This Psalm is straightforwardly post-exilic (for which see Sefer haWiki) but switches in its narrative perspective between before and after the return from Babylon, between gratitude and longing for return, helped by the profoundly non-linear mechanics of verbal tense and aspect in biblical Hebrew. The Psalmist chooses words associated with joy (s’hoq, rinah) that are — I think deliberately — tinged with other, more complicated emotions. Here’s what came out.
They used to sing a song
On the steps of the Temple
The very place wiped out,
Put back together
Stone by stone.
בְּשׁוּב יְהוָה, אֶת-שִׁיבַת צִיּוֹן– הָיִינוּ, כְּחֹלְמִים
Exile or return.
Which one is the dream?
We left something behind
But no one remembers what or where.
אָז יִמָּלֵא שְׂחוֹק, פִּינוּ– וּלְשׁוֹנֵנוּ רִנָּה
Our mouths are filled with laughter
And a taste of mockery
Our tongues with cries of joy
Tinged by knowing,
Somehow we are still in exile.
אָז, יֹאמְרוּ בַגּוֹיִם– הִגְדִּיל יְהוָה, לַעֲשׂוֹת עִם-אֵלֶּה
הִגְדִּיל יְהוָה, לַעֲשׂוֹת עִמָּנוּ– הָיִינוּ שְׂמֵחִים
The miracle that people said could never happen
We were as surprised as everyone else
Happy and unprepared.
שׁוּבָה יְהוָה, אֶת שְׁבִיתֵנוּ כַּאֲפִיקִים בַּנֶּגֶב
הַזֹּרְעִים בְּדִמְעָה– בְּרִנָּה יִקְצֹרוּ
Return our return.
Restore our restoration.
Bring us back to wherever we started
And we’ll be strong
Like stream beds in the desert
Etched and hard but ready for the flow.
Waters of weeping, saturating
Sprouting cries of joy
הָלוֹךְ יֵלֵךְ, וּבָכֹה– נֹשֵׂא מֶשֶׁךְ-הַזָּרַע
בֹּא-יָבֹא בְרִנָּה– נֹשֵׂא, אֲלֻמֹּתָיו
I was the one who trudged along
Sowing my trail of tears
And now I think I’m ready
For the golden sheaths they watered.