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The Metrical System of Biblical Verse

In the strictest sense the term 'metrical' is not applicable to Biblical verse, since this is constituted, not by any numbering of syllables, but by the parallelism of whole clauses.

The LORD of Hosts is with us,
The God of Jacob is our refuge.

This is verse, not in virtue of any particular number of syllables in the lines, but because the second line is felt to run parallel with the first. This principle of parallelism of clauses underlies the whole of versification in Scriptural literature. As however the different modes of combination and variation of these parallel lines in Biblical poetry correspond, to a large extent, with those of metrical lines in other languages, it is convenient to speak of the principles governing them as a 'metrical system.'

One consequence however of the difference between Biblical and other verse should always be borne in mind. The parallelism of clauses, which makes the foundation of Hebrew verse, is also a thing proper to oratorical prose in all languages. Accordingly in Hebrew prose and verse overlap: the extremes of either (e.g. Psalms and Chronicles) are strongly contrasted, but there is a middle style which can be presented in either form. Hence there is nothing strange in the fact that the same passage of Scripture may be presented by one editor as prose and by another as verse, according to the purpose of each arrangement. [For example: the Oration on Immortality (page 75), which for a specimen of oratory is here arranged as prose, is printed as verse in the Revised Version of the Apocrypha.]

1. The simplest type of parallelism in Biblical literature may be called 'Antique Rhythm.' It is the metre of most of the traditional poetry preserved in the historic books of Scripture. Its unit consists in a couplet, of which either member may be strengthened by a parallel line, but not both.

Let me die the death of the righteous.
And let my last end be like his!

He saith, which heareth the words of God,
Which seeth the vision of the Almighty,
Falling down, and having his eyes open.

He shall eat up the nations his adversaries,
And shall break their bones in pieces,
And smite them through with his arrows.

Such a unit may be called a 'strain.' It will be seen in the examples that the first strain is a simple couplet, the second has its first line strengthened, the last has its second line strengthened. This power of occasionally strengthening either line of a couplet by an additional line gives the Antique Rhythm a flexibility suited to spontaneous composition. A similar device is found in connection with the traditional ballad poetry of England, of which such collections as The Percy Reliques are accidentally preserved specimens. While the regular metre of such ballads is a four-line stanza, yet a few poems, such as the Ballad of Sir Cauline, show some stanzas with individual lines strengthened:

Fair Christabel, that lady mild,
Was had forth of her tower;
But ever she droopeth in her mind,
As nipt by an ungentle wind
Doth some pale lily flower.

The poetry of the historic books mostly takes the form of aggregations of such 'strains' of Antique Rhythm, with no further structure. Occasionally such a poem will fall into verse paragraphs or 'strophes' [to be distinguished from the antistrophic system presently to be described]: an example is David's Song of Victory (see note on page 266). [For a combination of Antique Rhythm and the Antistrophic system, see note to vii on page 267.]

2. The metre of Wisdom verse is highly elaborate: we find here, not only the parallelism of successive clauses, but the 'high parallelism' which correlates all parts of a whole poem with one another. Two types may be distinguished: the Stanza structure and the Antistrophic structure.

Stanzas are familiar to the English reader: in Biblical poetry groups of three lines, or four lines, etc., recur in succession: a simple example is the Chorus of Watchmen (on page 236).

The Antistrophic system is familiar to students of Greek, as the metrical form of tragic choral odes. In this case the stanzas run in pairs, strophe and antistrophe, the theory being that the antistrophe exactly repeats the metrical form of its strophe; if another strophe follows the form may altogether change, but the changed form will be repeated in the corresponding antistrophe. [This may be expressed by the formula a a', b b', c c', etc.] Besides the pair of strophes there may be an introduction, or conclusion, or both. No. i of the Sonnets (on page 125) is an example of a poem consisting simply of strophe and antistrophe; No. iii (page 126) has also a conclusion.

[Footnote 7: The term strophe is the Greek for 'turning': the system is derived from the dance performance of Greek odes, according to which the chorus danced from the altar to the end of the orchestra in one stanza, then 'turned,' and retraced their steps for the antistrophe or 'answering' stanza. The term strophe has come to be used also for verse paragraphs where there is no antistrophic arrangement. (See page 266, note on vi.)]

Both in the case of the Stanza structure and the Antistrophic structure there are various modifications and elaborations -- duplication, inversion, interruption, etc.: these it will be sufficient to explain in connection with the examples in which they are found.

