Poetry in any language is characterized by a fusion of form and content that satisfies and surprises at the same time. That being so, a reader of ancient Hebrew poetry will eventually ask: What formal structures set poetry apart from prose in ancient Hebrew literature? Are there rules that govern the formation of a poetic line, rules that we do not fully understand, or have yet to be discovered?
This blog touches on many topics. It is also dedicated to the examination of the system of prosody ancient Hebrew poetry instantiates.
The subject matter is obscure to many. What is meant by prosodic structure?
Prosodic structure is the mold into which a poet pours semantic content. All language, analysis shows, is subject to prosodic constraints at various levels. In any given language, syllables, feet, words, phrases, and utterances come in certain shapes and sizes, phonologically speaking, and not others. In poetry, language-specific constraints are stylized according to specific expectations.
In most times and places, poetry has taken the form of verse. As Albert Willem de Groot put it, "Continuous correspondence of successive segments, called 'lines,' is the only constant feature which distinguishes verse from prose."
In many systems of versification, groups of lines form chunks according to established convention. Lines often divide into half-lines. Half-lines also come in certain shapes and sizes, and not others.
It is commonly supposed that roughly a third of the Hebrew Bible is written in verse. What organizing principles define the way ancient Hebrew poetry (AHP) works? If we knew, the fusion of form and content AHP represents would be that much clearer and that much better understood.
At various points on this blog, I discuss previous attempts at describing the organizing principles of ancient Hebrew poetry, and I advance a descriptive model of my own. I offer analyses of specific poems, occasionally with supporting essays.
The quickest way to get a sense of what my theory of ancient Hebrew poetry entails involves working through the post entitled "Regularities in Ancient Hebrew Verse: An Overview." A fuller presentation is the text model I have developed is found here. A reconstruction of stress in Ancient Hebrew is found here. The poetic line is described in terms of a metrical grid here. The corpus of ancient Hebrew poetry I work with is found here. A history of modern research on the question of meter in ancient Hebrew poetry is found here; an annotated bibliography of the field of ancient Hebrew poetry studies here; an introduction to and a list of worked examples, here. A glossary is found here; a list of abbreviations, here. For a presentation of the text model in terms of prosodic domain theory, go here. For a description of the dynamics of parallelism, go here.
Poetry theory is considered unimportant by many, or even a hindrance to its appreciation. I argue for the importance of theory here.
Translation of ancient Hebrew poetry is a fine art. I recommend the translations of David Curzon. Go here.
The masthead of this blog reproduces part of a high resolution digital photograph of a leaf of the Aleppo Codex. Reproduced is Deuteronomy 32:7-11, part of Ha'azinu, one of the most famous poems of the Hebrew Bible. The photograph was realized by Ardon Bar Hama and may be viewed in all its glory at the site dedicated to the Aleppo Codex.
Go here for a printable version of this post.
A presentation of my text model appeared as “Regularities in Ancient Hebrew Verse: A New Descriptive Model” in ZAW 119 (2007) 564-585.