Page 46 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

Basic HTML Version

terms of form (“sustained rhythm” and “a continuously operat­
ing principle of organization”).
One finds a clear and specific notion of poetry as a particular
way of seeing, though, in an essay published by Francis Landy in
the February 1984 number of the
Journal for the Study of the Old
an issue devoted to the theme of biblical poetry. Landy
differentiates prose and the prosaic from poetry and the poetic
not with respect to a series of short lines (poetry) as against a flow
of discourse broken into uneven sentences (prose) but in terms of
a syntagmatic view in opposition to a paradigmatic view. The
former regards objects and actions in their sequence in time and
contiguity in space. “He lies me down in grassy pastures” would
be an example. This sentence describes an activity transpiring in
time through one subject affecting another subject so that the lat­
ter subject performs a change in position by moving in space.
Taking this sentence out of its context in Psalm 23, it conveys a set
of syntagmatic relations. In its context in the psalm, however, the
overall image constitutes more than a short narrational sequence.
It is a metaphor. We know from the outset, when the psalmist
speaks in the first person, that God is the shepherd and the
psalmist, or speaker, is the sheep. The image in which an activity
takes place through space and time represents an ongoing situa­
tion between God and devotee. The image corresponds to and
evokes the relationship between the divine and the human; it is a
model, a paradigm. And so the paradigmatic way of seeing views
different things not as they follow one another but as they over­
lap, one on top of the other, so to speak. The syntagmatic, in
regarding and construing objects and actions in sequence, is
metonymic; the paradigmatic, in superimposing objects in their
similarities and contrasts, is metaphorical. Prose is metonymic,
poetry is metaphorical. Psalm 23 is poetic in that it speaks of the
secure relation between God and the pious on the one hand and
of the frightening tension between the pious and his enemies on
the other through metaphor.
Most of what has been written about biblical poetry, though,
takes a different perspective. Psalm 23 would be regarded as
poetic not by virtue of its metaphorical vision but on account of its
patterns of language. Poetry, in this view, follows the definition