3. The metre of Lyrics is in the main the same as that of Wisdom poetry. But in the strictest kinds of lyrics the structure is further determined by the musical performance. A lyric may be a solo, or the matter may be arranged for 'antiphonal' performance between different performers, e.g. choruses of Men and of Women. Antiphonal and antistrophic structure go easily together: see Deborah's Song, page 152. The musical performance also introduces the 'refrain,' a passage recurring (with or without changes for musical effect): for example see The Song of Moses and Miriam (page 149).

4. A characteristic metrical system in Biblical verse is the 'Doom form.' Here the thread of the poem is in what, for form and spirit, may be called prose; but this prose is interrupted at intervals by lyric verse, celebrating or realising what the prose brings forward. This is chiefly found in prophecies of 'doom,' or denunciation of the foes of Israel (hence the name): the prose is a Divine word of denunciation, the lyrics are mostly impersonal celebrations of what the Divine speaker says. The form is easily collected from examples; see pages 175-181.


Story as a form of literature differs from History by its appeal to the imagination and emotions, whereas History addresses itself to our sense of record and scientific explanation. It is of no consequence whether the matter of the story be historic fact or invention; in the one case the writer selects, in the other case he frames, such details as will have the desired effect in presenting the story to the mind of the reader. The stories of the Bible are scattered through the history, of which they form a part; thus a reader of the Bible in its ordinary versions may be required at any moment to alter the character of his attention without anything to warn him of the change. In the Modern Reader's Bible (volumes Genesis, The Exodus, The Judges, The Kings) the stories are separated from the surrounding matter by titles. Selections of these stories enter into the present volume.

/i. Joseph and his Brethren./ This is one of the most elaborate and artistically beautiful stories in all literature. It emphasises an important place in the Biblical history, Joseph being a link between the Children of Israel and the world empire of Egypt. Among elements of story beauty note the personality of Joseph, its attractiveness wherever he goes and its gradual maturing. Note also the sketches of varied life which make a background to the story as it moves along -- glimpses of shepherd life, of caravan trading, of palace life in Egypt. But the main interest will be the 'plot' -- the technical term for the harmony that binds the different parts of a story into one whole. In the present case there are three 'motives' underlying the plot. (1) What has been called the 'oracular action': the interest of mystic dream oracles gradually becoming clear as the oracles are fulfilled. (2) The development of an ironic situation -- Joseph recognising his brethren but not recognised by them: once developed this situation is prolonged to the utmost by the hero's conflict of feelings, between resentment and family affection. (3) Beneath all other motives is the providential overruling of human events for high purposes (compare page 27).

/ii. The Witness of Balaam./ The place of this story in the main history is indicated by its title: the 'Exodus' is the period of development for Israel from a family to a nation, and towards the close of the period Balaam, an outsider, bears witness in spite of himself to the growing numbers of the nation and to its glorious future. -- In literary form it is a 'mixed epic' or 'canti-fable': a story in prose that breaks into verse at appropriate places. (Compare the expression took up his parable: the parable is an undefined term for a more specialised literary form occurring in the course of more general literature, such as a fable in the midst of a discourse, or a poem in the midst of prose.) -- Its interest rests partly upon the conception of the 'Blessing and the Curse': there is the superstitious idea of the efficacy of these in the minds of Balak and his people, while the true Blessing comes from the prophetic vision accorded to Balaam by God. [Compare 'The Stolen Blessing' in the Genesis volume.] In character Balaam is a sincere worshipper of Jehovah outside the ranks of Jehovah's people, who however from interested motives conforms to the heathen world around him as far as he can. [Outside this story the general history shows him as yielding at last to material interest and acting as tempter to Israel: compare Revelation, chapter ii.14.] -- The third paragraph (page 34) is the famous story of Balaam's Ass. It is the opinion of some that this is a fable interwoven with the main story: it is in favour of this view that the following paragraph, So Balaam went with the princes of Balak, etc., seems the natural continuation of the second paragraph; while the princes of Balak are ignored in the story of the Ass.

/iii. The Crowning of Abimelech./ This occupies an important place in the general history. Originally Israel is ruled only by the invisible Jehovah; gradually the secularising forces around lead to the institution of visible kings. This story is the first attempt at crowning a king, the work of a faction, with civil war and ruin as a result. -- It is a story of war and adventure. [Compare the Raid on Michmash, or The Feud of Saul and David in the Judges volume.] -- Its interest also rests upon the bitter fable of Jotham in scorn of kingship: the fable has the effect of a curse since it is literally fulfilled.

/iv. Samson's Wedding Feast./ This illustrates a variety of story called 'Idyl': the word is almost equivalent to 'trifle,' and the term is applied to incidents of love or domestic life in contradistinction to graver matters of history. [Three Idyl Stories (Ruth, Esther, Tobit) are contained in the Biblical Idyls volume of this series.] -- Characteristic of such a story is the game of riddles; the original riddle, answer, and rejoinder are all in single couplets. -- It is not a pure idyl; feats of hero strength form another interest, as with other stories of Samson.

