Beatitudes as Tibetic-style poetry

“In working as a Bible translator in Tibetan, the overriding aesthetic value that guided the translation was the sonic quality of the oral-aural transmission and reception. The primary quality control measure of almost everything that was translated, regardless of genre, whether it was a genealogy, a list of vices, a hymn, narrative, prophecy, poetry or didactic teaching, was all measured through the lens of ‘does this verse or section sound melodious and pleasing to the ears?’ The concern of our mother tongue translators was that a holy and sacred text must inherently be melodious and sweet sounding to the ear, or no one would consider it to be sacred, nor would they want to read it or listen to it being read aloud. Furthermore, if the text is melodious and sweet to the ears (snyan po) and has an appealing ‘flavor’ (bro ba), then it will also be kho bde po — easy to comprehend (literally ‘smooth to the ear’) and kha deb po — easy to read (literally ‘smooth to the mouth’). It would also more easily lend itself to memorization, recitation and being sung-all highly important aspects in a Tibetan context. (…) More typically, poetry is versified with an uneven number of syllables in lines of seven and nine syllables, a form of synalepha [suppression of a vowel at the end of word when it is followed by another word beginning with a vowel] grouped as 1-0-1-0-1-0-0. Though lines of 11, 13, 15 syllables (and so on) are possible, the pattern of 7 or 9 is by far the most prevalent in Tibetan literature.

“Given the structure of the Beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel, with rhythmic parallel patterns (see Translation commentary on Matthew 5:3) (…), the team decided to render this section in poetic form to not only promote ease of memorization and recitation, but to enhance the euphonic appeal [having a pleasant sound]. The text follows a typical nine syllable synalepha structure.” (Quoted in Watters / de Blois 2023)

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