Robert Alter finds a neat way to end Psalm 39, the psalm that most focuses, in semantics and structure, on man’s evanescence.
Alter’s notes for Psalm 39 demonstrate (1) the predominance of “breath” (e.g., “Mere breath is each man standing”), (2) the echoes from Job (e.g., “You . . . melt like the moth his treasure”), and (3) the contrast between the psalm’s triadic lines (psychological tension) and dyadic lines (symmetry). Alter’s last verse confronts these components.
I’m used to the psalm ending on something like the Revised English Bible’s simpering:
Frown on me no more; let me look cheerful
before I depart and cease to be.
But Alter likes how Raymond Scheindlin translates Job’s end for its chapter 10, rendering the “disputed verb avligah” as “catch my breath”:
Let me alone so I may catch my breath
before I go on my way, not to return
into a land of darkness and deathgloom
Psalm 39’s final verse uses the same verb. Alter adopts Scheindlin’s strategy, giving the last verse’s dyadic structure something of the roundedness of the previous triadic lines:
Look away from me, that I may catch my breath
before I depart and am not.
Based on these lines alone, I just ordered a copy of Scheindlin’s Job – a used, hardcover copy for next to nothing.