Even Bono Knows the Psalms

The Psalmes of King david

The Psalmes of King David, translated by King James, 1631

I have a weakness for Psalms in popular culture. It’s another one of my eccentric hobbies, along with the mostly-dead art of memorizing poetry, and collecting picture book adaptations of famous literary texts like Virginia Woolf’s Nurse Lugton’s Curtain and Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince.

Don McClean’s “Babylon,” from his famous “American Pie” album, far outshines the perhaps more familiar Godspell version of Psalm 137:

By the waters,
The waters of Babylon
We lay down and wept
And wept, for thee Zion
We remember thee, rememberThee
Remember thee, Zion

Listen here, courtesy of YouTube.

In high school, we were convinced the classic oldie “Stand By Me” was really an adaptation of Psalm 46—lo and behold, a little poking around on Wikipedia confirms our long-held suspicions:

Psalm 46
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

Stand By Me
Lyrics by Ben E. King, J. Leiber, and M. Stoller
. . . If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
All the mountains should crumble to the sea
I won’t cry, I won’t cry
No, I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
(Second verse)

Even Bono knows the Psalms. Like as not, I can best quote Psalm 40 by singing the appropriately-named song “40” from U2’s early album War:

I waited patiently for the Lord.
He inclined and heard my cry.
He brought me up out of the pit
Out of the miry clay.

I will sing, sing a new song. . . [Chorus]

You set my feet upon a rock
And made my footsteps firm.
Many will see, many will see and hear.

No surprise then that the admittedly pious medieval Celts would come up with their own Psalms. Many of these oral prayers, hymns, and poems were recorded by Scottish folklorist Alexander Carmichael and published initially in 1900 as the Carmina Gadelica (Charms of the Gaels).

Here’s one that struck me as particularly Psalm-like. Was it composed by an anonymous Celt or King David? If you didn’t know, could you tell?

Thou, my soul’s Healer,
Keep me at even,
Keep me at morning,
Keep me at noon,
On rough course faring,
Help and safeguard
My means this night.
I am tired, astray, and stumbling,
Shield Thou me from snare and sin.

Psalm references are taken from the common Western enumeration.