/v-vii./ These are Prophetic Stories. As the secularising tendency in Israel towards visible kings prevails against the original conception of a spiritual rule by an invisible God there arises an order of 'prophets,' who stand forth as representatives of the invisible Jehovah, and are thus often in opposition to the external government. So in the history of The Kings stories of these prophets, with their miraculous powers, take the place of the stories of heroes and their feats in earlier parts of the history. During the captivity in Babylon, Daniel in a similar way represents the Hebrew God against the king and hierarchy of Babylon.

/vii. Page 63./ I have followed a tradition that the mystic writing on the wall was interpreted by Daniel reading downward instead of across [or rather, down, up, down: the form of writing known as boustrophedon, that is, the way an ox turns in a furrow]. If the handwriting was in an unknown alphabet Daniel must have said so, or why should his interpretation be accepted at once? But if the characters were those to which the beholders were accustomed, but arranged in an unthought-of direction, it is easy to realise the puzzle of the audience and the instantaneous acceptance of the solution.


/i. The Oration of Moses at the Rehearsal of the Blessing and the Curse./ The Book of Deuteronomy, from which this is taken, is a collection of the Orations and Songs of Moses, constituting his Farewell to the People of Israel. The general subject both of the oratory and song is the Covenant between Jehovah and his people, now for the first time committed to writing, and entrusted by the retiring leader of Israel to the Levites and Elders. The third of these orations is connected with a ceremonial occasion. An ordinance has been made for the ceremony of 'The Blessing and the Curse' to be an institution of the promised land: representatives of the Blessing are to stand on one mountain and representatives of the Curse on the opposite slope, the whole ritual solemnly enforcing the sanctity of the Covenant. At present however the people are on the wilderness side of Jordan; accordingly Moses arranges a Rehearsal of this ceremony, on ground resembling the valley between Ebal and Gerizim. This rehearsal is allowed to proceed to a certain point when Moses stops it, and takes the subject of the blessings and curses into his own hands. Hence the abrupt commencement of this oration. -- As elements of oratorical beauty note (1) the interweaving and parallelism of sentences, (2) the terrific crescendo and climax of denunciation. The oration must be spoken to get the full effect.

/ii. Immortality and the Covenant with Death./ This is an example of the Written Address, Oratory that is not intended to be spoken. It is one of a series of imaginary addresses by King Solomon to the other rulers of the nations, constituting a work entitled 'The Wisdom of Solomon' (in volume 3 of the present series). -- The author's style is distinguished by a peculiar order of thought, according to which some of the leading points of his argument take the form of digressions. The thought of this discourse is that death is no part of the natural order of the universe, but is introduced into the world by the wickedness of men. The author imagines a monologue of the wicked, led by despair of aught beyond the grave to a life of luxury and oppression. Another imaginary monologue expresses the feelings of the same wicked men as they awaken from death to the life beyond. But as a digression between these two monologues the author places his reflections on the 'hopes of the ungodly,' that is, the substitutes in earlier thought for the grand conception of a life beyond death. These substitutes are (1) the living over again in posterity, (2) long life in this world. With regard to the first he argues that the brood of the ungodly is unstable and accursed: better is childlessness with virtue. As to the hopes of long life, he argues that the old age of the wicked is without honour; whereas a life cut short may be a life perfected.

/iii-vii./ These are Prophetic Discourses. Considered as part of the literature of Oratory these Prophetic Discourses hold an intermediate position between the spoken and the written address. What appears as a discourse in the books of the prophets is probably not the exact report of a speech, but the substance of a speech, or of several similar speeches, worked up again into the style of a written address.

/iii. The Great Arraignment./ This discourse of Isaiah takes the form of a theme (God's arraignment of his people as rebels) treated in four paragraphs: the prophet's remonstrance -- repentance by oblations -- repentance of life -- corruption redeemed with judgment.

