, and if I do ask anything less, ever shall I be in want. Only in you I have all.

To which I can only say, “Amen!”

The Feast of Saint Hildegard
One Great Mystic Speaks of Another
John Cassian's Three Renunciations
Julian of Norwich
  • http://wildfaith.blogspot.com Darrell Grizzle

    I’ve gone on similar word-searches with passages from scripture, both canonical and non-canonical. It’s a pleasant little form of OCD to have, isn’t it? It’s a pleasant little form of OCD to have, isn’t it?