« PreviousContinue »
His wing on the wind, and his eye in the sun,
Boy, may the eagle's flight ever be thine,
What is that Mother?
The swan, my love!
Live so; my love, that when death shall come,
THE HEBREW POETS. The Bible should never be studied for the mere gratification of cultivated taste or literary curiosity. It contains a record of the mind and will of Jehovah, communicated to man in order to teach him the way to everlasting life, and the means of preparation for that future and eternal existence. If we peruse the sacred volume for the pleasure it may afford the intellect or the imagination, and at the same time neglect to obey its commands and imbibe its spirit, or refuse to implore its Divine Author that he would sanctify us through his truth, we are guilty indeed of a great and criminal perversion. It is as if we should take the last, best gift of parental affection, and sell it for selfish amusement, or avaricious gain; only the religious sacrilege is infinitely more wretched and ungrateful. This is the error into which some of the ablest critics have fallen, and it is an error against which we should always guard ourselves, when we come to the critical or literary examination of the inspired writings.
With this caution before us, and with the spirit of religious veneration in our hearts, we shall experience the purest pleasure and the highest benefit, in whatever shape we undertake their investigation; and it is certainly desirable that we, to whom they are addressed, and for whose use they were intended, should possess a right conception of their intellectual as well as their moral character. Indeed the former is absolutely essential to the latter. Yet to this day the greater portion of those who read the Old Testament, are ignorant that it contains anything but prose, and few are aware, when they open its pages, that they are in the midst of the sublimest and most beautiful poetry in the world. If there be any portion of Hebrew poetry, in regard to which this mistake is not general,
it is the Psalms. These make their short and affecting ap peals directly to the heart, and we feel their poetical spirit
. They exhibit, besides, the peculiar characteristics of the Hebrew poetry with so much sustained regularity and entireness, and the form of the original is in most cases so remarkably, though unintentionally, preserved by the literal English translation, that the dullest reader cannot but be sensible, at least that what he is reading is something in its nature different
In addition to this part of the Holy Scriptures, the books of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, and all the prophetical books, with the exceptions of Daniel and Jonah, may be mentioned as possessing the characteristics of Hebrew poetry; some with a greater, some with a less degree of vividness and regularity, but all so evidently, that it is undoubtedly proper to rank them together, under the poetical division of the Old Testament. The four first are altogether and unequivocally poetical, except the two introductory chapters of Job; but several of the prophetical books, are made up of poetry, and prose intermingled; and some of the minor prophets do not possess the spirit of poetry, (even in those portions which exhibit its form) in any remarkable degree. Some parts also of the sublime Isaiah are prose,-much of the Lamentations is historical, and so is nearly half the book of Jeremiah. Isaiah and Jeremiah, among the prophets are the most elevated in the spirit and power of their poetry, but it is impossible here to notice in detail their individual characteristics.
The books of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, are what in our language would be called didactic poetry. The first has been translated, within a short period, in a very beautiful and accurate manner, hy the Rev. George R. Noyes. From this translation even those, who are totally ignorant of the original language, may gain some adequate conception of the deep spirit of Hebrew poetry, and some correct knowledge of its true, peculiar nature. The following paragraph from Lowth, in regard to the Schools of the Prophets, will not be uninteresting to the pupil.
“The prophets were chosen by God himself, and were certainly excellently prepared for the execution of their office. They were in general taken from those, who had been educated from childhood in a course of discipline adapted to the ministerial function. It is evident, from many parts of the sacred history, that even from the earliest times of the Hebrew republic, there existed certain colleges of prophets, in which the candidates for the prophetic office, removed altogether from an intercourse with the world, devoted themselves entirely to the exercises and study of religion: over each of these some prophet of superior authority, and more peculiarly under the divine influence, presided, as the moderator and preceptor of the whole assembly. Though the sacred history affords us but little information, and that in a cursory manner, concerning
their institutes and discipline, wə nevertheless understand that a principal part of their occupation consisted in celebrating the praises of Almighty God in hymns and poetry, with choral chants accompanied by stringed instruments and pipes. There is a remarkable passage which occurs to this purpose: Saul being nominated king, and, pursuant to the command of God, consecrated by a solemn unction, a company of the prophets,
Samuel had foretold, descending from the mount of God, (that being the place in which the sacred college was situated) met him ; and, preceded by a variety of musical instruments prophesied ; upon hearing which, he himself, as if actuated by the same spirit, immediately joined them, and prophesied also. (Sam. x. 5-10.) I find no discordance among authors concerning the nature of this mode of prophesying: all are, I believe, agreed in this point, and all understand by it the praises of God, celebrated with music and song, by the impulse of the Holy Spirit."