/iv. The Covenant with Death./ The phrase Covenant with Death in the title of this discourse of Isaiah has a different meaning from the same phrase in the title of another discourse (ii). In the latter it meant a supposed invitation to Death to come as a friend, by those who were 'of his portion'; in the present case it means an agreement with Death to pass by the supposed speaker while he visits others. -- This discourse illustrates what is a characteristic feature of Hebrew literature -- the 'pendulum structure,' by which the thought alternates in successive paragraphs between one and the other of two contrasting themes, in this case between Judgment and Salvation. The prophet is writing for the southern kingdom of Judah. Commencing with the rival kingdom of northern Israel he denounces drunken Ephraim, and how its crown of pride shall be trodden down (Judgment). But (Salvation) there shall be a crown of glory for the residue. Now he proceeds to Judgment upon Judah: the drunken rulers who trust to a refuge of lies, which the overflowing scourge shall sweep away. But there is Salvation for the patient. This comfort is imparted in agricultural images: the cruel plowing does not go on for ever, the gentle sowing comes; there are sharp threshing instruments [for the guilty], the gentle threshing with the rod for the precious cummin; and even the threshing is not to crush, but to make corn fit for bread.

/v. The Utter Destruction and the Great Restoration./ A discourse made by companion pictures linked together by two parallel passages, each a parenthetic quintet, interrupting the pictorial description, which is afterwards resumed, with words emphasising the prophecy as a whole: Seek ye out of the book of the LORD and read [how all these woes shall come to pass] ... Strengthen ye the weak hands [with these glorious promises]. -- Note that Edom is only mentioned as typical of the foes of Israel in general, the pictures being of universal destruction and restoration. There is a similar use of Egypt and Edom as types of all the foes of Israel in another discourse (page 220).

/vi. The Sword of the LORD./ This is an illustration of a very peculiar form of discourse, which is without parallel in modern literature. Ezekiel is the great representative of 'Emblem Prophecy,' that is, discourses which have for texts some symbolic action or piece of dumb show. But in extreme examples of Emblem Prophecy, like the present, symbolism pervades the whole of the discourse: attitude, gesture, visible emblem, sustained dumb show, song, are all mingled together and combined with oratory. -- The discourse falls into four parts. (1) At the opening, the prophet sets his face toward Jerusalem: there is no symbolic action beyond this. (2) But as the address progresses, he suddenly draws forth a sword: this is the sword of the Lord which is to go forth out of its sheath against all flesh, and it will not return any more. Suddenly, the dramatic speaker has identified himself with the victims of this Divine sword: Sigh therefore, thou son of man, with the breaking of thy loins, etc. Now the theme of the sword is resumed, and with it mingles what is evidently some military strain or folk-lore song, of which the augmenting lines suggest the gathering spirit of combat: A sword, a sword, it is sharpened, and also furbished, etc. For a single moment the other side is presented -- a people careless and secure: the Rod of my son [they say] it contemneth every tree. But the impending destruction continues to gather force: And it is given to be furbished that it may be handled, etc. There is a sudden change, and cries and howls proclaim how the sword has fallen upon the people, and the Rod that contemneth is no more. The emblematic movement seems to become more and more rapid [through three verses of the song: And let the sword be doubled the third time, etc.]. -- (3) A total change here ensues. The sword now becomes emblematic of the sword of Babylon; and the imaginary picture is that of the conqueror arriving at the junction of the ways and deciding by his omens to proceed against Jerusalem. -- (4) Once more there is a total change: the sword now stands for Israel's enemies, the children of Ammon, and the verse conveys their boasting. But suddenly the prophetic speaker plunges the sword into its sheath: so is symbolically introduced the fate of Ammon to return to the land of his birth and perish there.

/vii. Wreck of the Goodly Ship Tyre./ This illustrates a characteristic of Ezekiel's style by which, in place of visible symbolism, illustrated by the last example, a single image is sustained through the whole of a discourse. In the present case it is the image of a ship. Tyre was the great maritime city of antiquity: its grandeur is conveyed under the image of a ship which all the nations of the known world combine to build and load; the judgment is the wrecking of this goodly ship.

/viii./ Amongst other things the prophetic books contain 'Sentences,' that is, brief sayings of prophets, each like an epigram, complete in itself. These no doubt passed from mouth to mouth like proverbs, and were collected by the prophets. The examples in this section are from the Book of Jeremiah.


'Wisdom' is the name given to the department of Biblical literature which corresponds to Philosophy in modern literature. It is however always philosophy in application to human life and conduct.

The starting-point of Wisdom literature is the /Unit Proverb/, which is a unit of thought in a unit of form. The unit of form is the couplet or triplet of verse: see above, page 242. Examples are given on pages 107-9. It will be seen that this Unit Proverb is a meeting-point of prose and verse literature: its form is verse, its matter (philosophy) belongs to the literature of prose. Accordingly it is natural that the more extended forms of Wisdom literature should take two directions: one on the side of verse, the other on the side of prose.

