The Idea of Lyric Poetry in the Bible
The Idea of Lyric Poetry in the Bible
Abstract and Keywords
Lyric poetry is a paradigmatic form of both oral and written verbal art, widely attested crossculturally and throughout history. The idea of lyric poetry in the Bible is not new, and yet sustained treatments of the topic in the field remain few. In the largest part of this chapter what is on offer is a phenomenological analysis of the lyric, a thick description of leading characteristics and practices associated with lyric verse generally (and generically), both for definitional purposes—to make available a robust and substantive working understanding of this kind of discourse—and as a means for transfixing (in an initial way) what of the biblical poetic corpus most felicitously may be described as lyric and how such poetry works (prosodically). The chapter concludes by examining the possibility of lyric discourse on an expanded scale (through consideration of the Song of Songs) and how the idea of lyric poetry may benefit a richer understanding of biblical poetry more broadly.
we can say that biblical literature contains an abundance of lyric poetry and that it contains no epic poems and no drama
—L. ALONSO SCHÖKEL, A Manual of Hebrew Poetics (1988)
THE IDEA OF lyric poetry in the Bible is not new, as the quotation from L. Alonso Schökel in the epigraph, for example, makes clear,1 yet sustained treatments of the topic in the field remain few.2 In the largest part of what follows I offer a phenomenological analysis of the lyric, a thick description of leading characteristics and practices associated with lyric verse generally (and generically), both for definitional purposes—to make available a robust and substantive working understanding of this kind of discourse—and as a means for transfixing (in an initial way) what of the biblical poetic corpus most felicitously may be described as lyric and how such poetry works (prosodically). In my view, the manner of discourse underlying a good many biblical poems (though by no means all) may be usefully and accurately described as lyric (e.g., Psalms, Song of Songs, Exod 15, Judg 5, 2 Sam 1:19–27, Isa 5:1–7). To fully substantiate such a judgment will require a more sustained effort than can be accomplished here. For the moment, then, it will suffice to (re)introduce the notion of “lyric” as a critical idiom and along the way point to some of the potential payoffs that its use holds for criticism and interpretation of biblical poetry. After this initial discussion of the lyric’s constitutive elements and tendencies relevant to the biblical version(s) of this genre, I turn in a more abbreviated fashion to consider, first, the possibility of lyric discourse on an expanded scale (through a consideration of the Song of Songs), and second, how the idea of lyric poetry may benefit a richer understanding of biblical poetry more broadly.
The Hebrew Lyric
What is lyric? The term itself (Gk. lurikos) comes down to us from ancient Greece (as does the impetus for the kind of criticism I am herein enacting), (p.179) though the basic sense with which I deploy the term—that which is more or less implicit in the threefold genre distinction between lyric, epic, and drama that has been at the heart of literary criticism in the West for much of its history3—does not receive more concrete expression until the Alexandrian era.4 That is, importantly, “lyric” as an idiom of criticism even in its first use in its native Greece is belated and anachronistic. Neither Plato nor Aristotle, for example, knew or used the term—lyric as a nonmimetic kind of verse is apparently nowhere in view in the Poetics5—and the archaic poets (e.g., Sappho, Alcaeus, Pindar) the Alexandrians referenced in their use of the term called their own poetry by various other names, including most especially, melos. Still, the broad phenomenological distinction between narrative and nonnarrative kinds of (poetic) discourse was certainly relevant prior to the archaic period in Greece and more broadly, too (in the ancient Near East and elsewhere), whether it was indigenously named as such or not. G. Nagy makes precisely this point with respect to Greek lyric, which he says “is just as old as epic, which clearly predates the archaic period,” and like epic was “rooted in oral poetry.”6 Indeed, lyric may well be the most widely attested genre of all oral verbal art.7 “It is reasonable to suppose,” moreover, as J. W. Johnson observes, “that the first ‘lyrical’ poems came into existence when human beings discovered the pleasure that arises from combining words in a coherent, meaningful sequence with the almost physical process of uttering rhythmical and tonal sounds to convey feelings.”8 And there is an extraordinary breadth of historically known lyric traditions preserved in writing—from the ancient Near East, Greece, Persia, the Arab Middle East, the vernacular European traditions, Russia and Eastern Europe, Africa, India, China, Japan, and so on.9 The lyric, then, though mainly theorized and scrutinized with a pronounced Western bias and inevitably (with rare exceptions) rooted specifically in the ancient Greek tradition,10 is a genre broader and older than its most revered instantiation from ancient Greece.11
This is not to insist on lyric as an essentialized or universal category. There are no such things.12 Whatever features are isolated, as D. Lindley well notes, are “profoundly affected by fluctuation in systems of classification and poetic practice through history”13—and, I might add, from tradition to tradition. So, in discussing archaic Greek lyric (or better melic) poetry, for example, to accentuate the sung quality of most of this verse makes good sense in light of scholars’ knowledge about the composition of these poems—to be accompanied by the lyre, aulos, or other instruments—and the kinds of contexts in which they were routinely performed. In contrast, for a poet like Horace, who never sang his verse, the literal use of music ceases to be a meaningful genre criteria. And in much contemporary theoretical and critical discussion, to cite (p.180) another kind of example, the term lyric has become more or less synonymous with the term poetry—or, perhaps more accurately, it is taken as the prototype of a poem.14 An awareness of such historical variation has two consequences worth underscoring. First, whatever the extent of lyric verse in the Bible, it will inevitably be shaped and marked by the particularity of its time, place, and language and the larger literary tradition of which it is a part—its singers were “historically bonded to the physical material” of culturally specific “words.”15 That is, I have no investment in (and see no benefit to) uncovering specific kinds of lyric verse in the Bible, whether they be Romantic, modernist, or even early Greek. Other bodies and traditions of lyric verse are, of course, crucial to the kind of study I am conducting here, but principally as a means for gauging the possibilities and varieties of lyric discourse as a backdrop for a better appreciation of the kind of lyric found in the Bible. So J. Culler: “A broad conception of lyric as genre is helpful for thinking about short, non-narrative poetry and, particularly, how its relation to the historical tradition and to a broad range of possibilities for lyric in many periods and languages can help prevent a certain narrowing of conception of lyric.”16 To press my point, consider the symposium, one of the primary contexts in which Greek monody was performed. This is an especially Greek cultural institution with nothing quite like it in ancient Israel or Judah, and thus on this basis alone one can expect both qualitative and quantitve differences in the kind of lyric verse realized in the two cultures.
Second, what ultimately is counted as lyric depends on the specific criteria that are privileged. Is there any hope, then, “of defining ‘lyric’ as a generic label?” asks Lindley. His answer is that it “must be tentative.” He elaborates:
It must be accepted that a wide variety of determinants may properly be felt as significant in allocating a poem to a lyric category. While a “personal” poem in stanza form about the pains of love and intended to be set to music would universally be accepted as a “lyric,” it is in no sense an authoritative model. For throughout literary history there has been not only a wide range of possible subject matter, but considerable divergence in the criteria that have been felt as paramount … , so that all decisions about a work’s generic status must be conditioned by an awareness of that history. It is also inevitable that many poems might hover on the edges, and to pretend to a certainty that can judge infallibly between a lyrical narrative or a narrative lyric [for example] … would be to misunderstand the way readers actually use (or are used by) their generic awareness and the way poets play with and upon generic expectations.17
(p.181) The group of features highlighted below, though idiosyncratic and eclectic to be sure, nonetheless reflect insights taken from a fairly broad spectrum of criticism and lyric traditions (oral and written) and has the chief merit of pointing up what is most distinctive phenomenologically about lyric discourse, and thus offers a concrete set of measures for identifying and characterizing lyric discourse in the Bible. My aim here is not to be reductionist or to reify classificatory schemes for their own sake. There will be more and less lyrical poems in the Bible, and poems that are not lyrical at all.18 As C. Guillén rightly observes, “there are no pure forms,”19 and in any case the lyric’s “differences from other literary products are not radical,” as S. Langer writes, “and there is no device characteristic of lyric composition that may not also be met in other forms.”20 M. K. Blasing stresses “the variety of lyric modes”—“song, supplication, pronouncement, prayer, and so forth,” which has the advantage of decentering the thought that lyric is just one kind of song or poem.21 The chief outcome, then, sought in the review of these several lyric practices and tendencies is finally to make an initial brief for the facticity of the Hebrew lyric (in its various modes) and to sharpen and extend our understanding of the inner workings of this kind of biblical poetry. I pursue this particular line of inquiry pragmatically and heuristically, which is to say, in full awareness that the attraction of my thesis lies ultimately in its usefulness for reading these poems and for making sense of their prosody.
A Sung Word
What is perhaps most distinctive about lyric verse generally is its originary and ongoing indebtedness to music and song—musicality is the very way of naming this particular poetic art: “lyric poetry is a genre of song.”22 Lyric originates in traditional cultures as a performative and oral art form: “Lyric poetry, in the general sense of a (relatively) short non-narrative poem that is sung, is of extremely wide occurrence; it can probably be regarded as universal in human culture.”23 And certainly during the effluence of Greek lyric from the seventh to the mid-fifth centuries BCE many of the solo (monody) lyrics were composed to be sung at symposia to the accompaniment of the aulos (an oboe-like wind instrument) or lyre, while choral songs were mostly performed at festivals (such as the great Panhellenic festivals) or on other special occasions. Greek lyric shares this use of music with “many other bodies of high lyric poetry” (e.g., Chinese, Provençal), among which W. R. Johnson counts Hebrew.24 Since H. Gunkel, students of the Hebrew Bible have appreciated the oral heritage of much biblical literature. For example, Gunkel famously (p.182) conjectures that an old “poetic form” underlies many of the prose “legends” in Genesis (e.g., the Eden story). It was “strictly rhythmical” and must “have been sung.”25 That much of the poetry actually preserved in the Bible—almost all of it nonnarrative in kind (see discussion in the immediately following section, “Nonnarrative Poetry”)—was also a specifically “sung” kind of word can be stipulated from a variety of considerations. First, certainly lyric forms (e.g., the hymn) obtained throughout the wider ancient Near East. They commonly embed references to singing (“Sing of the goddess,” RA 22 170: I; “May the name of ʿAṯtartu be sung,” RIH 98/02.1)26 and sometimes more explicit information about performance is provided as well, as in RA 35 3 iii 14: “one of the kalû-singers stands up … and sings an e r š e m m a-song to Enlil to the accompaniment of the ḫalḫallatu-drum” (CAD Z, 37a).27 Second, although there is no extant body of criticism from ancient Israel and Judah commenting on the musicality of biblical verse, there are nonetheless aspects of the texts themselves that are indicative of the presence of music. Several stand out. To begin with, there is the terminology used for this kind of verse, which in several instances refers explicitly to “song” and “singing.” The most generic term is šîr/šîrâ “song” (e.g., Exod 15:1; Num 21:17; Deut 31:22, 30; Isa 5:1; Song 1:1; Ps 18:1).28 As R. Lowth writes: “These compositions which were intended for music, whether vocal alone, or accompanied with instruments, obtained among the Hebrews the appellation of Shir.”29 The verb š-y-r “to sing” is equally widespread (e.g., ʾāšîrâ l-yhwh “I will sing to Yahweh,” Ps 13:6). The other common root in biblical Hebrew for song and singing is z-m-r (e.g., Judg 5:3; 2 Sam 22:50 = Ps 18:50; 1 Ps 98:5; 1 Chron 16:9)—mizmôr “psalm, song” appears fifty-seven times as a designation for a psalm, all in psalm titles (e.g., Ps 13:1; 19:1; 23:1; 29:1; 48:1; 88:1; 98:1). Both roots by their semantics alone imply an originary concern for music and song for the compositions so designated or characterized. Moreover, references to musical instruments are common in psalms in particular (e.g., Ps 33:1–3; 47:6; 49:1–5; 81:3, 4; 92:4; 98:6; 144:9; 147:7; 150:3–5; 2 Chron 5:13; cf. Amos 6:23)30 and also in other poems that are sung or described as songs (e.g., Exod 15:20–21; 1 Sam 18:6–7; Isa 23:16; cf. Amos 6:5; Ezek 26:13); and most scholars assume that some of the obscure technical terms in the superscriptions to individual psalms (e.g., ʿal haššĕmînît, Ps 6:1; 12:1; cf. 1 Chron 15:21) likely refer to instruments or to melodic or rhythmic patterns and tones.31 Also there are textual indications of the existence of a professional group of singers and musicians (e.g., Gen 4:21; Ps 68:26; 1 Chron 15:16–24; 16:4–6)—“male and female musicians” are listed among the tribute sent by Hezekiah to Sennacherib in 701 BCE (according to the latter’s annals, ANET, 288), and among those deported to Babylon by Nebuchadrezzar and receiving oil rations was the “director of singers from Ashkelon.”32
(p.183) A third consideration consistent with the sung quality of biblical Hebrew lyrics is the plethora of material remains from the Levant and surrounding areas attesting to the cultivation of music. Remains of musical instruments have been recovered, as well as numerous iconographic representations of instruments and musicians and singers (playing and singing, see figs. 38–39), and even a complete hymn (in Hurrian) with instructions for performance.33 Finally, from an ethnomusicological perspective “in the earliest cultures words and music are closely associated,” while solo instrumental music is clearly a secondary development.34 That is, most “primitive” music is vocal (or partly vocal)—“music produced by the human voice.”35 In other words, where we have cultivation of music in antiquity—as we do in ancient Israel and Judah and the Near East more generally—we can expect most of that activity to be concerned with voice—qôl zimrâ “the voice of song” (Isa 51:3), and therefore, though we mostly lack indications of melody,36 tune, and the like from antiquity, the “words” that are preserved in writing (and consistently isolated through word division, e.g., fig. 37) are in fact a most decisive indicator of ancient song; the nonnarrative poems themselves attest to the reality of ancient music and song.37 And from the written words other aspects of lyric’s pervasive musicality may be discerned, especially in “those elements which [lyric] shares with the musical forms”38—rhythm, meter, a pervasive heightening of sonority through alliteration, assonance, and the like.39 And though all language art may use such musical resources, it is “the frequency and importance” of such musical practices, “rather than their exclusive use,” wherein lies their lyric distinctiveness.40
In sum, it may be confidently concluded that, as in ancient Greece,41 and in fact as in many traditional and primarily oral cultures throghout history, much lyric verse of the Bible evolved literally as song and was frequently accompanied by instrumental music. That is, it consisted of “sung words,” verse where the music exists for the sake of words, where melody, rhythm, voice, dance, and the lyre all conspire “to reinforce and emphasize separate syllables and to augment the clarity of the sung words.”42 And if, as with ancient Greek lyrics, we have no idea about the details of the Hebrew lyric’s music—beyond the facticity of its existence—since it too is irredeemably lost to us, the thump of its rhythm at times still can be felt and the sweet sounds of its song even occasionally heard,43 and thus Hebrew lyric, as with almost all lyric poetry, modern or ancient, never really escapes or forgets its origin in music and performance.44 Indeed, not a few of the lyric’s leading discriminators (e.g., prominence of voice, its adding style, brevity of scope) find their origin in the genre’s aboriginal orality, as I will note.
