Isaiah in meter

Not all metrical psalms are from the Book of Psalms. Here is a peerless version of Isaiah 40:1-5 (quoted in my previous post), doubling as an old Advent song from the 17th century.

Comfort, comfort, ye my people,
Speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
Comfort those who sit in darkness,
Bowed beneath their sorrows’ load.
Speak ye to Jerusalem
Of the peace that waits for them;
Tell her that her sins I cover
And her warfare now is over.

Yea, her sins our God will pardon,
Blotting out each dark misdeed;
All that well deserved His anger
He no more will see or heed.
She hath suffered many a day,
Now her griefs have passed away;
God will change her pining sadness
Into ever-springing gladness.

Hark, the Herald’s voice is crying
In the desert far and near,
Bidding all men to repentance
Since the Kingdom now is here.
Oh, that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way;
Let the valleys rise to meet Him
And the hills bow down to greet Him.

Make ye straight what long was crooked,
Make the rougher places plain;
Let your hearts be true and humble,
As befits His holy reign.
For the glory of the Lord
Now o’er earth is shed abroad,
And all flesh shall see the token
That His Word is never broken.

~ Johann Olearius, 1635-1711; trans. by Catherine Winkworth, 1829-1878


About middlingpoet

From the Gawain poet to Rainer Maria Rilke: I love traditional poetry.
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4 Responses to Isaiah in meter

  1. Thank you for sharing this text. It is certainly one of my favorites. The song is found in Cantus Christi, the hymnal my church uses every Sunday.

  2. middlingpoet says:

    Is that the Cantus Christi put out by Canon Press ( With metrical psalms by Doug Wilson? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on how well it works in daily worship. Metrical psalms are increasingly interesting to me. (And of course, kudos to the editors for including “Comfort, Comfort Ye”!)

  3. Yes, that is the hymnal. Ours is the 2002 edition. Wilson has created some of the metrical versions himself. Some are from the Scottish Psalter of 1650, from “The Book of Psalms for Singing, 1973”, and he draws from other sources, too. As for use in the assembly, it seems to work well. The verses are joined well with singable melodies and not too difficult harmonies. Every now and again, the rhyme feels forced. Either pronunciation has changed over time, or the writer could not bring the sense of the Psalm in another way. These instances are minimal, however. My family appreciates them for singing and playing through the week, as well. My personal favorites include “Be Not Far Off, For Grief is Near” (Psalm 22:11-20; “The Book of Psalms…1973”) and “The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll Not Want” (Psalm 23; “The Scottish Psalter, 1650).

  4. middlingpoet says:

    Thanks for these thoughts, dandelionsmith. Occasionally I go poking through the Bay Psalm Book & the Scottish Psalter (rarely the modern renditions). My impressions aren’t usually favorable, but it’s hard to tell when just reading the hymn, as opposed to singing it with a group. A singable tune can really redeem an awkward text!

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