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Half of the six volumes of the Oxford English Texts of Christopher Smart's works are translations: the Psalms (1765), the works of Horace in verse (1767; his prose Horace had appeared in 1756) and the fables of Phaedrus (1765). Nonetheless, Smart's claims as a translator have never been as secure as those of other poets who devoted similar energy and ingenuity to the art, like Dryden or Pound; in fact, his version of the Psalms has rarely, and his version of Horace never, been entirely reprinted before now. Yet David and Horace are among the poets dearest to Smart; they inspired and instructed him, and he made his translation of them at the same time he wrote his major creative works. In Horace, whom he calls the `Heathen Psalmist', he finds a theory and practice of an `unrivalled peculiarity of expression', though he hardly needs someone else's help to be peculiar. Horace also offers standards of elegance and good taste and has the ability, second only to sacred writers, to impress moral lessons. In the Psalms, Smart could find practically everything that matters to him: the sublimity of creation, praise of God the Creator, the imperative of gratitude, possibilities for versification, and images (horns and pillars make notable appearances in Smart's poetry).
Smart's success in his translation of the Psalms, intermittently realized, is to distinguish between the `glorious pomp', the `goodly pomp', of God's creation and the `pompous thoughts' and `pomp' of worldly men. The sublimity of the world God created and the arrogant insolence of men of the world move Smart to his best work.
Sublimity and its cognates are favourite words in his translation, and many times the words are simply fillers. Yet his version of sublimity is his own; he does not merely inherit the eighteenth century vogue for it. He removes its usual connection with fear or terror and instead associates it with mirth, intense delight, pleasure, and trust, with the warming of the heart. The Hebrew Psalm 48, for example, has as its concern the beauty and greatness of God and Zion; the Book of Common Prayer (Smart's base text, though he also consults the Authorized Version) emphasizes the awesomeness of and the trust in God's covenant. Smart emphasizes by; he translates the psalm in the 'romance six' stanza of A Song to David ([a.sup.8][a.sup.8][b.sup.6][c.sup.8][c.sup.8][b.sup.6]; a form he generally makes use of when thanks-giving is a theme) and offers `delight', `daily bounties heap'd and press'd', `mirth', and `joy'. Psalms celebrating God and His creation offer opportunities he is instinctively drawn to. Take any of the five `Hallelujah' Psalms with which the Psalter ends (four of them in the romance six stanza): the headlong rush to praise is intrinsic to his best versions.
To be ungrateful is to break our covenant with God, and this is Smart's vision of evil: ingratitude, preferring the world to God. …