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poetry

Poetry has been well defined as “the measured language of emotion.” Hebrew poetry deals almost exclusively with the great question of man's relation to God. “Guilt, condemnation, punishment, pardon, redemption, repentance are the awful themes of this heaven-born poetry.”

In the Hebrew scriptures, there are found three distinct kinds of poetry:

  1. Dramatic—that of the Book of Job and the Song of Solomon

  2. Lyrical—that of the Book of Psalms

  3. Didactic and Sententious—that of the Book of Ecclesiastes

Hebrew poetry has nothing akin to that of Western nations. It has neither metre nor rhyme. Its great peculiarity consists in the mutual correspondence of sentences or clauses, called parallelism, or “thought-rhyme.” Various kinds of this parallelism have been pointed out:

  1. Synonymous or cognate parallelism, where the same idea is repeated in the same words (Psalms 93:3; 94:1; Prov. 6:2), or in different words (Psalms 22, 23, 28, 114, etc.); or where it is expressed in a positive form in the one clause and in a negative in the other (Psalms 40:12; Prov. 6:26); or where the same idea is expressed in three successive clauses (Psalms 40:15-16); or in a double parallelism, the first and second clauses corresponding to the third and fourth (Isa. 9:1; 61:10-11).

  2. Antithetic parallelism, where the idea of the second clause is the converse of that of the first (Psalms 20:8; 27:6-7; 34:11; 37:9, 17, 21-22). This is the common form of gnomic or proverbial poetry. (See Prov. 10-15.)

  3. Synthetic or constructive or compound parallelism, where each clause or sentence contains some accessory idea enforcing the main idea (Psalms 19:7-10; 85:12; Job 3:3-9; Isa. 1:5-9).

  4. Introverted parallelism, in which of four clauses the first answers to the fourth and the second to the third (Psalms 135:15-18; Prov. 23:15-16), or where the second line reverses the order of words in the first (Psalms 86:2).

Hebrew poetry sometimes assumes other forms than these.

  • An alphabetical arrangement is sometimes adopted for the purpose of connecting clauses or sentences. Thus, in the following, the initial words of the respective verses begin with the letters of the alphabet in regular succession: Prov. 31:10-31; Lam. 1, 2, 3, 4; Psalms 25, 34, 37, 145. Psalms 119 has a letter of the alphabet in regular order beginning every eighth verse.

  • The repetition of the same verse or of some emphatic expression at intervals (Psalms 42, 107, where the refrain is in verses, 8, 15, 21, 31). (Compare also Isa. 9:8; 10:4; Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 2:1, 4, 6.)

  • Gradation, in which the thought of one verse is resumed in another (Psalms 121).

Several odes of great poetical beauty are found in the historical books of the Old Testament, such as the song of Moses (Ex. 15), the song of Deborah (Judg. 5), of Hannah (1 Sam. 2), of Hezekiah (Isa. 38:9-20), of Habakkuk (Hab. 3), and David's “song of the bow” (2 Sam. 1:19-27).

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