/Epigrams/ and /Maxims/: examples of these are found on pages 109-11. The Epigram is a verse saying, of a few lines in length, in which two lines (not necessarily consecutive) are capable of standing by themselves as a unit proverb. In the examples given the two lines in each epigram that stand out on the left may be read as a proverb complete in itself. Such a germ proverb is the text of the epigram, the remaining lines serve to expand this text. The corresponding prose form is the Maxim, a unit proverb text with a brief prose comment.

/Essays./ A more extended form of Wisdom literature, on the side of prose, is the Essay. The word has various uses: the Scriptural essays are not of the modern type (like those of Macaulay or Emerson), but of the antique type like the essays of Bacon. The title of an essay suggests a theme, on which the rest is a prose comment. (Pages 112-24.)

Verse compositions consisting of comments upon themes are in this series called /Sonnets/. In general literature the idea underlying the Sonnet is the adaptation of the matter to the outer form, as if a poet's thought were poured into special moulds. In English and Italian sonnets there is only one such form or mould -- a sequence of 14 lines divided according to a particular plan; the matter of these sonnets must be condensed or expanded to suit this plan. The nearest approach to this in Scriptural literature is the Fixed or Number Sonnet: the opening of this suggests a number scheme, to which the rest conforms.

There be three things which are too wonderful for me, Yea, four which I know not:
The way of an Eagle in the air;
The way of a Serpent upon a rock;
The way of a Ship in the midst of the sea;
And the way of a Man with a Maid.

The examples quoted in the present volume are different. They may be called 'Free Sonnets': the moulding in these is to nothing more restricted than 'high parallelism,' that is, not the parallelism binding successive lines into a stanza, but the bond which may correlate the most distant parts of a poem into a single scheme. The scheme of parallelism for each sonnet will be given in a separate note.


/ii./ This essay touches upon what was the great difficulty to early Hebrew thinkers: the visible prosperity of the wicked, which seemed to them contrary to their conception of 'judgment' or righteous providence. The author in this essay endeavours to meet the difficulty by two thoughts: (1) how a change of fate at the very end of life may make all the difference; (2) how the punishment may come in the next generation. -- A resemblance will be noted at one point to a parable of the New Testament.

/v./ An essay on the Choice of Company, in five paragraphs: The danger of unknown company in a house -- the good only are proper objects of charity -- friendship not trustworthy until tested by adversity -- the humble can only be defiled by contact with the proud -- like will to like, and riches cannot consort with poverty.

/vi./ This essay is founded upon the old conception of society by which the educated formed a separate class -- here called 'the scribes.' Translated into modern ideas of life the argument would be that no life in any social station must be without leisure, and on such leisure self-culture depends.

/vii./ This section makes a transitional stage to the next division of our selections, as it consists of an Essay containing a Sonnet.

The argument of the whole is that Life is a thing of joy, tempered by the sense of responsibility. The latter idea is conveyed by the word 'judgment,' which throughout the Old Testament stands for the irreconcilable antagonism between good and evil, and the certain overthrow of evil: the recognition of this makes action responsible. With this limitation, the author urges that the very shortness of life and youth is so much incentive to make joyful what days are allowed.

The scheme of high parallelism [see above, page 256] in this sonnet is the 'pendulum structure': the alternation of successive lines between two thoughts is conveyed to the eye by the indenting of the lines. The middle lines put symbolic descriptions of old age; the lines indented on the left drop the symbolism and speak in plain terms. [The lines indented on the right are subordinate clauses.]

The matter of the sonnet is a tour-de-force of symbolism, under which are veiled the symptoms of senile decay followed by death. It is very likely that some of the symbols may be lost; but it is not difficult to see, without straining, a possible interpretation for each; and some of them have passed into traditional use. The poetic beauty of the passage is marvellous.