Musical expression in antiquity also will have likely included chanting and recitation to musical accompaniment and rhythms (A. Welsh identifies “three (p.184) roots of the melopoeia of lyric poetry”),45 though tracking such muted modes of musicality, without the benefit of express linguistic traces, is difficult. Consider the qînâ “dirge,” which in the Hebrew Bible is usually “raised or lifted up” (n-ś-ʾ; cf. Jer 7:29; 9:9; Ezek 19:1; 26:17; 27:2, 32; 28:12; 32:2; Amos 5:1) or (etymologically) “keened” (q-y-n; cf. Ezek 27:32; 32:16; 2 Chron 35:25) but never literally “sung” (š-y-r). Indeed, laments and dirges were often thought of as the antithesis of song (e.g., Amos 8:10; Ps 137:1–4; Lam 5:14–15; cf. Prov 25:20). Nevertheless, ethnographic studies of funeral dirges clearly show that if dirges were not sung as were songs on more festive occasions, they were still chanted in song-like fashion.46 In 2 Chronicles 35:25 “male and female singers” (haššārîm wĕhaššārôt) are said to have been responsible for lamenting (wayqônēn) Josiah’s death. Even the Mesopotamian city laments, which are themselves deeply indebted to the funeral dirge, represent themselves as “songs” (š i r; e.g., LN 54, 56; balag 4:b + 260) that were chanted normally to the beat of the balag-drum and/or other percussion instruments (e.g., CA 200–201)—Lamentations, the Bible’s best example of a lamentation for a destroyed city, itself mostly lacks explicit references to song or music (cf. Lam 5:15: nehpak lĕʾēbel mĕḥōlēnû “our dancing has turned to mourning”). And there are many psalmic laments whose musicality is sometimes otherwise suggested (e.g., Ps 6:1; 12:1; 60:1; 80:1). All this by way of reminder that there may well have been shades of musicality in performance beyond that of the full-throated singing of song. For the qînâ, the ghost of such musicality is still faintly but distinctly perceivable in the rhythm of its words and especially the limp of its often unbalanced sets of lines, that is, the so-called qinah meter.
The rise of textuality in Israel and Judah, beginning in earnest no later than the early eighth century BCE (Iron IIB), means that writing becomes a potential factor in the staging and experience of Hebrew lyric. Writing does not immediately change matters, especially the reception of poems, which remains vocal certainly through the Persian period.47 Yet writing in the long run dramatically shifts lyric verse historically from a “sung” and thus “heard” word to a word that for most of literary history now (especially in the West) has been dominantly “seen” on the page (e.g., Horace never sang his verse).48 This wider historical perspective raises the possibility of unsung and unchanted lyrics in the Bible (especially after the advent of writing, e.g., Job 3), a topic I return to (in a manner) at the end of the chapter.
One way to gain a firmer fix on the lyric is, following the lead of N. Frye,49 to say what it is not: the lyric is not a narrative; or better, it is chiefly, as I have (p.185) already said, a nonnarrative, nondramatic, nonrepresentational kind of poetry.50 In fact, beyond the pervasive imprint left by the lyric’s originary entanglement with music, what so distinguishes the medium of lyric verse and shapes the basic contours of its discourse is the noncentrality, and indeed frequent absence, of features and practices (plot, character, and the like) that are otherwise definitive of more discursive modes of discourse (e.g., narrative, drama). As Culler succinctly states, “narrative poems recount an event; lyrics … strive to be an event.”51 The outstanding characteristic of biblical poetry, of course, is its fundamental nonnarrativity. R. Alter puts his finger on precisely this “peculiarity”: “The Hebrew writers used verse for celebratory song, dirge, oracle, oratory, prophecy, reflective and didactic argument, liturgy, and often as a heightening or summarizing inset in the prose narratives—but only marginally or minimally to tell a tale.”52 Epic verse (narrative) is well exemplified from the various surrounding cultures of the ancient Near East, but in the preserved literature of the Bible, narrative becomes predominantly the preserve of prose, so much so in fact, that the two extremes on the (ideal) discourse continuum represented by lyric and narrative are often synonymous in the Bible with the distinction between poetry (verse) and prose. Indeed, triangulating from the various uses of verse, for example, in ancient Syria, Mesopotamia, and even Greece on the one hand and from the (mostly perceptible) poetry/prose divide in biblical literature on the other brings the nonnarrative, nonrepresentational nature of much biblical Hebrew verse sharply into view. So much so in fact, that this aspiration toward something other than narrative may well be the most tractable lyric characteristic of biblical verse more generally.
Alter dedicates his second chapter (“From Line to Story”) in The Art of Biblical Poetry to illustrating the various ways biblical Hebrew poems, though “fundamentally nonnarrative” in nature, do manifest at times a noticeable narrative impulse (e.g., incipient narrativity, episodic narratives). Among the poems he considers in more detail are 2 Samuel 22 (= Ps 18), Job 16:9–14, Joel 2, Judges 5, Exodus 15, and Proverbs 7. Two aspects of his treatment are worth underscoring here. One, the fact that modal and genre boundaries are easily (and even commonly) transgressed,53 and two, that in every instance the particular impulses toward narrative on display ultimately serve larger, nonnarrative ends, for example, to hymn Yahweh, to celebrate a victory, to convey moral instruction.
In the following paragraphs I take the opposite tack from Alter. Instead of charting how biblical poems may move toward narrative, and as a consequence gaining a better angle from which to appreciate these poems’ defining nonnarrativity, I come at the latter by considering the swerve away from narrative (p.186) in Psalm 114. Psalm 114, a somewhat unusual psalmic composition, invites the narrative comparison in two broad ways. First, it explicitly uses story—the exodus from Egypt—to frame its discourse. This is accomplished immediately in the poem’s opening line: bĕṣēʾt yiśrāʾēl mimmiṣrāyim “When Israel went forth from Egypt” (Ps 114:1). Psalms do not generally begin in this way, and in fact the grammar itself—“the infinitive construction with concomitant subordination of the second poetic line”—is common in narrative (esp. Exod 13:8).54 Second, almost every line reflects an awareness of Israel’s larger narrative traditions: verses 3 and 5 recall the events at the Red Sea (Exod 14–15) and the crossing of the Jordan (Josh 3:1–5:1)—though in both cases as refracted mythopoetically (e.g., Isa 51:9–11; Ps 74: 12–17; Job 38:8–11; 40:25–32; cf. Josh 4:23); the image of mountains and hills “skipping” (rāqĕdû) like rams and lambs (cf. esp. Ps 29:6) in verses 4 and 6 is taken from the old hymns recounting the march of the Divine Warrior from the southland (cf. Deut 33:2; Judg 5:4–5; Hab 3:3–6; Ps 68:8–9; also KA 4.2); and verse 8 draws on the the wilderness traditions (Exod 17:1–7; Num 20:2–13). And yet there is no narrative here. The poem does not go on to narrate the story of the exodus, or any of these other traditions. H.-J. Kraus’s observation about the narrative episodes in Psalm 106 is applicable here as well: they “are generally presumed to be familiar and therefore taken up only allusively.”55 Indeed, the poem does not appear to make good sense discursively at all. If anything, it flouts good discursive logic. For example, who or what is the poem about? The topicalized entities in the first three clauses are all differently named—Israel, Jacob, Judah.56 The clauses of the second couplet (v. 2), which are grammatically subordinated to those in the opening couplet, do not appear to follow any kind of story logic, or even to make literal sense: how is it that Israel’s coming out from Egypt (literally) established Judah as “his sanctuary”? And who is the grammatical antecedent for the possessive suffix here and in the next line? The poem never explicitly says. And then there is the hodgepodge collection of traditions reflected in the poem.57 These are not sequenced or otherwise developed logically. And though the Chaoskampf imagery has attracted the attention of scholars (e.g., Kraus entitles his comments on the poem “Miracles of Subduing the Sea”),58 the poem’s climax in verse 7 (millipnê ʾādôn ḥûlî ʾāreṣ “Before (the) Lord, writhe, O land!”) depends most explicitly on the old theophany traditions—the “land/earth” (ʾereṣ) “shakes” (rāʿāšâ) “from before Yahweh” (mippĕnê yhwh) in Judges 5:4–5 and is shaken (lit. waymōded) by Yahweh in Habakkuk 3:6, and the whole concludes (curiously) by recalling Israel’s wanderings before entering the land. Finally, the wayyiqtol form, the paradigm grammatical trope of Hebrew narrative, is used only once (wayyānōs, v. 3), and that for local effect.59
(p.187) My point (exaggerated to be sure) is that this poem does not seem very interested in telling a story (which story?), developing characters (indeed, that which most commentators take to be the poem’s chief subject, Yahweh, is never explicitly topicalized!), or even in constructing an argument. Such a presentation, as Kraus rightly notes, cannot be called “a real narration or description.”60 That is, its basic dynamics and chief practices are other than what we routinely associate with narrative; they are, I submit, expressly lyrical in orientation. To offer a fully persuasive lyric reading of this psalm would presume much of the discussion that is to follow. Still, several considerations—beyond the absence of narrative and narrativizing devices—may be offered as preliminary indicators of the psalm’s lyricism. First, there is its hymnic nature, stipulated to by most commentators (even if uneasily so).61 The hymn is a quintessential specimen of lyric discourse (by any definition).62 As Lowth observes, the hymn (or “ode”) is “sufficiently expressive” of its origin and abiding nature, “the offspring of the most vivid and the most agreeable passions of the mind—of love, joy, and admiration.”63 It enacts “an effusion of praise” to the deity, “accompanied with suitable energy and an exultation of voice.”64 The hymn of praise in the psalms is sometimes rendered self-reflexively and declaratively, as in Psalm 146:2 (“I will praise [ʾăhalĕlâ] Yahweh as long as I live!”), but more often it is composed of a call to praise followed by a kî clause giving the reason for the praise (e.g., Ps 117), with the expression of praise itself more a consequence of pragmatic implicature than conventional semantics.65 But the main point, captured well by Lowth, is that the content of such hymns (what they are all about, what they do) is neither argument nor description but the “effusion of praise” itself, the expressed consciousness “of the goodness, majesty, and power of God.” Psalm 114, if a hymn, is a darker kind of hymn, as epitomized by the climatic call in verse 7 for the “land/earth” to “writhe (in agony)” before Yahweh.66 The precise language used here, ḥûlî ʾāreṣ, though surely intended to play off (and on) the more normative calls to praise (e.g., halĕlû yāh) that typify Israelite hymns and echo throughout the Hallel sequence in particular (e.g., Ps 111:1; 112:1; 113:1, 9; 115:18; 116:19; 117:2; cf. 69:35; 148:7),67 is drawn from the poetic commonplace depicting the reaction to bad news (Isa 13:8; Jer 4:19; Hab 3:10; cf. Isa 21:3; Jer 6:24; 50:43)68 and thus evokes sensations of fear, dread, and anguish at the prospects of the warrior deity’s immanent theophany—very much akin to the darkness that is hymned in Psalm 29.69
The poem, as I have already noticed, is highly fragmented, made up of bits and pieces of various traditions, and its discourse develops mostly associatively, as is typical of lyric discourse more generally (see discussion “Rhythm of Association” later in this chapter). The initial reference to the exodus from (p.188) Egypt (v. 1) calls to mind the mythopoetic representation of that event as Yahweh’s battle over the chaos power, Sea (v. 3; cf. Exod 15). The similar personification of the Jordan (unique to this psalm) in the following line is a consequence of the tradition’s explicit interpretation of the crossing of the Jordan in terms of the Re(e)d Sea events (Josh 4:23; cf. Ps 66:6).70 The reaction of Sea and River then suggests the analogous reaction of the Mountains and Hills prevalent in the march of the Divine Warrior traditions,71 with the latter then giving way to the poem’s climatic call to “writhe!” Without plot and character the lyric, as Langer notes, “must depend most directly on pure verbal resources,”72 and thus lyric discourse is often highly troped. Wordplay (ḥûlî/halĕlû, v. 7), personification (vv. 3–5, 5–673), “bold apostrophe” (v. 7),74 and the like must bear more of the meaning-making burden.75 Continuity and coherence are built in through lineation and rhythm—the poem is constructed out of parallelistic couplets, all of which involve gapping (ellipsis), and the foreshortened second lines that result from the gapping create a rocking rhythm that mimes the writhing and skipping that the poem imagines.76
