Page 47 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

Basic HTML Version

GREENSTEIN / ASPECTS OF BIBLICAL POETRY
35
of the late linguist Roman Jakobson, as a special use of language
in which special selections are made. Which selections are made
in biblical poetry are a matter of controversy. But before we pro­
ceed to delineate the arguments and enter into the controversy, it
would be helpful, I think, to distinguish between poetry in the
abstract sense as a metaphorical way of seeing and representing
and poetic form in its linguistic configurations. In the most com­
prehensive treatment of poetic form in the Bible to date, Michael
O’Connor carefully refers to his object of study not as poetry but
as verse structure (
Hebrew Verse Structure
[Winona Lake, Indiana:
Eisenbrauns, 1980]). We shall adopt this distinction in terms for
the sake of clarity.
Nearly all modern discussion of biblical verse takes off from
the description formulated by Robert Lowth in the eighteenth
century. We shall return to Psalm 23 below, but let us look now at
these lines from Psalm 130:5-6:
I wait, O Lord.
My spirit waits;
And for his word I hope.
My spirit
for the Lord,
More than watchmen for dawn,
Watchmen for dawn.
Traditional Jewish interpretation, midrash, makes note of the
repetitions in these lines, but it does not interpret the repetitions,
as we might, as rhetorical expressions that convey the weary,
impatient waiting for divine support. The eleventh century Jew­
ish commentator, Rashi, approaches the repetitions not as rhe­
torical tropes but as codes of content. On the repetition “w a it. . .
waits” here, Rashi compares Psalm 27:14, where “wait . . . wait”
he takes to mean: “
wait for the Lord,
and if your prayer is not
accepted, go back and wait again.” Similarly, he interprets the
repetition of “watchmen for dawn” as an addition not of emo­
tional force but information: “They wait for (redemption) and go
back and wait again, millennium after millennium.” O ther medi­
eval Jewish commentators, such as Abraham Ibn Ezra and David
Kimhi, following the precedent of Saadiah Gaon in the tenth cen­
tury, would recognize the literary function of such repetitions.
But what James L. Kugel in his
The Idea of Biblical Poetry
(New
Haven: Yale, 1981) calls the “forgetting” of the principle of bibli­