Or ever the sun, and the light ... be darkened: in view of the opening words of the preceding essay, which take the 'light' and 'sun' as symbols of the whole happiness of conscious existence, it is clear that the darkening of this light is the gradual failing of the joy of living. -- And the clouds return after the rain: an exquisite symbol, closely akin to the last. In youth we may overstrain and disturb our health, but we soon rally; these are storms that quickly clear up. In age the rallying power is gone: |the clouds return after the rain.| -- The keepers of the house shall tremble: Cheyne understands of the hands and arms, the trembling of which is a natural accompaniment of old age. -- The strong men shall bow themselves: the stooping frame; the plural is merely by attraction to 'keepers.' -- The grinders cease because they are few: obviously of the teeth. -- Those that look out of the windows be darkened: the eyes becoming dim. -- The doors shall be shut in the street: the general connection of ideas makes it inevitable that the 'folding-doors' should be the jaws; clenched jaws are so marked a feature in the skull that it is not difficult to associate them with the picture of old age. -- When the sound of the grinding is low, and one shall rise up at the voice of a bird, and all the daughters of music shall be brought low: these must be taken together: appetite, speech, and sleep are all feeble. Grinding must be interpreted as grinders in the previous part of the sonnet: the loud or low sound of such grinding may fitly typify the eagerness of appetite or the reverse. The early waking or short sleeping of old age is well known. The daughters of music are the tones of the voice. -- They shall be afraid of that which is high, and terrors shall be in the way: the gait of old age is, through physical feebleness, much what the gait of a person terrified is for other reasons. -- The almond tree shall blossom, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and the caperberry shall burst: the three are linked together as being images from natural objects, not because of their symbolising similar things. The blossoming of the almond tree probably refers to the sparse white hairs of age. The name of this tree in Hebrew is founded on the fact that it is the first to blossom; though not strictly white, its blossoms may be called whitish: the whitish blossoms, solitary while all is bare around, just yield the image required. The grasshopper is evidently a symbol for a small object, which is nevertheless heavy to feeble age. The caperberry shall burst: the last stage of its decay: the failing powers at last give way. And then follows the dropping of the symbolism: |Man goeth to his long home.|

So far we have had symbols for failure of powers; now for actual death and dissolution. Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken: a symbol from the house-lamp of gold, suspended by a silver cord, suddenly slipping its cord and breaking, its light becoming extinguished. For bowl in this sense compare Zechariah, chapter iv.2, 3. -- Or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern: these are exquisite symbols for the sudden and violent cessation of every-day functions. Compare the popular proverb: |The pitcher goes to the well once too often.| -- And the spirit return unto God who gave it: this by analogy with the previous line must be interpreted to mean no more than that the man becomes just what he was before he was born.


/i. The Sluggard./ The metrical scheme of this sonnet is simple: a strophe balanced by an antistrophe. [See above, page 244.]

/ii. The Mourning for the Fool./ Metrical scheme: a brief strophe and antistrophe and conclusion.

/iii. The Two Paths./ Strophe, the way of wisdom; antistrophe, the path of the wicked; conclusion, union of the two in a common image.

/iv. The Creator has made Wisdom the Supreme Prize./ The metrical scheme of this sonnet is an example of 'antistrophic inversion': that is, two strophes followed by their antistrophes, but the antistrophe to the second strophe precedes the antistrophe to the first. [This is sometimes expressed by the formula a b b a; or (reckoning the number of lines in each strophe) 4, 6; 6, 4.] The printing makes this clear to the eye. -- The unity of thought in the sonnet is the conception of Wisdom as a prize. The middle strophe and antistrophe describe the richness of this prize; the opening strophe makes 'chastening' the cost at which it is obtained by the individual from the Lord; and the corresponding antistrophe (at the end) explains the reason for this costliness -- wisdom was the instrument by which the whole universe was created.

/v. Watchfulness of Lips and Heart./ A Prayer in sonnet form. The metrical scheme is an illustration of 'duplication' applied to antistrophic structure: a quatrain question (strophe 1) has a couplet answer (strophe 2); then the quatrain is duplicated into an octet (antistrophe 1), and the answer is duplicated into a quatrain (antistrophe 2). [The lines of invocation are not counted in strophe and antistrophe 2.]

/vi. Wisdom and the Fear of the Lord./ This is one of the most elaborate sonnets: its metrical scheme combines antistrophic and stanza structure (above, page 243). There is first a strophe with its antistrophe; then a series of stanzas; but these stanzas illustrate the metrical device of 'augmenting,' for they increase, as the thought gathers strength, from 3 lines to 5 lines and 6 lines.

/vii. Wisdom and the Strange Woman./ This is at once the foremost of wisdom poems in its thought, and the most elaborate in sonnet structure: here, as always, the structure is an exact reflection of the thought.

The metrical scheme shows stanza structure throughout. The poem falls into seven sections. In sections 1, 3, 4, 7, which contain the thread of argument, we find octet and ten-line stanzas. Section 2, which breaks off from the argument to give a picture of temptation, changes to sextet stanzas. Sections 5 and 6, the monologue of Wisdom, are cast in quatrains, but as the monologue crescendoes to its climax the quatrains 'augment' to 5, 6, 7 lines. There is further the artistic device of 'interruption': the regular flow of stanzas is broken at critical points by single couplets (like musical rhythm interrupted by recitative); again in section 2 the actual speech of the temptress is an irregular mass of lines outside the stanza structure, and this break in the flow of lines has a fine effect.