And finally, it is often the case in lyric discourse that as much goes on behind the scenes (or under the poem’s surface), as it were, as specifically in the text. As D. Levertov observes, lyric poetry’s “way of constructing” discourse depends as much on “silences” as on the selection of specific “words.”77 Kraus explains the purpose of Psalm 114 as proclaiming “the powerful appearance of the God of Israel.”78 Such an explanation is on the right track but ultimately goes astray by failing to appreciate the poem’s figured “silences”—that which is left unstated, the represented absences. The presence of the deity that is hymned here is that which is otherwise not manifestly apparent, that which is literally absent. Nowhere in the poem is Yahweh specifically topicalized—the direct antithesis of the old hymns to the Divine Warrior in which we witness the deity marching (as it were) across the surface of the poem. No antecedents for the pronominal suffixes in verse 2 are ever explicitly identified, though the referent is obvious to all. And even in the poem’s “great dénouement” the deity only appears obliquely (millipnê ʾādôn … millipnê ʾĕlôah),79 as if we somehow just missed the appearance itself. And this figuring of Yahweh’s presence amid apparent absence seems to be at the core of much of the poem. For example, the hearer knows only too well that it is Yahweh whom personified Sea sees and recoils from in verse 3. But by withholding the explicit mention of the deity, Yahweh’s presence is marked by literal—here linguistic—absence. And similarly in verses 5–6. The questions put to Sea and company are not really intended to taunt or ridicule,80 but again to linguistically figure the deity’s presence amid apparent absence. With this in mind, the poem’s otherwise enigmatic concluding couplet (v. 8) comes into clearer focus. It (p.189) alludes to the incident at Massah and Meribah where, according to the tradition in Exodus (17:1–7, esp. v. 7), the Israelites “quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, ‘Is the LORD among us or not?’” (NRSV). The issue there as well, then, is the presence of Yahweh, whose physical manifestation was apparently in question.81 The allusion to the episode in Psalm 114:8 would thus appear to remove Yahweh one step further from the poem’s literal surface, yet the point is to (re)affirm that even at those times where the deity’s absence is most palpable Yahweh is present. And thus if I were to commit the cardinal sin of New Criticism and offer a (brief) paraphrase of this psalm, it would go something like this: “Writhe in anguish, O Jacob, for Yahweh is present even in the midst of the most tangible signs of his absence.”
Whether one agrees with every aspect of my own (abbreviated) reading of Psalm 114, that the poem is fundamentally nonnarrative in its basic structure and orientation I hope is plain to see. Narrative, though clearly present, is subsidiary, as is common in lyric discourse. As W. R. Johnson observes, “behind every lyric, sometimes vaguely sketched, sometimes clearly defined, is a story that explains the present moment of discourse and accounts for the singer’s present moods and for his need or choice to sing. But in lyric poems … the story exists for the song, and what gives the poem its form, its resonance, and its texture” is a specifically lyric kind of sensibility that is made manifest in the “selection of language, sound, and image.”82 Psalm 114 is made of the stuff of narrative—quite explicitly so—but these narrative elements are molded and deployed lyrically.83
The Most Obviously Linguistic Creation
Lyric’s typical eschewal of narrative and its attendant devices, as summarily shown in the foregoing reading of Psalm 114, entails important consequences for the kind of verbal discourse that it enacts. The first such consequence, and in many ways the most basic as well, is that the fundamental resource of lyric proper, “its plastic medium,” is, by default, language itself—“its material dimension.”84 Since lyric poetry (habitually) makes no recourse to plot or character, it must depend, as Langer explains, “most directly on pure verbal resources—the sound and evocative power of words, meter, alliteration, rhyme, and other rhythmic devices, associated images, repetitions, archaisms and grammatical twists. It is the most obviously linguistic creation, and therefore the readiest instance of poesy.”85 That is to say, “there is a tendency,” as M. Kinzie notes, “for words” (and other linguistic elements, too) “in the specialized fabric of the poetic line to take on more than their usual significance.”86 It is precisely such linguistic ornamentation (e.g., rhythm, sound patterning, and the like) that (p.190) enable aural input to stick in the mind (minus plot and such) and that differentiates the lyric from narrative and mimetic modes generally.87 This is the “babble”—those nonsemantic features of language such as sound, rhythm, puns and the like—of Frye’s famed twin constituents of lyric, “babble and doodle,”88 and it is most why the lyric, according to Frye, shows so clearly the “hypothetical core of literature, narrative and meaning in their literal aspects as word-order and word-pattern.”89 One may gain an impression of the “babbledness” of biblical song, for example, by perusing the (sometimes mechanical) listings of figures and tropes in the late nineteenth-century compendia of I. M. Casanowicz and E. König, or in the richly evocative work of more recent literary scholars, such as A. Berlin, E. Greenstein, and D. Grossberg.90 Here, however, I accentuate, first, the superabundance of meaning that sometmes accompanies a poet’s choice of diction, and then I exemplify the foregrounding of the nonsemantic features of language in the lyric poetry of the Bible by considering the (general) nature of formal structure and the use of metaphor as (or in lieu of) argument. These are intended to serve as stand-ins for the other kinds of tropes (wordplay, sound play, and the like) that typify much poetic discourse in the Bible and mark it as specifically lyric in nature—these would need to be surveyed in a more thoroughgoing statement of this particular lyric quality.
The poet’s choice of diction often activates connotations over and above a given statement’s more narrowly denotative meaning.91 I illustrate with several examples from Lamentations. In Lamentations 2:20b the specter of cannibalism is raised. The language is quite evocative. The NRSV, “should women eat their offspring,” sanitizes the imagery in its overtly denotative rendering. The term for “offspring,” pĕrî, more literally means “fruit,” and while it is true that this term is frequently used figuratively for offspring (see Gen 30:2; Deut 7:32; Ps 21:11), as indeed it is here, nevertheless the poet means through this choice of diction to color the mother’s act of cannibalism with the lush enjoyment and everyday occurrence of eating fruit: “Should women have to eat their children as if they were eating fruit?” The resulting contrast of images is jarring and very effective. The utterly abhorrent thought that a mother would be compelled to cannibalize her own children as a means of survival is made even more heinous by the sensuality and commonality implicit in the fruit imagery. This tainting of the inhumane, the bestial with sensuous (even erotic) delight continues through the end of the couplet, as the hapax legomenon ṭippuḥîm “to be reared” (NRSV: “borne”) puns on the erotically charged tappûaḥ (pl. tappûḥîm; esp. Song 2:3, 5; 7:9), a word typically (though uncertainly) glossed as “apple.”92
Another good example of how diction can provide an oversurplus of meaning is Lamentations 1:10. Here the enemy are portrayed as stretching (p.191) their hands over Zion’s “precious things” (maḥămaddeyhā) and as “entering” (bāʾû) her sanctuary. As D. R. Hillers, for one, rightly stresses,93 the imagery surely intends to depict the looting of the temple treasures by the Babylonians (cf. 2 Kgs 25:13–17). And yet the prominence of the personification of Zion as a woman in this poem freights the key terms in this verse with double meaning. Both of the terms for “precious things” (Song 5:16) and “entering” (Gen 6:4; 16:2; 19: 31; 38:9; Judg 16:1; 2 Sam 16:21; Ezek 23:44; Prov 6:29) are used elsewhere to connote sexual intercourse. And thus A. Mintz is right to see in this verse a metaphorical image of sexual violation, which he explains as being “founded on the correspondence body // Temple and genitals // Inner Sanctuary.” “So far have things gone,” Mintz continues, “that even in the secret place of intimacy to which only the single sacred partner may be admitted, the enemy has thrust himself and ‘spread his hands over everything dear to her (1:10).’ ”94 It is the metaphorical surplus that suffuses the depiction of the enemy’s spoliation of the Jerusalem temple that most pointedly registers the Lamentations poet’s feelings of shame, shock, and deep hurt—feelings that are not activated at the purely denotative level of meaning.95
One of the elemental functions of plot in narrative is to shape a story, to give it a beginning, middle, and end, and thus to provide a sense of coherence and continuity.96 Plot is, as P. Brooks states, “the principle of interconnectedness … which we cannot do without in moving through the discrete elements—incidents, episodes, actions—of a narrative” and “that allow[s] us to construct a whole.”97 Without plot per se lyric must find alternative means for organizing its discourse, for demarcating boundaries, for guiding auditors through to a satisfying denouement. At one extreme, lyric verse routinely employs purely (or principally) formal means for articulating structure, such as with the given (conventional) forms well known from the metrical tradition of English verse (e.g., sonnet, villanelle, and the like). In biblical verse the most manifestly formal structuring device used is the alphabetic acrostic (e.g., Ps 9–10, 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, 145; Lam 1–4). The acrostic, unfortunately, has not always been appreciated by biblical exegetes, many of whom routinely decry its patent artificiality. But, of course, such artificiality, or better, artifactuality, is one of the chief marks of poesy, that making out of language that is at the center of all language art.98 And, more to the point, it is in forms like the acrostic that the lyric’s dependence on the double-sided (tropological) use of linguistic signs—Kinzie’s notion of taking “on more than their usual significance”—is so plainly on display: the appropriate letter of the alphabet functions both at the word level (i.e., as a part of the spelling of a specific lexeme) and at the composition level (i.e., as a part of the formal conceit by which the larger whole is articulated).99 Other more or less formal means for articulat (p.192) ing holistic structure in the Psalms, for example, include large-scale envelope structures, such as inclusios (e.g., yhwh ʾdnynw / mh-ʾdyr šmk / bkl-hʾrṣ, Ps 8:2, 10; bny ʾdm, Ps 12:2, 9; hwdw lyhwh ky-ṭwb / ky lʿwlm ḥsdw, Ps 118:1, 29; halĕlû yāh, Ps 147:1, 20)100 and chiasms (e.g., ʾlhym lnw mḥsh wʿz // mśgb-lnw ʾlhy yʿqb, Ps 46:2a, 12b), and the occasional use of refrains (e.g., mh-tštwḥḥy npšy, Ps 42:6, 12; 43:5; ky lʿwlm ḥsdw, Ps 136:1–26). And we should probably not discount the possibility that the conventional forms identified by form criticism (beginning with Gunkel) could themselves appeal “as form” (though here thematic elements begin to come into play as well).101 For example, the bifold structure of the (imperative) hymn of praise—call to praise (with an imperative) followed by a causal clause (usually beginning with kî) giving the reason for praise102—can be used to structure whole poems (e.g., Ps 100, 117) or sections of poems (e.g., Ps 96:1–6; 98: 1–3; 135:1–4).103
Far more common, however, the containing form of a biblical Hebrew lyric poem is “organic,” to use a term from Coleridge: “it shapes, as it develops, itself from within,” arising “out of the properties of the material.”104 That is, as is the case more generally with nonmetrical verse (or free verse poems), the patterned repetition that generates formal structure,105 in lieu of a strong tradition of conventional stanzaic structure, rhyme schemes, and the like, will routinely involve a host of diverse linguistic elements (e.g., lineation, sound play, parallelism, word repetition) distributed in a variety of overlapping and mutually informing and delimiting ways (see chapter 2).106 I have already noted (in passing) a simple example of such “discovered form” in the discussion of Psalm 114. There the psalm’s gross structure is articulated formally by the uniform use of parallelistic couplets (eight of them), each involving gapping and composed of slightly unbalanced lines—as B. H. Smith notes, our recognition of such formal patterning is properly “retrospective,” that is, we cannot be sure of it until it is concluded (or “announced as concluded”).107 The finer points of that psalm’s structure are then “figured” against this “ground” of uniform parallelism. The poem divides into three main sections (or stanzas).108 The middle section (vv. 3–6) is the longest and is characterized above all by word- and phrase-level repetition (involving Sea, Jordan, Mountains, and Hills—only rāʾâ, mah-llěkā, and kî are not repeated). The opening (vv. 1–2) and closing (vv. 7–8) sections are distinguished by the presence of tighter intercouplet syntactic dependencies (i.e., both involve subordinating constructions—infinitival in vv. 1–2 and appositonal in vv. 7–8), and thus form an enveloping structure that (formally) rounds off the poem.
