cadences of pure poetry


Not so long ago the Reverend Mary Garbutt, Anglican pastor of a village in Northamptonshire, performed a gruelling sponsored marathon. She read out loud the entire 823,156-word text of the 1611 King James Bible over three and a half days. She read for 14 hours at a stretch, with only occasional 10-minute breaks, while parishioners stood by with orange juice, cakes and throat lozenges. Croaking through the final pages, she burst into tears, she said, from a sense of “spiritual joy”. Rector Garbutt’s project was just one of many readings, conferences, broadcasts and exhibitions in recent months to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible (KJB), which falls putatively on May 2. For centuries the dominance of the KJB was unchallenged among English-speaking Protestants, and still is among many American Christian faith communities. At his inauguration, President Barack Obama took the oath of office from Lincoln’s copy of the KJB. Reputedly the most read book in English, it now competes with scores of subsequent translations that have strived to reduce obsolete expressions; yet it still sells some 250,000 copies each year. Despite the stumbling block of its archaic language and spelling, the KJB retains for many an impression of peerless sublimity. All those “begats”, “knoweths” and “spakes”, and occasional sheer gobbledegook – “Moab is my wash-pot ouer Eom wil I cast out my shooe” (in the spelling of the 1611 edition) – interpenetrate with cadences of pure poetry.

more from John Cornwell at the FT here.