Understanding the poetic structure and rhyme schemes

Understanding the poetic structure and rhyme schemes

Understanding the Poetic Structure

  • It’s crucial to acknowledge that ancient Hebrew poets employed parallelism, a literary device where a line is divided into two parts with related themes. Recognise examples of parallelism in Psalms like Psalm 3:2 - “How many are my foes! How many rise up against me!”.

  • When studying the Psalms, note the use of chiasmus, where the concepts in the first half of a line are inverted or mirrored in the second half. Place your focus on symmetrical structures and look for the use of repetition or recurring themes.

  • Comprehend the purposeful design of acrostic patterns employed in some of the Psalms, where each line begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet to stress a particular point or theme. In Psalms 3-9, Psalm 9 is a prominent example of this acrostic pattern.

Rhyme Schemes in Biblical Hebrew Poetry

  • Realise that Hebrew poetry often relies less on rhyme of sounds than it does on rhyming ideas or thoughts, often achieved through the use of parallelism. Look for matching concepts between lines rather than identical syllable endings.

  • Remember, the concept of rhyme in biblical Hebrew is not the same as in English. The focus is often more on repetition, rhythm and balance of ideas rather than end-rhyme that is common in many English poems.

  • Be aware of the use of alliteration, the repetition of the same sound in close proximity, in Hebrew poetry. Its horizontal repetition of sounds subtly unifies the poem and contributes to the rhythmic and musical qualities of the psalm.

Common Poetic Techniques in Psalms

  • The Psalms incorporate a wide range of figurative language, from metaphors and similes to personification. Look for the symbolic and metaphorical layers that add deeper meaning to the text.

  • Pay attention to the intensity of emotions conveyed through exaggerated statements or hyperboles. These expressions of strong emotions mark the Psalms as deeply personal compositions.

  • Recognise the balanced style of many of the Psalms, where the poet uses similar line lengths or patterns a phrase in the first half-line that will be responded to in some way by the second half-line.

Religious and Moral Themes in the Psalms

  • Understand that the Psalms are intrinsically religious poems. They serve both as prayers and as songs of praise to God. This can be seen in Psalm 8 - “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

  • Appreciate the religious emphasis on justice in the Psalms, particularly the conviction that God will ultimately right all wrongs. Reflective evidence can be found in Psalm 7:8 - “The Lord judges the peoples; judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me.”

  • Recognise the Psalms as a source of moral teachings and the belief in God’s instruction for right behaviour. In Psalm 4, the psalmist urges moral self-scrutiny - “When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.”