Song 4:1–7 finds its way from beginning to end still differently, though no less nonnarratively. The poem, sung in the boy’s voice, declaims the beauty of the girl the boy loves. The opening and closing couplets (vv. 1a, 7), which form (p.193) an inclusio, plainly express the poem’s sole preoccupation: “Wow! You are so beautiful, my love, / Wow! You are so beautiful!” (v. 1a).
The structure of the poem is very intentional. Its main body is divided into two symmetrical halves (vv. 1b-2, 3–4), each containing four couplets and featuring three similes, the last of which in each half is more elaborate than the other two (having an additional couplet). This structure is further articulated through syntax and the kind of metaphors employed in each section. In the first section, the part of the body in focus is fronted syntactically at the head of each couplet—“your eyes,” “your hair,” “your teeth.” Each of the metaphors is drawn from the animal world, and more specifically, they feature domesticated animals: “doves,” “goats,” and “sheep.” In the second section, the vehicle of the metaphor is fronted syntactically with the preposition kĕ- “like or as”: “like a scarlet thread,” “like a slit of pomegranate,” and “like the tower of David.” The metaphors in this half no longer feature domesticated animals but the products of human culture—textiles, fruits, architecture. The descriptive aspect of this waṣf-like poem is brought to a conclusion in verse 5 with the boy’s appreciation of his lover’s breasts. The intentionality of the stopping place is patent, even though other similar poems of description in the Song are more (physiologically) inclusive (i.e., head to foot). All of the formal patterns of repetition employed to structure the main body of the description—line structure, syntax, deployment of metaphors—are here exploded, and with this change of pattern the description’s closing movement is effectively announced. The simile is given in a triplet and not the couplet that otherwise pervades the whole of this poem. Both of the fronting patterns just noted are upset by the insertion of a number, “two,” at the head of the triplet. And the metaphor, though returning to the animal world, features not a domesticated animal but the wild “gazelle.” The whole offers another poetic rendition of the “woman in the window” motif (cf. 2:9)109—the upper torso of the girl is presented to the mind’s eye of the auditor, framed window-fashion, just as in an ivory figurine, by the poem’s opening and closing inclusio. After registering the boy’s resolve to join his lover (v. 6), the poem concludes by replaying the boy’s opening exclamation of the girl’s beauty with enough change to close the poem intentionally and with satisfaction: “The whole of you is beautiful, my love, / and there is no flaw in you” (v. 7).
A final, and more complex, example is Psalm 19. The poem divides into two main parts, verses 2–7 and 8–15.110 Lineation is the chief formal indicator of this poem’s structure (though form and content are mutually reinforcing throughout). The lines in the first section of the poem are generally longer, with several triplets thrown in amid the couplets. In the second half, the poem is characterized by couplets with short lines in which the first line tends to be (p.194) longer than the second—the so-called qinah meter.111 The only triplet in this section comes at the very end (v. 15), thus effectively signaling the poem’s concluding movement. These main sections are composed of two stanzas apiece (vv. 2–5b, 5c–7; 8–11, 12–14), and the theme of each stanza is topicalized in the initial word—“heavens” (v. 2), “sun” (v. 5c), “Torah” (v. 8), “your servant” (v. 12). In the first section, the “sun” stanza is further distinguished by its constituent triplets,112 while the “Torah” stanza is differentiated in the second part by the especially tight (syntactic, grammatical, and semantic) parallelism that is manifested among its constituent couplets.
In sum, form (sometimes by itself but more frequently in tandem with thematic elements) in the lyric verse of the Bible shoulders a great deal of the continuity and sequencing functions that in narrative more generally fall to the domain of plot, and thus does a great deal more than simply ornamenting the poem’s otherwise paraphrasable meaning(s). In a similar way, instead of argument—though, of course, there is no reason why particular lyric poems should not engage in more discursive forms of discourse, for example, as in some prophetic and didactic verse—one finds a variety of stand-ins, including, most interestingly, metaphor.113 Metaphor epitomizes the coming “to mean twice” that typifies the tropologically dense discourse of lyric verse.114 So in Psalm 133 the poem’s central invocation, “How good and how pleasant it is / that brothers dwell together” (NJV), is never argued or even exemplified. (Gerstenberger: “these metaphors [in vv. 2–3] cannot very well explain the peaceful coexistence of ‘brothers.’”)115 Rather, it is more a matter, as Kraus says, of being “accompanied … by friendly sentiments.”116 That is, the exclamation is supported by two images of superabundance and refreshment—that of oil and that of dew—and we are won over to its point of view largely by the “extravagance” of these similes. In Psalm 1 simile (metaphor) is equally crucial to the poem’s success. Here, too, we chiefly have to do with “a joyous exclamation,”117 “Happy is the man … !” and its main appeal is secured, positively (v. 3) and negatively (v. 4), through similes. The inherent attractiveness of the tree metaphor, plus its elaboration in the poem, is one of the chief ways the poet presses this point. By contrast, the image of chaff that is blown by the wind is inherently negative (note that the negative particles in the poem, vv. 1, 4, 5, always characterize the activity of the wicked) and very brief—the chaff, once blown away, is no more. Such doubleness in the usage of metaphor—both as an image event in its own right and as (or in lieu of) argument—is analogous to the superabundance of meaning that can attach itself to a poet’s diction or the doubleness of form illustrated here, and each exemplifies the tropological density (the taking on of “more than their usual sense”) that customarily (necessarily) attends lyric discourse.118
In characterizing the lyric, Culler highlights the genre’s typical vocality: it “seems to be an utterance … the utterance of a voice.”119 Culler, like many commentators on modern lyric, sublimates the originating orality that births lyric in the first place. This “seemingness” of modern lyric is the bequest of a once living performative tradition whose only medium was the uttered human voice. As P. Zumthor remarks, “‘orality’ is the historical authenticity of a voice.”120 This vocality has (at least) two distinguishing properties. The first is physical. R. Pinsky gets at this physicality in his notion of lyric poetry as “a vocal, which is to say a bodily, art.”121 He continues: “The medium of poetry is the human body: the column of air inside the chest, shaped into signifying sounds in the larynx and mouth.”122 To focus as Pinsky does on the physical operation of the voice and its production of sound is to recall the lyric’s debt to music (which after all was synonymous with singing and song in antiquity) and orality,123 to stress its sonic qualities, to appreciate that it is an art form that is/was intended to be heard. Rhythm, melody, and euphony (sound play) are all important features of biblical verse, even if our own perception of them through the preserved textual medium(s) is muffled and dim. The rhythmic cadences of biblical Hebrew verse are the most tractable of these musical elements today. So, for example, the mostly balanced cadences of Psalms 33, 111, and 112 contrast noticeably with the unbalanced limp of Psalms 114 and 19:8–11. And though sound play in biblical poetry generally is nonsystematic, its presence and even occasional scripting for larger effect (such as in the chiming -ah // -â, -am // -ām, and -îm // -îm that frame Ps 133, or the rhyming that punctuates the close of Isa 5:1–7, namely mišpāṭ // miśpāḥ, ṣĕdāqâ // ṣĕʿāqâ) is beyond doubt. One of the scandals of lyric poetry, writes Culler, is precisely that these “contingent features of sound and rhythm systematically infect and affect thought.”124
Moreover, to focus the uttered-ness of the lyric is to recall as well its reutterability—the lyric is quintessentially that medium of discourse that is intended to be reuttered.125 Again to quote Pinsky: “when I say myself a poem … the artist’s medium is my breath. The reader’s breath and hearing embody the poet’s words. This makes the art physical, intimate, vocal, and individual.”126 And it is through its capacity to be reuttered that lyric verse effects the superposition of “the subjectivity of the scripted speaker on the reader.”127 Or as R. Greene writes, the hearer or reader of the lyric “might be said to shed his or her all-too-specific person, and to take on the speaking self of the poem.”128 In other words, he or she entertains the statements made by the poem’s speaker, tries them on, and reexperiences them from the inside, as it were.129 (p.196) Such reutterability is literally true of traditional lyric; that is, what (in part) makes traditional lyric traditional is its familiarity to everyone “as of old”—“what our ancestors have told us” (Ps 78:3),130 and thus its consummate reutterability. And as E. L. Greenstein observes, “Biblical verse is virtually all direct discourse.”131 This accounts for the openness of psalmic discourse, for example, which P. D. Miller calls attention to in his comments on the identity of the enemies in the laments: “The enemies are in fact whoever the enemies are for the singers of the psalms. … The laments become appropriate for persons who cry out to God in all kinds of situations.”132 E. A. Howe observes that there is “precisely” an appropriate “vagueness” about the voice of the speaking/singing lyric-I that is all important, that allows the audience to equate it with the poet/singer or identify with it themselves or “see it as a universal ‘I’ belonging to no-one and to everyone.”133 Such reutterability is strikingly confirmed by the many times psalms are historicized and embedded in biblical narrative—literally placed into the mouths of characters who (re)utter them (e.g., 1 Sam 2:1–10; 2 Sam 18; Isa 38:10–20; Jer 11:18–12:6; 1 Chron 16:8–36). Both Deuteronomy 32 (cf. Deut 31:19) and 2 Samuel 1:19–27 (cf. v. 18) are poems whose narrative stagings presume future reutterings by those who are to be taught the songs. Exodus 15 gets reperformed by Miriam and “all the women” (vv. 20–21). And though we only get snatches, there is an implied reutterability (reiterative-ness) inherent to group singing (e.g., Num 21:17–18; 1 Sam 18:6–7).