The thought of the poem is in the highest degree grand and bold. Scriptural philosophy loves to celebrate under the name 'Wisdom' the union of all things, whether of the external universe or of the spiritual life, in one Divine harmony. In this poem this Wisdom is to be personified, and to proclaim her attractions. But the poet prepares the way by contrast with the spirit of temptation, also personified in female form practising her allurements. This is displayed in a boldly drawn picture; and then the poet, with the words Doth not Wisdom cry? suddenly turns round and presents 'Wisdom' as the temptress to good.


/i-ii./ These two selections are from the Book of Job. This consists of matter mainly philosophic worked up into an elaborate poem in which all literary forms -- epic, lyric, drama, rhetoric, etc. -- are blended in a way unparalleled in modern literature. Hence the form of these two pieces is intermediate between wisdom sonnets and the lyrical poems that follow.

/i. An Elegy of a Broken Heart./ In the Book of Job this intervenes between the Story Prologue, which is prose, and the main body of the poem, which takes a dramatic form. Job breaks the silence to dilate, with lyrical elaboration, upon the situation of utter ruin which is to be the starting-point of the dramatic discussion. Hence the title of the section in the whole poem of Job is 'Job's Curse': but it admits of being separated from the action of the drama as an independent poem, with some such title as I have given it. -- In metrical scheme it falls into two sections. Section 1 is an example of 'interruption' (compare note to vii of the sonnets). It will be seen that the last two lines continue the sentence begun by the first two lines, making with them a quatrain: between come masses of parallel lines interrupting with a tour-de-force of execration. Section 2 is made up of introductory quatrain, strophe, and antistrophe.

/ii. The Creator's Joy in his Creation./ This selection from Job is a part of the 'Divine Intervention,' which may be read as a complete poem. That drama introduces the Voice of God out of the whirlwind as taking a part in the dialogue. The link between the Divine Intervention as a whole and the general argument is the impossibility of any mortal grasping the mysteries of the universe, which mysteries enfold the glories of nature as well as the dark ways of providence which Job and his friends have been discussing. As a part of this general thought the portion here cited works out the idea of the Creator's joy in his creation -- a joyous sympathy with the infinities of great and small throughout the universe. It might be an expansion of the words in the story of the creation: |And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.| -- The metrical scheme of this poem is a variation of the 'pendulum structure.' [Page 251.] It may be called a 'triple pendulum,' or alternation between three notes: one note is made by the startling questions of nature mysteries, another (lines indented to the right) exquisitely pictures the details of these wonders of nature, while for a third (lines still more to the right) there is a word of challenge to Job to answer.

/iii-v./ These three selections are lyrics in the strictest sense. Originally all poetry is of the form technically called 'Ballad-Dance,' that is, verse combined with musical accompaniment and dancing. When this primitive poetry branches out into other forms, lyric is the form which retains most of the musical element. The poems here cited are lyrics in the strict sense that their structure is determined by the mode of their musical performance. This is seen by the 'antiphonal' distribution of the matter, for example, between choruses of men and women, and by the recurrence of passages ('refrains').

/iii. Song of Moses and Miriam./ This is arranged for a Chorus of Men, taking the successive sections of the song, and a Chorus of Women, singing the refrain. The metre is Antique Rhythm (above, page 242): the successive strophes augment with the growing fulness of the theme. The first strophe (after the prelude) simply states the fact of the deliverance; the second pictures it in detail, the third meditates on the consequences to the furthest future.

/iv. Deborah's Song./ This also is arranged for a Chorus of Men, led by Barak, and a Chorus of Women, led by Deborah. It is in Antique Rhythm (above, page 242). Its structure is antiphonal as between Men, Women, and the two combined. The structure is further elaborated by 'interruption' [passages printed in italics], where the singers encourage one another.

To appreciate the matter of the song it should be compared with the description of the incident in plain historic prose (Judges, chapter iv). It is not difficult to make out from this narrative (1) that Heber the Kenite, Jael's husband, was acting as a spy against his allies of Israel, and betraying their movements to the tyrant. Jael's act was treachery in retaliation for the treachery on the other side by her husband. This explains the exultation over her deed in Deborah's Song. (2) This treachery of Heber had upset the plans of Deborah and Barak: helpless against the iron chariots, their only hope had been to assemble secretly on the heights of Kedesh and attempt a surprise. But while the army of Sisera, warned by Heber, were awaiting them on the plains of Esdraelon, a sudden thunder storm with rain (commemorated in the Song) converted the whole plain into a morass. The army of Barak fell on the foe while their horses were struggling in the mud, and extirpated them at a blow.

