My eighth Julian

Mirabai Starr:Julian

And just like that, I found ‘my’ Julian. The translation which sounds to me like Julian’s authentic voice, the one that feels like home, the one that touches my heart: The Showings Of Julian Of Norwich, A New Translation by Mirabai Starr, published by Hampton Roads.

When I first started reading different editions aloud of Julian as part of my daily devotion I had 2 aims. One was to find the edition I could take to read from every day, and the other was to be able to give or recommend a full text to anyone who was looking for one.

So this is my eighth Julian, but only the sixth complete text. The first was the pocket-sized Enfolded In Love book, and I keep a stack of them at home to give as a taster of Julian’s writing. I have given the current Penguin Classic (Elizabeth Spearing translation) a couple of times, and the John Skinner translation, but while I really liked them I didn’t feel I had found a translation to live with.

There have been translations I had expected to love which have left me cold, and so I came to this one without many expectations. The biography of the translator at the back of the book describes her as being ‘at the vanguard of the emerging Interspiritual movement’ and I read it with a sinking feeling, anticipating some kind of New Age woolly version of Julian.

How wrong I was. One of the quotes on the back of the book describes it as a ‘faithful but freeing’ translation, and while I haven’t read Julian’s original version I agree that this version is wonderful. It flows, it is poetic, it is easy to read and read aloud has the easy, musical cadences of a woman speaking of things she has meditated upon and knows well, of things she loves deeply and wants to share. This, to me, is Julian’s voice.

I still have a number of translations to read, but I have found  a translation to live with, to return to again and again. A translation as good as this is a wonderful gift to the world; to achieve it required a sensitivity to the material, but also a humility, a willingness to step back, to remove the self from the equation and facilitate another’s communication. This is Julian’s voice, and only Julian’s voice, and this is what makes this book stand apart from all the others I have read. All the others, to some degree, for me had a feeling of control, of another voice or mind beside Julian’s.

Mirabai Starr has crafted a wonderful translation, she has given Julian her voice.

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My seventh Julian

Revelations:S Upjohn

I bought this translation while I was in Norwich last summer. It is published by the Friends of Julian, has a forward by Robert Llewelyn, and is translated by Sheila Upjohn. It is arranged as daily readings, with most chapters set out over two or three days. I really wanted to like this translation very much, but in the end was a bit disappointed by it.

My first experience of Julian’s writing was the small Enfolded in Love book, and I have always loved the way the words flowed. For a long time I didn’t realise that it was Sheila Upjohn who had done the translation, I was more aware of the fact that Robert Llewelyn had been the editor of that and the other books in the series. When I found out that there was a longer translation available I was excited to read it, and I must say that the translation itself is wonderful, but there are other things which don’t work for me.

First of all, this is not a complete translation. Most of the text is here, but it is not all here, and unfortunately for me, some of my favourite passages have been omitted, so as I read I was very aware that some things were missing.

Like the Grace Warrack translation, this is quite a sparse version, with no footnotes and no headings. The chapter numbers are printed at the bottom of the page, but that is all. I usually read two chapters of Julian every evening, and so this format didn’t really work for me, I suppose because I was not using it in the way it was intended.

In the end I had very mixed feelings about this book, but in large part I think this is due to the way I read Julian and the structure of the book being incompatible. The translation is wonderful, and if you are looking for a structured text for daily meditation, maybe a step on from Enfolded in Love, then this might be the translation for you. However, if you are familiar with the full text then this will seem a little lacking, and if you read it in any way other than the one for which it was intended then it will feel a little disjointed.

My sixth Julian

Revelations:G Warrack

I believe this is the oldest of the modern translations of Julian, and was recommended to me by an OJN oblate. It was originally published in 1901, and first brought recognition to Julian in the twentieth century. I believe there are a number of different editions of this translation, and the one I read was published by Wilder Publications in the US. It is a little larger than a standard paperback, but also quite a slim volume, containing only 107 pages.

Compared to most of the other translations I have read, this one uses more traditional language. It preserves more of the archaic vocabulary and, like the translation by Fr John Julian contains many short paragraphs, often beginning with a conjunction. I have not read Julian’s original Middle-English work, but I believe this is a reflection of how the Revelations were originally written.

Apart from chapter numbers, there are no headings or footnotes, so if you are looking for a version which is only the bare bones, this is a good one to use. There is nothing to distract you from the text. This lack of any headings, however, means that it is difficult to locate a passage unless you already know the entire text well.

I found the traditional language beautiful at times, but also quite a challenge. More modern translations are easier to understand, but for some people I think the beauty of the language will be worth the effort. If you enjoy reading the King James Bible, or the traditional language of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, then this might be the translation for you.

I was glad I had read this translation, and found quite a lot to underline in it, but also found myself thinking that I was glad that I had read more modern translations before this one. If I hadn’t I think I might have found parts of it very difficult to understand. It’s an important part of the history of Julian translations. Not a place to start, but somewhere to go when you know something of Julian and would like to read a different version her words. I am thankful that this book started the modern popularity of the Revelations; without it, there would not have been the interest which has led to so much more.