A second property of lyric vocality is its figuredness as “incantation, rather than the presentation of telling or ritual.”134 So this is in part why Culler privileges the “apostrophe” (“a turning aside … to address to a someone or something that is not an ordinary empirical listener”) as the master trope of lyric—it “foregrounds the act of address”; it is “a troping on the circuit of communication or situation of address.”135 Here one notices most the absence of developed (fictional) characters, which more often than not appear to have mutated into disembodied or orphaned voice in the lyric (and if named are only equivocally or inferentially named)136—viewing matters from the perspective of narrative, which is a heuristic felicity in deference to modern literary proclivities; no such mutation was strictly necessary as lyric is every bit as old as narrative (epic).137 And as a result of this incantatory shaping of vocality—that “it is, precisely, invoked”138—the lyric takes on what W. R. Johnson describes as its typical139 pronominal form. He identifies three principal patterns in which pronominal forms are deployed in lyric verse.140 The prototypical pronominal pattern is the I-You form,141 which primordially gains its shape from “the presence of the singer before his audience.”142 Ancient lyric in particular, as G. N. Shuster notices, “was addressed to somebody, primarily because it was either sung or read and the traditions of song and recitation required that there be a (p.197) recipient.”143 Though narrative representations of such performative contexts are not many in the Bible and never as richly detailed as we might want, they do occur (e.g., Exod 15:1, 20–21; Num 21:16–18; Judg 5:1; 2 Sam 1:17–18).144 A more thoroughgoing indicator that much of the Bible’s lyrics were shaped primordially in live performance is the pluralized “you” and “we” encountered so commonly (e.g., communal hymns and laments of the Psalms)—their deictic values explicitly index the communal coefficient of these utterances.145 The lyric-I of the singer of songs would have been every bit as prominent in ancient Israel and Judah as the dominantly focalized (by scholarship) “singer of tales” (see chapter 4). There were specialists, like the cultic singer (and perhaps writer) of psalms supposed by S. Mowinckel,146 but songs (whether whole or in snatches) are routinely put in the mouths of nonspecialists in biblical narrative as well (e.g., Exod 15: 20–21; Num 21:17; Judg 5:3; 1 Sam 2:1–10). Such songs express all manner of things (e.g., praise, complaint, victory, love),147 and the live audience, when present, may be presumed to have been an active coefficient in the performance as a whole—and sometimes is even addressed overtly (e.g., Isa 5:5; Ps 78:1). Most often such songs explicitly address an unidentified and frequently absent lyric-you—many times in the religious lyrics of the Bible this is Yahweh, of course (e.g., in the Psalms),148 but others may be focalized in this manner as well, the lovers in the Song of Songs,149 for example, not to mention more obvious apostrophes (e.g., “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak,” Deut 32:1). One effect of this second person address is to accentuate the presentness that seems to enfold the act of lyric speech.150 Oral performance could also be enacted privately (e.g., Hannah’s song, 1 Sam 2:1–10). The second variation identified by W. R. Johnson is more impersonal, more meditative, as if the poet is speaking to himself or herself or to no one in particular, or even sometimes to apostrophized, inanimate objects (e.g., Song 4:16). The last variety is more dialogic in nature. The lyric-I either recedes fully into the background, giving way to a interchange of voices, or takes part as one of the voices in a larger dialogue (e.g., Song of Songs). Of these “ideal” types, the first and third dominate in the traditional lyric of the Bible, as the presence of a real or imagined interlocutor is crucial to “sustained thought” in prominently oral cultures—“it is hard to talk to yourself hours on end.”151 This is not to rule out the possibility of more meditative moments in oral or oral-derived lyric verse, but it is a modality that is most naturally nurtured in the isolation of writing. Job 3, not prototypically lyric (e.g., it was likely not a sung piece), is one of the more meditative poems in the Bible. Strictly speaking, it falls outside the dialogic framework by which the poetry of Job is staged. And yet even here, the poem and its meditation are sustained with help from the apostrophized “day” and “night” that are cursed.152
(p.198) The prominence of first person voice in Greek lyric has often been reified (especially during the Romantic period)153 as the defining feature of lyric verse (see the OED’s definition of “lyric”). The problematic nature of such an identification is, as Lindley notes, obvious: “Though it is one of the devices that poets may employ, it is by no means self-evident that all poetry using this mode of speech is ‘lyric,’ nor that poetry which does not should be excluded from the lyric category.”154 In fact, it is not only on conceptual grounds that such an identification fails but on empirical grounds as well. To judge only by W. R. Johnson’s own (rough) statistical sampling of the distribution of his pronominal types in various lyric poets from the Greeks forward, the lyric-I, though at times absolutely dominant (as in ancient Greece), is by no means omnipresent.155 And in contemporary Anglo-American lyric verse it is the diversity of voice that is the norm and not a foreordained lyric-I.156 Yet even to highlight the mode of discourse, first person or otherwise, tells us nothing in particular about the persona of that voice. Even in Greek lyric, as E. Bowie stresses, one cannot naively assume the identity of poet and the speaking I of the poem.157 The voice of biblical lyric, like other traditions rooted in oral performance, certainly favors the first person singular (and plural) of a singer of songs in live performance. But such singers, like their better studied cousins, the singers of tales, are adept at modulating from one voice to another. And thus that a certain multivocality is achievable in biblical lyric is no surprise, though it does not finally approach the kind of hypervariability of so much contemporary lyric verse.
Smallness of Scale
The question of scale, though not insignificant, requires little comment. A certain smallness of scale (as exhibited by most biblical poems) is generally associated with the lyric.158 As Frye belatedly observes, “a lyric is anything you can reasonably get uncut into an anthology.”159 Such brevity results from the lyric’s general eschewal of devices (e.g., plot, argument, temporal sequence, consistency of setting) that would enable more encompassing discourse in performance and means, as a purely practical matter, that lyric poems will be limited in the scope of their subject matter. And with only language itself as its chief medium of discourse it is difficult for lyric poems to sustain themselves over long stretches of time and space. Writing, of course, becomes the principal means for extending lyric’s reach. The singular achievement of writing is the spatialization (and thus fixing) of language, which, among other things, unshackles comprehension from the lifeworld of performance and the strict limits of human memory, and, in the case of lyric poetry, makes possible (p.199) a dramatic expansion in scale. But some enlargement of the lyric’s native brevity is manageable even in the absence of writing. One strategy is to engage more explicitly in narrative or utilize the various devices of narrative poetry, such as is in evidence, for example, in Psalms 78, 105, and 106. Another means for increasing the lyric’s otherwise confining amplitude is to successively link a number of individual lyric poems and mold them into a greater, organic whole. What gets enacted in such a process, then, is a sequence of lyric poems or movements whose nature and dynamic, holistically considered, is essentially that of a lyric poem writ large. As literary critics are discovering, the latter approach is a compositional strategy that translates well into writing and turns out to be quite common and knows very few chronological or geographical boundaries.160 Such verse sequences, in fact, are best known from written traditions, and yet the technology is not restricted to the written medium. In oral performance, it is the singer who bodily navigates and guides the audience from one song to the next,161 a process I will explore in more detail with respect to the Song of Songs.
Rhythm of Association
Smith identifies two principal means for generating thematic structure in poems, parataxis and sequence.162 Of the two the latter will be well known, as sequence (of some sort) usually lies at the heart of story and plot. And while there are biblical poems in which the sequential order of thematic elements is generated primarily from some “extraliterary principle of succession,”163 such as the tradition-historical rehearsal of Yahweh’s “glorious deeds” in Psalm 78 (cf. Exod 15; Judg 5), more often biblical lyrics hew closer to the paratactic end of the structuring continuum. And indeed parataxis is prototypical of lyric discourse, no doubt, as Smith suggests, reflecting the lyric’s origin in oral song.164 “When repetition is the fundamental principle of thematic generation,” as so often in traditional or naive song styles, “the resulting structure will tend to be paratactic”165 and associative in nature—what Frye aptly labels “the rhythm of association.”166 The “oral” logic of this “adding style” is well explained by J. A. Notopoulos:
The spoken word, unlike the written word, must be winged, impelled ever onward by the spontaneity and urgency of verbalization in oral poetry. Creation by means of the spoken word leaves the poet little time to pause and appraise the lines he is shaping in terms of the larger pattern. … This technique inevitably results in the λέξις εἰρομένη, the strung-along and adding style, and in the paratactic handling of his material.167
(p.200) In other words, oral verbal art “necessarily follows a temporal sequence.”168 In such instances, the lyric’s centers of “emotionally and sensuously charged awareness,” according to M. L. Rosenthal and S. M. Gall, radiate out and relate to one another associatively, through “felt relationship.” The resulting play of tonal depths and shadings and shiftings is achieved through “strategic juxtaposition of separate … passages without a superimposed logical or fictional continuity.”169 And thus, the dislocation or omission of individual thematic units, unlike in sequentially structured discourse, will not render the whole unintelligible or make it incoherent. To the contrary, one of the hallmarks of paratactic structure is that thematic elements may be added, omitted, or exchanged quite happily. Junctures or gaps between a lyric’s component elements without explicit scripting become a prominent part of the discursive fabric that is to be negotiated, and as a consequence fragmentation and disjunction—a susceptibility to disintegration170—become central to the founding fiction of the paratactically structured lyric poem, especially once written down and divorced from an informing performance context.171 Any reading of such a lyric “must accommodate discontinuity as well as continuity, allow for the spatial dimension of lyric temporality, and offer a means of getting into and over” the junctures between elements “without brutally closing them.”172 Whatever fiction, whatever stratagem of discourse is manifested, therefore, necessarily partakes in and celebrates or otherwise gives prominence to fragmentation.173
On my reading, it is the nonsequentuality of parataxis that governs the thematic structure in Psalm 114. There it is not a matter of temporal or logical sequence but of association and juxtaposition—the events of the Red Sea calling to mind the crossing of the Jordan, nature’s similar reactions to Yahweh’s variously traditioned theophany attracting one another. Smith identifies the “list” as one of the most obvious forms manifesting paratactic structure.174 Lists are especially prominent, for example, in Mesopotamian hymnody, but they are recognizable as well in various aspects of Israelite psalmody, as in the typical use of the so-called hymnic participle or in the listing of Yahweh’s various qualities.175 But no doubt the paradigm of paratactic structure in the Psalms comes in the conventional (given) forms isolated by the form-critical study of the Psalms. Here, as Gunkel saw better than most, it is chiefly a matter of thematic (as opposed to strictly formal) structure that is most definitive of the various verse forms. And, what is more relevant here, only rarely are these forms thematically sequenced. The psalms of lament are a case in point. These poems, communal and individual alike, have a recognizable set of family resemblances (consisting of common elements such as addresses, petitions, complaints or laments, motivational clauses, affirmations of trust). (p.201) But as is well known, “they are rarely precisely alike, though repeated formulas are not uncommon … ; and they may vary significantly in their length and the degree of elaboration of their component parts. Some are very succinct while others are extended in one or more of their basic elements. Some do not contain all of the elements that other [laments] do.”176 What Miller describes here is the epitome of paratactic structure.
Moreover, the play of parataxis effects a dynamic interaction among different (and sometimes conflicting and competing) perspectives that is not unlike the montage effect in film, which Alter describes in a different context.177 Alter quotes the following description of montage offered by S. Eisenstein:
The juxtaposition of two separate shots by splicing them together resembles not so much a simple sum of one shot plus one shot—as it does a creation. It resembles a creation—rather than a sum of its parts—from the circumstance that in every such juxtaposition the result is qualitatively distinguishable from each component element viewed separately. … Each particular montage piece exists no longer as something unrelated, but as a given particular representation of the general theme.178
Of course, the analogy is not exact. The seams that result from the paratactic splicing of different perspectives or images in language are much more noticeable than in (some) photography and film, in part, at least in orally rooted biblical lyrics, because the borders of a song’s component movements (stanzas) tend to be overtly marked through gesture, sound, and sense and thus literally call attention to the shift in structural shape.179 This can result in a more complex image. Not only does one have the “particular representation” created by the montage but the component elements also signify on their own. As but one example of the montage effect of parataxis consider Psalm 74:12–17.180 The passage, as J. Levenson notes, “is the locus classicus of the idea that the God of Israel … defeated the Sea and its monsters … and then created the familiar world.” Levenson then continues:
Surely no text would seem more imbued with [Y.] Kaufmann’s “basic idea of Israelite religion,” that “there is no realm above or beside YHWH to limit his absolute sovereignty.”181 But the context of these verses [vv. 10–11, 18–20] belies the unqualified note of triumphalism in this theology. For the context of vv. 12–17 in Psalm 74 shows that the celebratory language of victory is invoked here precisely when conditions have rendered belief in God’s majesty most difficult.182
(p.202) The upshot of this (paratactic) juxtaposition, according to Levenson, is that the psalmist in Psalm 74 “acknowledges the reality of militant, triumphant, and persistent evil, but he steadfastly and resolutely refuses to accept this reality as final and absolute.”183 Such a stance is manifestly the result of the montage-like juxtaposition of two different moods or movements, whose seams are readily apparent, and indeed it may well be, as Levenson contends, that “the continuity between v. 11 and v. 18 strongly suggests that the hymn in vv. 12–17 has been interpolated.”184
What is crucial to see in all of these examples is the centrality of fragmentation and discontinuity to the type of discourse enacted and that any minimally adequate reading of them, as the foregoing quote from Greene makes clear, must accommodate the discontinuity that is so definitive of paratactic structure and offer ways of getting into and over the resulting gaps and junctures. Such a way of reading, of course, is in many respects the very antithesis of how we habitually read narratives.
