top of page

Modern English Versions - Opening

"As I walked through the wilderness of this world" is a brilliantly alliterative opening - the repeated "w" words, the monosyllables giving emphasis to the "wilderness" in the middle of the phrase. And it's an active invitation into the dynamic of the story...As...what? And it's immediately theological in multiple ways - walking is the biblical term for discipleship, the wilderness is both the place of wandering until you get to the promised land (Exodus) and the refuge from the world's worldliness and the devil's attacks (Rev). And therefore world has double-meaning as simple 'here', involving the reader in the identification of a shared reality, as well as 'world' as the fallen reality before God.

So what needs modernizing in the opening of PP?

  • Uniformly disembowelled!

Whether adapting the English with a light or a heavy hand, not one of these version keeps Bunyan's language about the burdened man's children: 'children of my bowels.' We just don't speak of bowels in polite society anymore. But in the seventeenth century, as the King James Version also testifies, bowels means the 'heart' as the seat of emotion and love. So in Part II Christiana can tell Mercy that "Bowels becometh pilgrims." Our versions have varying options: Ford goes for the literal bodiliness in rendering the phrase: "my children, the fruit of my own body;" EPBooks have "my dear children." Similarly, Edmonson's version has "children I love," Frayer-Griggs has, "beloved children," and Vermilye, who adapts the most expansively, has the man say, '"I love you all dearly,”... "but I feel I must share with you this miserable and heavy burden that I’ve been carrying"'

  • The Burden of the town's 'fearful overthrow':

So Vermilye openly indicates ,in talk about a burden that can be shared, that the reader should see the man as seeing his burden largely metaphorically. That is, he is not talking about asking his family to share the carrying of his physical burden by leaning up against them to have them take some of the load. An example of modernizing language necessarily being interpretative.

The 'miserable and heavy' burden is connected to learning that the 'town will be destroyed - burned by fire from heaven.' Ford writes of coming to a 'dreadful end in this terrible destruction;' Frayer-Griggs writes of 'destruction' and 'a miserable end.' EPBooks give us 'fearful catastrophe.' Edmonson writes of 'coming to ruin.' Now Bunyan has the fate of the City of Destruction (although we would only know its name at this stage from a frontispiece illustration (a picture that comes at the front of the book to accompany the title page) - and none of these editions have that...) as a 'fearful overthrow.' And Bunyan's choice of "overthrow" is drawn precisely from Genesis 19:29 which sources his vision of the city destroyed by fire from heaven and other language in this section.

"And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in the which Lot dwelt." But when modern Bible translation don't have 'overthrow/overthrew' the echo is lost on a reader, in any case.

  • The Burden and its effect:

What impact does bearing the burden have on the man? Bunyan tells us, "I your dear friend am in myself undone." This is an allusion to the prophet Isaiah's response to divine conviction of his sinfulness in the very presence of God (6:5). But who speaks like that anymore? Our versions either elided the statement altogether or have, variously, Ford: I "have lost all peace," Edmonson, "I’m extremely unsettled," Frayer-Griggs has "I have come undone," which the closest to the original in wording, but has a slightly different sense. It could be claimed that it's one thing to report an external impact on oneself before which " I am undone," and another to report a reflection on one's own internal experiential state, yet what these versions do perhaps capture is Bunyan's reflective "in myself".

No one modernizes the first phrase - it's too simple to need it. Some leave the entire first paragraph untouched - Frayer-Griggs. EPBooks remove a redundant "And' at the beginning of a sentence. One way to see the changes in the first paragraph has to do with an appreciation of the poetic music and rhythm of Bunyan's writing: ' I laid me down in that place to sleep. And as I slept, I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and, behold,' That's the redundant 'And,' by the way. But there's other redundancy too: sleep/slept...dreamed /dream / dreamed. These repetitions of short punchy words slow the reader down and draw the reader into Bunyan's emphasis. 'In a certain place' is is drawn Genesis 28 when Jacob lays his head down in a certain place and dreams. 'Dream' is the largest set word in PP's original title page. Bunyan reminds us of his dreaming narrator throughout. So his stress and repetition have a point.

Poetic, theologically laden repetition does not always survive modernizing. Ford does a good job on this score:

'Inside [the den] I lay down to sleep, and as I slept, I had a dream. In my dream...,'

Vermilye renders this as:

'and I laid down in it [a clearing!] to sleep.

While I slept, I dreamed about...'

His paragraph division separates the repetition of sleep/ slept.

Edmonson does not repeat sleep or dream:

'...there I lay down to sleep. In a dream I saw...'

EPBooks keeps the original wording in this phrasing, as does Frayer-Griggs.

By the way, and for what it's worth, we still have Acts 2:17 'old men will dream dreams' in modern English Bible translations, so redundancy is not eliminated as a matter of course...

More evidence could be drawn still - how is 'behold' modernized, or 'lamentable cry,' but suffice it to say that the approaches to the same text are various. The reader will want to assess more than just a few opening constructions to gauge consistency throughout. And again, as modernizing will necessarily change the text, what it means to do so with integrity and for whom is the question that all modernizers attempt to address. And does it matter? And how so, as long as the story's 'message' is conveyed?

4 views0 comments


bottom of page