/V. David's Lament./ This simple elegy is cast in quatrain stanzas. Its only elaboration is an augmenting refrain. This beautiful refrain seems to rest for its effect upon the bringing together of two ideas, like a crescendo and decrescendo in music: How are the mighty fallen! This fragmentary refrain as it appears at the beginning is enlarged at the passage from the section on Saul to that on Jonathan, and still further enlarged at the close of the whole.

/vi. David's Song of Victory./ This is in Antique Rhythm: its structure is 'strophic' (above, page 243). There is an introduction and conclusion, and three unequal strophes: the first pictures the deliverance, the second meditates on the principle involved (deliverance of the righteous), the third extends the confidence thus produced to the whole past and future. The most notable artistic effect is the sudden change at the prayer of the afflicted one: all nature is convulsed as the Almighty rushes to the rescue.

/vii. The Bride's Reminiscences./ This is introduced as an example of the Lyric Idyl. The term 'idyl' has been explained above (page 248, note to iv): such idyls may be either narrated as stories, or brought out lyrically or dramatically, as in the present case. It is one of a series of lyric idyls making up the poem of Solomon's Song. The story underlying this poem has been variously interpreted; the interpretation followed in this series (Biblical Idyls volume) is that King Solomon, visiting his vineyards on Mount Lebanon, has come by surprise upon a beautiful Shulammite maiden. As she flies from the royal suite he seeks her in shepherd disguise and wins her love, then he brings her as queen to his palace. The present selection is Idyl II of the series, and contains two of the Bride's Reminiscences of this courtship. The first is of a visit by the disguised king on a fair spring morning, and how the lovers were interrupted by the harsh voices of the Bride's Brothers crying out that the foxes were in the vineyards. The second is a dream of losing and finding her lover. [The passages in italics are not spoken by the Bride, but are the poet's interludes, dividing the different sections of the poem.] -- Metrical scheme. The idyls are a combination of Antique Rhythm and Antistrophic structure: but the parallelism of strophe and antistrophe must be reckoned in strains, not in lines (see above, page 242): thus we have four strains balanced by four, then two by two; then (in the Dream) three by three. [The refrains are outside the metrical scheme.]

/viii, ix./ These are songs from the books of the prophets.

/viii. The Battle of Carchemish./ This is a War Ballad, in triplet stanzas with 'duplication.' The battle celebrated was a turning-point in history, settling for ever the supremacy of the Babylonian over the Egyptian empire: these were the two world empires between which parties in the nation of Israel fluctuated, the whole strength of Jeremiah and the prophetic party being thrown against Egypt.

/ix./ This /Song of Zion Redeemed/ forms a section of the Isaiahan 'Rhapsody of Zion Redeemed' [chapters xl-lxvi]. It is in stanzas of 4, or occasionally 6 and 8 lines, the flow interrupted by couplets, especially at the beginning of the sections. Compare above, page 262, note to /vii/ (Sonnets).

/x, xi./ These are illustrations of a characteristic feature of Biblical poetry -- the 'Doom form.' See above, page 245.

/x. Isaiah's Doom of Babylon./ The structure is made up of the Divine word of the overthrow of Babylon [prose passages] interrupted at intervals by [impersonal] songs, realising or celebrating what the Divine word brings forward. The last of these verse interruptions is a fully developed Ode on Fallen Babylon. The structural form of this ode is antistrophic inversion (7, 6; 6, 7), like that of No. /iv/ of the Sonnets (above, page 260). Another effect in this ode is the Taunt or Dirge Song. -- My consecrated ones ... them that exult in my majesty. The Divine voice is heard calling to God's 'hosts,' the idea suggested by the title 'Jehovah Sabaoth.' Compare Joel, chapter iii.11 and 13; Psalm ciii.20, 21. -- I will sit upon the mount of congregation in the uttermost parts of the north: the north is regularly in Scripture the quarter from which Divine judgment is looked for (e.g. Ezekiel, chapter i.4; Jeremiah vi. i; Job xxxvii.22).

/xi. Nahum's Doom of Nineveh./ This is a Doom Prophecy directed against Nineveh, partly in the structure called above 'doom form,' partly in other forms. It falls into seven sections. Sections 1 and 2 are meditations in pendulum form (above, page 251), the paragraphs alternating between judgment and salvation. Section 3 is in doom form: the Divine announcement of doom is interrupted by lyric realisation of the sudden attack upon Nineveh in the midst of its careless security. Section 4 is a brief lyric triumph over Nineveh overthrown. Section 5 resumes the doom form: the Divine denunciation interrupted by lyric realisation of Nineveh in its pride. With section 6 this passes into a Taunt Song (as in example /x/). The seventh section is a brief lyric meditation upon Nineveh overthrown and desolate.

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