Fit for Ritual
“The earliest recorded evidence of l[yric] poetry,” writes J. W. Johnson, “suggests that such compositions emerged from ritual activity accompanying religious ceremonies.”185 Certainly much biblical and ancient Near Eastern lyric poetry (e.g., hymns, laments) was originally (and quite literally) “fit … for ‘ritual.’”186 While both “ritual and fictional phenomena,” as “correlative modes of apprehension,” are theoretically available in every specimen of lyric discourse—and indeed, “even to privilege one is usually a matter not of ignoring the other,” as Greene rightly maintains,187 it is lyric’s ritual values that prototypically “define the phenomenology of the single lyric.”188 This state of affairs is somewhat ironic, as it is also the case that the dominant strain of lyric verse in the Western poetic tradition, from ancient Greece through the twenty-first century, has been the fictional.189 By “fictional” Greene means “represented speech”—“that the speaking, addressing, expressing, and alluding are themselves fictive verbal acts.”190 Here I probe the more “open” and performative end of the lyric continuum, the ritual lyric, since it is a dominant mode of the Bible’s lyric verse and the mode of lyric generally least familiar to contemporary sensibilities.
Lyric’s ritual dimension is what M. C. Nussbaum refers to when she talks about lyric’s engendering capacity: “The lyrics both show us and engender in us a process of reflection and (self)-discovery that works through a persistent attention to and (re)-interpretation of concrete words, images, incidents.”191 This dimension has been described more generally by Greene as a poem’s (p.203) performative aspect; its office as a set of directions for performance, a script, a score compounded of sounds, rhythm, and form and the patterns that organize these in the audience’s immediate experience (here and now).192 The chief aim of ritually oriented lyrics is to effect through a type of transitivity an experience of communitas or collectivity, a synchronous, performative unity into which all actors are induced. Blasing recognizes this communitarian shaping of lyric discourse in this way:
The lyric “I” makes the communal personality of a people audible. It both resounds individuating histories and formally transmits public traditions of how a linguistic community has patterned and remembered the material in excess of referential functions. It does not exist apart from these constitutive histories; it articulates them as what articulate it. Communities cohere around linguistic experience, and poetry is the ritualized confirmation of that coherence—explicitly so in preliterate languages. The communal being is audible in the materials of language, not in what a poem says.193
This ritual agenda is manifested in and enacted by a poem’s rhythm and other prosodic features—especially such large-scale structuring devices as calendars, acrostics, and numerologies—but including rhetorical, semantic, and symbolic features as well.194
The Psalms are the Bible’s largest and perhaps most obvious collection of ritually oriented lyrics—after all many will have been engineered expressly for ritual and liturgy, and, indeed, cast intentionally in broad and generic terms so as to be readily assimilable to a range of occasions and circumstances—as witnessed by how individual psalms are put into the mouths of characters in biblical narrative (e.g., Hannah, 1 Sam 2:1–10; Jonah, Jon 2:3–10).195 Greene characterizes the Psalms’ rituality more specifically:
Taken singly, the psalms generally belong at the most “open” or performative end of the spectrum that runs from ritual to fiction, for they allow, or better, require the reading voice to assume the identity of their represented speaker; in a certain sense a psalm scarcely represents a speaker at all, but is the script for sacred ritual cast in lyric discourse.196
Greene here is commenting explicitly on Sir Philip Sidney’s sixteenth-century incomplete translation of the Psalms. Still, even viewed at arm’s length and specifically through the lens of a metrical translation into English, Greene reveals (in a preliminary fashion) many of the leading aspects of the Psalter’s (p.204) pronounced rituality. For my own exposition of the ritual dimensions of the biblical lyric, I turn to Lamentations. If the poetry of Lamentations in its probable un-sung-ness is not prototypically lyrical, it nonetheless shares many of the lyric’s leading practices.197 The advantage of using Lamentations as a worked example here is that the rituality of this poetry is so palpable. As Hillers well observes: “Both the poetic forms found in the book and the organization of the poems fit Lamentations for ‘ritual’ in the broad sense, in which many a poem is an abstraction from experience that invites contemplation, repetition, and the participation of others besides the author.”198
Lamentations’ ritual dimension is activated primarily through form and rhythm. The alphabetic acrostic formally shapes in one way or another all of the poems. In the first four poems each stanza begins with the appropriate letter of the Hebrew alphabet, starting with aleph and moving successively through the alphabet, ending with taw. Each poem contains twenty-two stanzas in all, the total number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Although the fifth poem does not employ the acrostic (not insignificant in its own right), it does contain exactly twenty-two couplets. Each stanza of these poems contains either one, two, or three couplets, with the number remaining consistent throughout the individual poems.199 The couplets themselves are normally closed, that is, they end with a significant syntactic pause, and in the first four poems are composed of pairs of predominantly unbalanced and variously enjambed lines. That is, the first line of the couplet is usually longer than the second, and its syntax frequently carries over into the second. In contrast, the couplets in the fifth poem, reflecting the more common rhythm of biblical Hebrew verse, contain pairs of more or less balanced and parallel lines.
These dominant patterns of repetition project an experience of materiality as shape and feel. The acrostic gives body and reach to each poem and provides a palpable sense of measured regularity and a unifying frame that encapsulates the otherwise chaotic play of Lamentations’ dominant parataxis. Poetic rhythm, whatever its nature, emanates in bursts of pulsating energy from the muscular workings of the speech organs and is felt physically by auditors as much as it is heard or processed cognitively.200 In Lamentations the dominant texture of unbalanced lines effects a hypnotic limping beat (peculiarly appropriate for a dirge-like composition), while their propensity for enjambment effects a distinct feeling of forward movement as the syntax of the sentence carries over from one line to the next.201 Of course this tug of forward movement is almost immediately checked by the major pause at the end of the predominantly closed couplets. What results, then, are bursts of onward thrust alternating with moments of stasis. This stuttering movement complements the limping rhythm established by the unbalanced lines, and (p.205) together both counterpoint the regularity and evenness constructed by the stanzaic march of the acrostic and the sequence of closed couplets. Both the acrostic and the qinah meter constrain poet/scribe and audience alike, and yet these constraints, if yielded to, produce, somewhat paradoxically, a self-liberating and almost trance-like state conducive to audience participation and the promotion of experiential immediacy. That is, through materiality, be it formal shape or rhythmic feel, the ritually orientated (nonnarrative) poem becomes accessible, open, in a way analogous to liturgies and other structures of devotion and achieves a kind of transitivity whereby the poem can be a coercive and potentially powerful vehicle for promoting political or ideological or even theological agendas.202
Sound, of course, is another important means for accessing and initiating the ritual dimension of lyric poetry. As Greene observes, commenting specifically on the ritual force of glossolalia, that token of pure sound, it “always exerts a strongly ritual pull on its auditors. They repeat it attentively and lovingly, fully aware that they participate in something of much greater import than noise.”203 And it seems clear that sound was ritually significant for Lamentations, though this can only be imperfectly perceived at the distance of two thousand–plus years. But there are some telltale signs. For example, the ʾêkâ (“Alas! Ah! Oh!”) that begins three of the poems (Lam 1:1a; 2:1a; 4:1a) is principally a token of glossolalia, an ejaculation that voices or expresses in a pre- or postreferential kind of language the complex set of emotions death and loss trigger in human beings, emotions that in a very real sense can never be fully articulated. Moreover, one can still perceive the traces of various kinds of consonance and assonance that would have engendered (and occasionally still do) an infectious musicality. Note, as an example where the traces are still perceptible to the contemporary reader, Lamentations 1:2. Lamed is given prominence in the first couplet (and is more noticeable because of this throughout the whole stanza as well), as are bet and kap in the first line. The final words (ballaylâ, leḥĕyāh) in both lines end with /ā/, as does the first word in the second line (dimʿātāh). Assonance plays out in the remainder of the stanza as well, as for example in mikkol-ʾōhăbeyhā and kol-rēʿeyhā in lines 4 and 5 and bāgĕdû bāh and hāyû lāh in lines 5 and 6. Another obvious example of assonance appears in Lamentations 2:5c, taʾăniyyâ waʾăniyyâ. Notice the chiming and rhyming engendered by the poet’s use of suffixes in Lamentations 1:14 (/ī/ at the end of lines 3 and 4, and chiming with nĕtānanî in line 5; /ay/ at the ends of lines 1 and 5; and the chiming of bĕyādô and ʿullô) and in 1:15 (/ay/ in ʾabbîray … ʾădōnāy … ʿālay … baḥûrāy … ʾădōnāy). And as a final example, Lamentations 1:10 is remarkable for its internal rhyming: yādô // yābōʾû; maḥămaddeyhā // miqdāšāh; rāʾătâ (3 f. sg.) // ṣiwwîtâ (2 m. sg.); bāʾû (pf. 3 m. pl.) // (p.206) yābōʾû (impf. 3 m. pl.) (The formal differences among all these pairs suggest that the rhyming is not accidental.)
Therefore, sound joins form and rhythm as the principal means for activating Lamentations’ ritual transitivity, that specific property of lyric verse (in particular) that effects the superposition of “the subjectivity of the scripted speaker on the reader.”204 Lyric is uniquely reutterable. Or as Greene writes, the hearer or reader of the lyric “might be said to shed his or her all-too-specific person, and to take on the speaking self of the poem.”205 In other words, he or she entertains the statements made by the poem’s speaker, tries them on, and reexperiences them from the inside, as it were.206 “After meeting in the society of the text and submitting to its revalorizations—of what we bring to it, and of its own sounds and meanings—we take those everyday selves back, restructured or reanimated.”207 In this manner the ritual lyric promotes a transcendence that can begin to envision alternative realities. Such reutterability contrasts with the dominant fictional mode of the lyric, which represents alternative worlds that participants must enter—the world of the poem is no longer coextensive with the poem’s performance or the world of its readers/auditors.208
This kind of transitivity is implicit in much of Lamentations, and intuitively felt as the audience find themselves fully identifying with the sentiments expressed, for example, by personified Zion in either of the first two poems. However, this transitive agenda is also at times explicitly scripted in the text itself. The most obvious instance occurs in Lamentations 3. The poem opens with the memorable words “I am the man [haggeber] who has seen affliction / Under the rod of his anger.” The first section of the poem (Lam 3:1–18) proceeds to articulate and detail in the stereotypical language well known from the Psalms how “the man” has suffered at the hands of Yahweh. These reflections are cast very specifically in terms of what has happened to the speaker. The sequence of first person forms is readily apparent. Then in the next sections (vv. 19–24, 25–39) “the man” reflects on a series of wisdom teachings that counsel patience and long suffering in the belief that Yahweh will eventually help those who wait for Yahweh’s salvation and bear their suffering. These wisdom-inspired reflections are cast more broadly, as is typical of their genre, to reflect human experience in general. To this end, the scribe presents the reflections using third person forms (instead of the first person forms of vv. 1–18) and employs a succession of terms for “man” or “human being”: geber (vv. 27, 35, 39), bĕnê-ʾîš (v. 33), and ʾādām (vv. 36, 39). The net effect of both strategies is to significantly broaden the poem’s perspective to include humanity in general, of which, of course, the poem’s audience (readerly or aurally) is a part. The explicit use of the term geber, both at the beginning and the end of this section, (p.207) intentionally links the section with the poem’s opening line (a Buberian Leitwort). Auditors experience, then, the litany of suffering in verses 1–18 retrospectively, not only as the experience of a particular individual but also as the experience of a “man” who is more broadly representative of “Everyman,” to use Hillers’s term.209 The clinching movement whereby the audience is written explicitly into the text comes in verses 40–47, where the speaker all of a sudden shifts into the first person plural voice—the communal voice of tradition par excellence: “Let us test and examine our ways! / Let us return to Yahweh!” (v. 40). The “man’s” experience, his sufferings as well as his hopes and longings, are our experience, that is, the experience of the larger community (of the text); his voice is our/communal voice. The merger between individual and community is complete. Beginning in verse 48 the poet returns to the first person singular and maintains this voice for the duration of the poem. Some commentators have noticed a perceptible difference between the “I” of verses 1–18 and the “I” of verses 48–66.210 However, one need not suppose that the distinction results (only) because of different sources or different speakers. Rather, at the outset of the poem the individuality of the speaking “I” is foregrounded. Whereas by the poem’s end the speaking “I” has become all-inclusive, resembling in many respects the all-embracing voice Whitman achieves in much of his Leaves of Grass.211 Through such a strategy transitivity is scripted explicitly into the text. Individual auditors are encouraged to try on this voice and what it says because they have been explicitly included in that voice—this poem “is a site where ‘our’ ‘coinciding’ looks [to] form a community.”212
The precise content of what gets transacted through transitivity in Lamentations requires a fully detailed and engaged reading of these poems, which cannot be undertaken here.213 Suffice it here to accentuate the communal orientation of this poetry, manifested most objectively in the communal nature of the speaking voices. The several speeches rendered in the first person plural form (“we”) are de facto manifestations of the communal voice (Lam 3:40–47; 4:17–20; 5:1–22). And, while the “man” (haggeber) of Lamentations 3 and personified Zion (esp. in Lam 1 and 2) clearly speak from their own spatial levels, and therefore require being treated as individuated voices in their own right, they both are nevertheless ultimately to be identified as representatives or ventriloquisms of the community.214 Such communally oriented poetry, like ritual poetry more generally and especially the choral lyrics of the Psalms or ancient Greece,215 functions to imagine “those emotions which lead us to want to understand both the possibility of our communion with each other and the possibility of our communion with the world” and to persuade us that our hopes of goodness and our fears of social and moral dangers are genuine, and thereby “encourage the necessary marshaling of energies and (p.208) strengthening of wills and of faith.”216 Indeed, it is precisely for their prizing of communitas that choral poems like these from antiquity deserve a fresh hearing from contemporary audiences.217
Finally, the ritual mode impinges as well on the temporality of the lyric. It does so in two ways. First, it is in the lyric’s ritual dimension “where the lyric appears to remain more contemporary to its audience than other kinds of literary discourse.”218 There is a certain immediacy and urgency to lyric discourse, an all-pervasive “nowness.”219 As Greene says, “lyric often sees that here and now burst into the discourse spontaneously, abruptly.”220 Second, ritual fosters a kind of temporal continuity between present and past in the service of the future. In religious festivals and ceremonies it is through ritual reenactment that participants gain access to sacred time, the mythical past. Ritual encourages “the conception of the sacred past as bound up in process with the present.” It replays the “past over our own lives—having lived in both times, we remember them as temporally parallel and mutually accessible”—and refashions “an explicit continuum between then and now.”221 Lamentations exhibits both aspects of this ritual temporality. In biblical Hebrew, temporal location is established contextually and is not indexed morphologically on the verb form. The poetry in Lamentations is almost totally devoid of any markers of temporal location, and therefore, as in lyric discourse more generally, there is no deictic program, no hierarchy of event and utterance that can be mapped and tracked—like the lyrics of so many psalms, these are among the “least temporally plotted.”222 As a consequence past and present are never carefully differentiated. They bump into one another, commingle, and at times even metamorphose each into another and back again, depending on the audience’s perspective. A good example of the latter, where in the blink of an eye past and present phase in and out like a mirage, is the account of Yahweh’s battle against Jerusalem in Lamentations 2:1–8. It can be read as an account of a past event or as the simultaneous reporting of an event that is still ongoing. The latter is suggested by the use of the imperfective prefix form (yāʿ îb) to open the passage—and the only such form in the passage. Imperfective forms view events without their end points and thus stress the event’s ongoing and dynamic nature. Or perhaps both perspectives are intended. That is, Yahweh’s past attack is conjured anew and reexperienced in the telling of it. Past and present are ritually wedded; Yahweh’s past attack is bound in process with the present of the poem’s reading/hearing—a temporality that is still manifested for readers at a remove of some two thousand years!
