Page 51 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

Basic HTML Version

GREENSTEIN / ASPECTS OF BIBLICAL POETRY
39
perceive the formal pairing of the two (or more) lines, we associ­
ate them in their semantic meaning as well.
But syntax is not all that creates patterns of similarity. Robert
Alter follows Benjamin Hrushovski, who understands that
although biblical verse operates on a principle of parallelism, it
employs different, shifting types of repetition to achieve that par­
allelism. “It may be a parallelism of semantic, syntactic, prosodic,
morphological, or sound elements” (Hrushovski,
Encyclopedia
Judaica,
vol. 13, 1200). Hrushovski does well to include prosodic
elements in his description, for, as we have seen, the quasi-
metrical balancing of line length that is characteristic of biblical
verse is a major — and I would contend the major — agent of
parallelism in line balance. Take the first couplet in Psalm 23,
“The Lord is my shepherd. / I shall not be lacking.” Aside from a
small measure of assonance
(ro’i
‘my shepherd’ and
lo
‘not’), the
only linguistic pattern between the two lines is prosodic: they
share virtually the same rhythm and line length.
DIFFERING APPROACH
In her recent book,
The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism
(Bloom­
ington: Indiana, 1985), Adele Berlin sidesteps the issue of meter.
But she endeavors to illustrate the various other linguistic pat­
terns in which parallelism manifests itself. In addition to syntax,
she points to morphology, sound, word pairings, and semantic
association. We shall take these up in turn and then consider her
approach as a whole.
Her analysis of syntactic parallelism includes not only the sur­
face similarity o f clauses but similarities in “deep structure” as
well. She understands, which Robert Alter does not, that all lan­
guage has abstract semantic levels beneath what we hear. We
automatically parse the syntax we hear into deep structure rela­
tions. If we did not, we could not interpret a sentence like
The duck
is ready to eat
in two opposite ways, depending on context. Alter
argues (p. 215, n. 11) that readers of poetry do not perform deep
structure analyses. Berlin and I would respond that we interpret
poetry first and foremost in the manner in which we perceive all
language. Because Berlin follows me (“How Does Parallelism
Mean?”) in recognizing deep as well as surface syntactic relations,
she should have also incorporated morphological correspond­
ences within her syntactic analysis. The parallel syntactic slots