It is probab'o from many suggestions to be found in the Scriptures, thai the Hebrews chanted their sacred hymns in opposite and alternate choirs, and that hence in part arose the metre-like construction of the sentences, and the peculiar form in wkich the lines are parallel, or correspondent to each other. Sometimes one choir performed the hymn, and the other interposed at stated intervals with a particular distich. Sometimes one choir sung a single line, and the other answered with one correspondent in some respect to the first. For example,
1st choir.—“Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good." 2d choir.—"For his mercy endureth forever."
In the same manner was the song at the triumph of Saul and David performed, (I Sam. xviii. 7.) when the women who played answered one another," that is, they chanted in alternate choirs, one choir singing,
6 Saul hath slain his thousands," The other answering,
6 And David his ten thousands." To this custom, as wäit as to the fact, that such repetition and enforcement is the natural dictate of excited feeling, we may probably look for the origin of what forms the peculiar and distinguishing characteristic in the poetry of the Hebrews; that artificial conformation of the sentences, denominated parallelism ; consisting chiefly in a certain resemblance between the members of each period, or in the correspondence and similarity, in some respect, of one line with another. This is of three kinds. Ist. Synonymous parallelism. When a sentiment is delivered in one line, and in the next repeated, not in the same terms, but in language of which the form is similar and the sense equivalent, though often with a shade of addition and variety. This form of versification is to be found in the whole of the 114th Psalm, and indeed it is the most common in the Hebrew poetry-thus
2. Jordan was driven back.
2. I will mock when your fear cometh. And the following from Isaiah.
upon him ;
2. Unto our God, for he will abundantly pardon. There are other varieties of this kind of parallelism with three, four, and more lines. The following is an example with five.
“Who is there among you that feareth Jehovah ?
2d. Antithetic parallelism. Where there is a cor
correspondence between two lines in the way of opposition or contrast in meaning and language ; or sometimes in expression, and sometimes in sense, only. The antithesis is various in degree, from the exact contraposition of words, to a general contrast or disparity in the two propositions—thus,
A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast;
But he, that honoureth Him, hath mercy on the poor. This kind of parallelism is confined principally to the proverbs of Solomon, for it is a form peculiarly adapted to compositions of this character, in which the sentences are detached, and the sentiments aphoristic and contrasted, or pithy and pointed in their nature. “Indeed,” says Bishop Lowth, (the critic who first investigated and pointed out the peculiar features of Hebrew poetry,) “ the elegance, acuteness, and force, of a great number of Solomon's wise sayings arise in a great measure from the antithetic form, the opposition of diction and sentiment. We are not therefore to expect frequent instances of it in the other poems of the Old Testament, especially those that are elevated in the style, and more connected in the parts.” Yet it is sometimes to be found, even in the sublimer poetry ; and the following instance from Isaiah is one of great beauty. In a little
have I forsaken thee; But with great mercies will I receive thee again : In a short wrath I hid my face for a moment froni thee; But with everlasting kindness will I have mercy upon thee.
3d. The synthetic or constructive parallelism. Where the sentences or lines correspond with each other, not by synonyme, or antithesis, but merely in the general shape of the thought, and form of construction-thus,
Whatsoever Jehovah pleaseth,
And his fragrance as Lebanon. It is not improbable that the Hebrew poetry possessed, in addition to this parallel conformation of its lines, some sort of