Mary (Sidney) Herbert, the Countess of Pembroke, was born on October 27, 1561. According to the Poetry Foundation:
The daughter of Sir Henry Sidney and Mary Dudley, Mary Sidney was born on 27 October 1561 at Tickenhall near Bewdley, Worcestershire, on the Welsh border while her father was serving as lord Governor of the marches of Wales. He had been a companion of King Edward, who died in his arms. Her mother, a well-educated woman who was a close friend of Queen Elizabeth, was the daughter of the Earl of Northumberland, who was virtual ruler of England in King Edward's final years, and the sister of Elizabeth's favorite, Robert Dudley. Lady Sidney was badly scarred by smallpox after nursing the queen, and thereafter rarely appeared at court.
Describing her work on the psalter, the Poetry Foundation states:
The countess used 128 different verse forms for the 107 Psalms she translated (Psalm 119 has twenty-two sections), making her achievement significant for metrical variety as well as for the content, Like her Genevan sources, the countess used the Psalms to comment on contemporary politics, particularly the persecution of "the godly," as Protestants called themselves. By expanding metaphors and descriptions present in the original Hebrew, Sidney also incorporated her experience at Elizabeth's court, as well as female experiences of marriage and childbirth.
Sir Philip Sidney offered this translation of the most famous psalm, number 23:
The Lord, the Lord my shepherd is,
And so can never I
He rests me in greene pasture his:
By waters still, and sweete
He guides my feete.
He me revives : leades me the way,
Which righteousnesse doth take,
For his names sake.
Yea though I should through valleys stray,
Of deathes dark shade, I will
Noe whitt feare ill.
For thou, deere Lord, thou me besett'st:
Thy rodd, and thy staff be
To comfort me;
Before me thou a table sett'st,
Even when foes envious eye
Doth it espy.
Thou oil'st my head thou fil'st my cup:
Nay more thou endlesse good,
Shalt give me food.
To thee, I say, ascended up,
Where thou, the Lord of all,
Dost hold thy hall.
Mary wrote this translation of Psalm 90:
O Lord, hast byn from time to time:
Long er Mountaines, proudly swelling,
Above the lowly dales did clime:
Long er the Earth, embowl'd by thee,
Bare the forme it now doth beare:
Yea, thou art God for ever, free
From all touch of age and yeare.
O, but man by thee created,
As he at first of earth arose,
When thy word his end hath dated,
In equall state to earth he goes.
Thou saist, and saying makst it soe:
Be noe more, O Adams heyre;
From whence ye came, dispatch to goe,
Dust againe, as dust you were.
Graunt a thousand yeares be spared
To mortall men of life and light:
What is that to thee compared?
One day, one quarter of a night.
When death upon them storm-like falls,
Like unto a dreame they grow:
Which goes and comes as fancy calls,
Nought in substance all in show.
John Donne praised this work highly in this poem:
PHILIP SIDNEY, AND THE COUNTESS OF
PEMBROKE, HIS SISTER
ETERNAL God—for whom who ever dare
Seek new expressions, do the circle square,
And thrust into straight corners of poor wit
Thee, who art cornerless and infinite—
I would but bless Thy name, not name Thee now
—And Thy gifts are as infinite as Thou—
Fix we our praises therefore on this one,
That, as thy blessed Spirit fell upon
These Psalms' first author in a cloven tongue
—For 'twas a double power by which he sung
The highest matter in the noblest form—
So thou hast cleft that Spirit, to perform
That work again, and shed it here, upon
Two, by their bloods, and by Thy Spirit one ;
A brother and a sister, made by Thee
The organ, where Thou art the harmony.
Two that make one John Baptist's holy voice,
And who that Psalm, "Now let the Isles rejoice,"
Have both translated, and applied it too,
Both told us what, and taught us how to do.
They show us islanders our Joy, our King ;
They tell us why, and teach us how to sing.
Make all this all three choirs, heaven, earth, and spheres ;
The first, Heaven, hath a song, but no man hears ;
The spheres have music, but they have no tongue,
Their harmony is rather danced than sung ;
But our third choir, to which the first gives ear
—For Angels learn by what the Church does here—
This choir hath all. The organist is he
Who hath tuned God and man, the organ we ;
The songs are these, which heaven's high holy Muse
Whisper'd to David, David to the Jews ;
And David's successors in holy zeal,
In forms of joy and art do re-reveal
To us so sweetly and sincerely too,
That I must not rejoice as I would do,
When I behold that these Psalms are become
So well attired abroad, so ill at home,
So well in chambers, in Thy Church so ill,
As I can scarce call that reform'd until
This be reform'd ; would a whole state present
A lesser gift than some one man hath sent ?
And shall our Church unto our Spouse and King
More hoarse, more harsh than any other, sing ?
For that we pray, we praise Thy name for this,
Which, by this Moses and this Miriam, is
Already done ; and as those Psalms we call,
—Though some have other authors—David's all,
So though some have, some may some Psalms translate,
We Thy Sidneian psalms shall celebrate,
And, till we come th' extemporal song to sing
—Learn'd the first hour that we see the King,
Who hath translated those translators—may
These their sweet learned labours all the way
Be as our tuning, that when hence we part,
We may fall in with them, and sing our part!
Mary Sidney died on September 25, 1621.