And as in many ritually oriented lyrics the present often seems to erupt abruptly through the surface of the poetry in Lamentations. This effect is accomplished not primarily with deictics but through direct discourse223 and the selective use of the imperfective viewpoint. Both play off the dominant texture (p.209) of the poems that is established through perfective verb forms (suffix and wayyiqtol forms). The perfective viewpoint views events holistically, with both end points in place. While such a perspective need not entail a past temporal location, perfective forms frequently become the typical narrative forms in many languages, as they do in biblical Hebrew prose (esp. in the use of wayyiqtol forms). When direct discourse or imperfective viewpoints are used against the predominant background of perfective forms, the net effect is to foreground a sense of dynamicity, vigor, and presence. As one example, take Lamentations 4:14–15. In verse 14, blind people are described as wandering in the streets so defiled in blood that none could touch them. The main action is carried by perfective forms. But then in verse 15 voices out of nowhere cry out: “Away! Unclean!” “Get away! Get away! Do not touch!” This interruption of speech bursts abruptly into the poem, bringing with it a very real sense of immediacy and presence. All of a sudden we are there in the streets and are warding off these blind beggars. A similar effect is achieved by the use of direct speech in Lamentations 2:11. After the recounting of Yahweh’s attack in 2:1–8, which, with the exception of the initial verb, is rendered completely with perfective forms, a voice responds:
- My eyes are consumed with tears
- My stomach churns
- My guts spill out on the ground
- Because of the destruction of the Daughter of my people
- Because children and babies faint
- In the streets of the city
The effect of this burst of speech is to turn that possibly past event into a living reality. The immediacy and sense of presence created initially by the imperfective yāʿîb (2:1a) returns anew with this direct discourse. Such a move cannot but color how auditors retrospectively evaluate and understand Lamentations 2:1–8.
If these poems intentionally and effectively eschew or otherwise manipulate the notion of temporal consistency, they nevertheless manifest a kind of temporal centeredness, as they are all always situated against the horizon of Jerusalem’s destruction. When the destruction is thought to have taken place shifts depending on context, and regardless it is never explicitly stated, but more often simply implied or evoked. The opening stanza of Lamentations 1 well exemplifies the poetry’s characteristic evocation of temporality. In the first stanza, we read how the city that was once full of people now sits alone and is abandoned and how the once queenly Jerusalem now resembles a (p.210) widow or a slave. The past against which the poem is written falls somewhere between these two points, the glorious past and the dismal present. But precisely when the catastrophe occurred is never stated as such. In fact, most of the discourse in Lamentations would seem to take place between the hazily figured past and a future when Yahweh’s voice will be heard again.
The figuration of Lamentations 2:1–8 as another march of the Divine Warrior does tap into that mythic paradigm, but in a not uncomplicated way. More classic expressions of the ritual lyric’s capacity to give access to sacred time, the mythical past, occur outside Lamentations. Psalm 114 (discussed earlier) is paradigmatic. In the poem itself the crossing of the Jordan (vv. 3–6) is imbued with the mythology of the Reed Sea event (esp. vv. 1–2)—the opening infinitive construct bĕṣēʾt “when (Israel) went forth … ” literally stages the former in light of, emerging out of, that earlier halcyon time of Yahweh’s mythic battle with the Egyptians. And then the apostrophe to ʾāreṣ “O land, earth” (v. 7), a stand-in for the contemporary audience, enfolds that audience into the mythic temporality of both events, allowing those events to be replayed as a part of their lives, and thus that “sacred past” becomes “bound up in process with the present.”
I elaborate on this informing rituality in part because nowadays so much lyric verse hews decidedly toward the genre’s fictive foundation that we can easily forget this other founding capacity, not to mention the many modern poets whose prosodies are thoroughly ritualistic and even informed (directly or indirectly) by biblical poetry (e.g., Walt Whitman, Edward Taylor); and in part because this means that contemporary readers of Psalms, Lamentations, and other dominantly ritualistic biblical poetry in addition to having to recalibrate their tacit readerly pose toward literature from narrative to nonnarrative will also need to adjust their notions of lyric so as to include an appetite for ritual.
A Feeling through Language
The “emotional element in a lyric poem” has often been “considered its chief identifying trait”—so, according to L. Ryken, “it is above all an utterance of intense emotion.”224 But such prizing of emotion, if typical of the lyric (especially in its Romantic and post-Romantic guise), is not phenomenologically distinctive in the same way as the other elements so far discussed. As Langer remarks, the content of the lyric poem, what it creates, “the occurrence of a living thought, the sweep of an emotion, the intense experience of a mood,” is variable.225 It may in fact be about anything—a shirt, an urn, a lover, death—and at its best engages in critical thinking and aims at doing moral work, but (p.211) its object remains open. Rather, if there is criterial importance to be attached to the commonality with which lyric discourse engages the passions, it is of a conventional kind, having emerged out of habit and tradition, by dint of lyric’s strong propensity throughout the ages to traffic in the emotions.226
The lyric has become one place where emotions and feelings are routinely (if not necessarily) valorized, for their own intrinsic worth as well as for the motivational, action-guiding, and cognitive roles they play in human excellence. It is a place where passions are celebrated, explored, and even interrogated. It is a feeling through language; “a projection … of specific qualities and intensities of emotionally and sensuously charged awareness.”227 The aim of such projections is not primarily to reflect or represent, though of course this may and often does happen, but to present, evoke, contemplate. Or as W. R. Johnson writes, lyrical discourse is “the process by means of which the lyric poet describes (and so evokes) an emotion or complex cluster of emotions while simultaneously submitting that evocative description to dialectical scrutiny, to deliberation, to argumentation.”228
That emotion and passion—whether in the agonizing (and angry) cry of radical suffering (“My God, my god, why have you abandoned me!” Ps 22:2), the expressed ecstasy of sublime devotion (“I am glad and exult in you! / I sing your name, O Most High!,” Ps 9:3), the full-throated chauvinism of martial victory (“I will sing to Yahweh, for he has triumphed gloriously; / horse and rider he has thrown into the sea,” Exod 15:1), or the ebullient delights of young love (“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!” Song 1:2)—figure prominently and frequently in the lyric poetry of the Bible, though perhaps widely assumed, is not without importance. T. Linafelt stresses precisely the “willingness to give access to the inner lives of its speakers” as a central distinguishing feature of lyric verse in the Bible, especially compared to the typical opaqueness of characterization in biblical narrative.229 Psalms and Song of Songs, “where the expression of passion, whether despairing or joyful, is common,”230 are paradigmatic examples of this privileged use of lyric in the Bible. And as Linafelt also points out, there are plenty of narrative contexts in which “briefer poetic insets … serve to express or intensify emotion” (e.g., Gen 37:33), and “the book of Job serves as an example on a much larger scale,” where the poetic dialogues contain (as the narrative frame does not and cannot) “Job’s impassioned defense of his integrity.”231
A consequence of such lyric prizing of emotion is the tacit validation of the emotional, affirmation that the passions are part and parcel of a human being’s (bodily) makeup. Indeed, as ancient (and contemporary) readers/hearers were (are) forced to engage such poetry at an emotional level, the emotions themselves are made visible as topics for critical discourse and thinking. And (p.212) conversely, one of the truths that emotionally charged and evocative verse spurs auditors toward is the recognition of just how impoverished thinking and reasoning would be were it unaccompanied by feeling and emotion. Philosophers and scientists alike are now beginning to (re)appreciate just how crucial the emotions are for the health and well-being of the human creature,232 and therefore, to have a place—a kind of discourse—so routinely charged with emotion, where engagement with the passions is easy and comfortable, as with so many moments in the Psalms, for example, is perhaps not as insubstantial or ephemeral as has sometimes been thought. The biblical lyric’s ready emotiveness, if not (necessarily) definitional of the larger genre, nonetheless stakes out one trajectory for lyric discourse that is not only well-attested (historically) but is now also beginning to be better thought of.
The Extravagance of Lyric
A final means of distinguishing lyric discourse is by what Culler calls its “extravagance”—the predilection for “hyperbolic accents.”233 “Exaggeration is the name of the game here,” writes Culler; “the tiger is not just orange but ‘burning’; the wind is the very ‘breath of autumn’s being.’”234 That the Bible’s lyric discourse is also accented throughout with hyperbole is (again) perhaps obvious, as the rhetoric of exaggeration punctuates almost every psalm, for example—“How utterly good and lovely … !” (hinnê mah-ṭṭôb ûmah-nnāʿ îm, Ps 133:1) or “Who is like Yahweh our god!” (mî k-yhwh ʾĕlōhênû, Ps 113:5). The Song of Songs begins immediately with such extravagance—“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!” (NRSV; yiššāqēnî minnĕšîqôt pîhû, Song 1:2)—and almost never relents—“Flee, my love!” (bĕraḥ dôdî, Song 8:14). And it is extravagance that lies at the core of Alter’s “structures of intensification.”235 Alter captures well the hyperbole that is critical to the culminating moment in Psalm 13 (vv. 4–5). The speaker, writes Alter, imagines his own death as
sleeping the sleep of death, where God’s gaze will never be able to light up his eyes—and as a dramatic scene—going down for the last time, with his enemies crowing in triumph. This is the white hot point to which the magnifying glass of the structure of intensification has concentrated the assertions of desperate need.236
Not only is the psalm’s rhetoric laced with exaggeration and intensification, but so is Alter’s!
