Auden, the Psalms, and Me
J. Chester Johnson
Choosing a new hymnal is controversial enough for many congregations, so consider the emotions that surround revising a centuries-old Psalter. In the late 1960s the Episcopal Church (the U.S. member of the Anglican Communion) undertook a revision of their Psalter in parallel with revising their Book of Common Prayer. Work on the Psalter, which had been used with minor tweaks since the 1500s, began around 1968 and was completed in 1971, and work on the BCP concluded in 1979.
One of the original members of the committee charged with revising the Psalter was the English poet W. H. Auden (1907–1973), whose winter home was New York City in the late 1960s. Auden was intimately familiar with the Psalms from his childhood in the north of England, but as importantly (and not noted in the book reviewed here), he had written librettos, with his partner Chester Kallman, to be set to music for composers including Benjamin Britten, Igor Stravinsky, and Hans Werner Henze.