The motivating factors for such extravagance are at least twofold. Culler singles out lyric’s aspiration to the “sublime,” its reach for transcendence: “a relation to what exceeds human capabilities of understanding, provokes awe (p.213) or passionate intensity, gives the speaker a sense of something beyond the human.”237 It is this pointing beyond that accounts for the prominence in lyric of such rhetorical figures as apostrophe, personification, and prosopopoeia—indeed, Yahweh, tropologically speaking, is the very embodiment of these several figures in the religious lyric of the Bible.238 A second contributing factor to lyric’s penchant for the hyperbolic is its quintessential occasionalness, its tendency to give expression to one particular mood or idea at a time and to do so with verve and excitement. As R. Wilbur notes, while such a single sounding “may not represent the whole self of the poet, it can (like the love song, hymn, or curse) give free expression to some one compelling mood or attitude.” And, he adds, sometimes we need to “yield utterly to a feeling or idea,” however partially it mirrors the complete worldview and thought processes of the poet.239 Such “utter yielding”—another way of talking about lyric extravagance—has sometimes (especially in reference to biblical psalmody) been misread (reified) as static, monolithic proclamations that are somehow (magically) forever valid. Nothing, of course, could be farther from the enlivening spirit of this poetry. If many of us can and do identify with the cry of abandonment at the beginning of Psalm 22 (and in Ps 88; cf. Lamentations) and are, indeed, grateful that someone has provided us with a language that so precisely matches our own feelings and experiences, this should not mislead us into thinking of such as some unexceptional, eternal statement of truth. Truth it may be, but if so it is a truth that by the dictates of its very medium requires reuttering to have any ongoing or contemporary validity. Moreover, it is but a momentary truth, one alongside many other truths. If the depictions of Yahweh as “enemy” in Lamentations (2:4–5) and as “mad beast” in Job (16:9–10) somehow seem appropriate and just to the particular moment in these poems, it is surely not the only way these poems imagine the deity—or indeed even the central way they do so. In other words, the extravagance—lyric’s habitual over-the-top-ness240—is part and parcel to the getting at or evoking or yielding to an often very particular and even momentary matter.
IN SUM, I have isolated a number of the lyric’s more typical ways of achieving meaning while at the same time attending to the task of uncovering the prominence of lyric discourse in the Bible. More could obviously be accomplished along these lines. Still, even from this abbreviated discussion I think the overriding and informing lyricism of parts of the Bible’s poetic corpus (e.g., Song of Songs, many psalms, songs like Exodus 15 embedded in biblical prose) is recognizable. The cluster of features just reviewed, from an aboriginal musicality that stages so much of this poetry to its tropological density, pervasive (p.214) parataxis, typical brevity, and the like, especially in cumulation, unmistakably distinguishes this verse as lyric. What is more, these features are not simply present intermittently but they themselves are central to and defining of the poetic experience achieved in many biblical poems. Indeed the recognition of the lyric as a chief mode of discourse of many biblical poems casts them in a strikingly different light. The lack of story and character, the fondness for repetition and emotion, the prominence of form, and the disjunctive feel of the whole, instead of constituting some of the more enigmatic aspects of such poems, suddenly make good sense and seem all so natural. It is as if we had been looking at many of the Psalms and the Song, for example, all along through the bottom end of a Coke bottle, distorting and obscuring our vision. Once we see them through the corrected lenses of lyric verse, all comes into focus, and our field of vision seemingly expands and gains in acuity, and our picture of such poems clarifies and crystallizes but also explodes with new colors and previously unperceived dimensions and details of texture.
To recognize the overwhelming lyricism of so many biblical poems is to achieve a more perspicuous description of these poems and thereby to sharpen and to extend the critical understanding of them, of their prosody. Narrative approaches, which still dominate (even if only tacitly) the literary study of biblical poetry, will only illuminate its lyric varieties to a limited degree. Lyric verse requires reading strategies properly attuned to the discourse’s leading features and central practices. There is historical significance to this recognition as well. Discussions of lyric verse more generally, as noted earlier, often privilege Greek lyric as the main historical source for this kind of discourse. But in the lyric poetry of the Bible and their Near Eastern congeners we have a preserved tradition of lyric verse that is more ancient than that of the Greeks and that through some of its common features (e.g., prominence of a communal voice, a more dialogic profile) may well open up new possibilities for appreciating the capacity and nature of lyric discourse more generally. That is, not only does the comparative perspective help in recognizing and appreciating the possibility of lyric poetry in the Bible but also the peculiarity (historical, cultural, linguistic) of this lyric tradition may have something to offer to a larger understanding of the capacity of lyric discourse—biblical lyric’s pronounced rituality is a case in point.
Lyric in extenso: Probing (Some) Possibilities in the Song
Lyric, as I have said, is typically short, enacted on a small scale. Only so much can be accomplished in a language art that routinely foregoes the use of (p.215) cohesion-aiding devices, such as plot, argument, or consistency of character, and thus depends so largely on the naked properties of language itself as its chief medium of discourse. It is difficult for such discourse to sustain itself over long stretches of time and space. Eventually a limit is reached beyond which a lyric poem simply self-implodes. This is especially the case with orally performed lyrics. The question arises, then, was there any possibility in biblical antiquity for achieving surpassing encompassment and largeness of scale in the lyric mode? I have already indicated in brief that writing and oral performance offer two such possibilities. As a practical convenience (and ultimately to mainly heuristic ends), I probe this question in more detail here with the Song of Songs principally in view. The Song, like Psalms, is a corpus of biblical poetry that scholars would most readily assent to calling “lyric.”241 One of the issues perennially debated in Song scholarship is whether the Song is one or many songs, a matter that might be thought to turn precisely on the question of lyric in extenso. That is, what the Song is, holistically considered, will have much to do with what is possible given the nature of the Song’s underlying poetic medium.
Those who presume there are many “songs” often emphasize “the abrupt shifts of scene, speaker, subject matter … and sometime of mood, and the lack of any apparent structural organization or narrative development.”242 On the other hand those who prefer thinking of the Song as just one “song” underscore the strong sense of unity that pervades this work, that it “exhibits cohesiveness, homogeneity, consistency of character portrayal, and a distinctive vision of love.”243 That the Song in fact has both disjunctive (centrifugal) and cohering (centripetal) sensibilities seems to be the case,244 and therefore any maximally encompassing account of the Song as a larger whole will want to accommodate these opposing tendencies and forces. The very framing of the debate in terms of opposing the one to the many, even without detailed exposition, seems questionable in a number of respects. For starters, what warrant is there for supposing the possibility of a long, nonnarrative poem from the pre-Hellenistic Near East (absent the support of writing)? By most accounts the long poem, which I presume must supply the principal (if tacit) warrant for conceiving the Song as a single poem, is a distinctly modernist phenomenon, with Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” (1855) as one of the genre’s earliest instantiations.245 Such a poem, which aspires “to achieve epic breadth by relying on structural principles inherent in lyric,”246 can only happen in writing. Writing, with the capacity of retrospective processing that it enables (i.e., an ability to reread when necessary)247, proves to be the ultimate facilitator of lyric discourse on an expanded scale. What ultimately must implode if allowed to go on too long, once fixed and spatialized in writing, may be (p.216) countered and absorbed through reading. There is no need to discount out of hand the possibility of (perhaps even very early) premodern precursors to the (modern) long poem, especially given the myopia that seems to regularly restrict the visual field of Western literary criticism.248 Still, such precursors require identifying and scrutiny, especially for periods and cultures that are more oral than literate and where textuality, even if on the rise, never approaches the kind of fully literary textuality we take for granted today and would ultimately be in support of vocal performance (if any kind of wider publication were in view). For the Bible, Deuteronomy 32 provides a kind of rough guide as to the outer limits in length of a typical nonnarrative, orally performed poem—the narrative presents Moses as performing the poem (Deut 31:30) and as using the written text of the poem as an aid for helping “the Israelites” to memorize it (Deut 31:19, 22). In contrast, Psalm 119 achieves its extreme length (though still shorter than the Song) through form (the alphabetic acrostic) and writing—the acrostic is itself a trope of writing. There are singular Egyptian love songs, as M. Fox in particular details (e.g., P. Harris 500, group C),249 but they do not approach anything like the scale of the Song as a whole; indeed, they can be written on an ostracon (e.g., O. Gardiner 304) and most are enacted very much on the same scale as is the Bible’s nonnarrative verse more generally, including what scholars have posited as independent poems in the Song (e.g., 2:8–17; 3:1–5; 4:1–7; 5:2–6:3). Similarly, much of the Sumero-Akkadian tradition of “erotic-lyric” poetry also is enacted on a mostly smaller scale. “The outstanding feature” of the Sumerian balbale-songs, for example, which make up a prominent portion of the preserved Dumuzi-Inanna love songs, writes Y. Sefati, “is their brevity,” with most not exceeding “30–40 lines on the average.”250 Not surprisingly, these same balbale-songs mostly lack an orienting narrative framework to provide “background details of the poem” or “opening formulae of the direct speeches.”251 And the small corpus of Akkadian love poetry, now being studied in detail by M. Nissinen,252 seems again to contain mainly relatively short poems as well. So, for example, even the Neo-Assyrian “Love Lyrics of Nabû and Tašmetu” (IM 3233 = TIM 9 54 = SAA 3 14), whose cultic setting is not in doubt, still only comprises the obverse and reverse of a single tablet, some fifty-six lines in total.253 In short, it would behoove those who would press for the Song as literally a singular poem to be aware of the prevailing technological capabilities and to marshal appropriate models and exemplars. Fox’s thought that the Song “is a love song of a new sort” holds much appeal,254 though further clarity is necessary as to what “sort” and how it is “new.”
Collecting, by contrast, is an old and venerable scribal practice with abundant exemplars from the pre-Hellenistic Near East—indeed, the biblical books of Psalms and Proverbs present themselves quite explicitly as collections (and (p.217) subcollections) of psalms and proverbs, respectively.255 Here, too, writing is paramount. The chief means of accomplishing lyric in extenso before the advent of the long poem is to gather individual lyrics into larger wholes—collections, anthologies, songbooks, sequences.256 The nature of these wholes varies depending on function. In the dichotomous discussions about the Song, only one kind of collocation is primarily in view, namely, the anthology or collection of distinct and unrelated poems gathered for referential purposes. The several Neo-Assyrian prophecy collections inscribed on large, multicolumned tablets are paradigmatic. They gather short reports of prophetic activity from a plurality of prophets, presumably for royal archival purposes.257 Even more relevant to the Song are the several Egyptian collections of love poetry (e.g. P. Harris 500, groups A and B; P. Chester Beatty 1, group C). As Fox (and others) argue, the individual component poems in these collections are “manifestly independent and autonomous” with “only occasional thematic ties” to join them.258 The autonomous nature of Mesopotamian love poems is also emphasized. They have been preserved mostly in “manuscripts” (tablets) of singular works, and even when there is more than one composition on a tablet, as on the obverse and reverse of LKA 15, the singularity of the love poem preserved is still plain to see (obv. 1–10, “Ištar and Tammuz”). Portions of at least one four-column library tablet that originally contained “four irtum songs” according to the colophon (MAH 16051 iv 18) are extant. There are also catalogues that list the incipits (first lines) of a number of Akkadian love songs (e.g., KAR 158, ASJ 10). And some of the preserved colophons of the individual songs indicate belonging to larger series. BM 47507 (“Come in, shepherd”) is a good example of the latter. The song is identified in the colophon as belonging to the series māruma rā’imni “O darling loving me” (l. 42). It also cites the catch-line to a succeeding composition (l. 40: ur-ša-nam re-e-a a-za-am-mur-ma “I shall sing on the heroic shepherd”). Both incipits appear sequentially in the catalogue KAR 158:
- [er-ba-a]m-ma rēʾu (lúsipa) ḫar-mi ° dIš8-tár-ma
- [ur?-ša?-a]n*-na rēʾa (lúsipa) ° az-za-am-mu-ur-ma (i 6'-7')
All of these—collection on a singular (multicolumn) tablet, catalogue, thematic organization by series—give expression to that chief modality of Mesopotamian scribal knowledge, Listenwissenschaft, in which aggregation serves primarily archival and intellectual ends.259
But other kinds of collocations are also known, even from antiquity. In the West, Greek integrated collections are known from a relatively early period, especially those of the Alexandrians. Callimachus (third century BCE) is usually credited as the first Western poet to explicitly call attention to the shape of (p.218) his sequences (Iambs and Aetia).260 He and other Alexandrian poets collected and arranged their poems in book-rolls261 that contain explicit prologues and epilogues and exhibit structural symmetries and thematic resonances among the individual poems. However, it is very likely that even earlier Greek poets, such as Mimnermus (seventh to sixth centuries BCE), Theognis (sixth to fifth centuries BCE), and Sappho (620–550 BCE), collected their poems in anthologies or connected series as well, though the evidence is sketchy.262 In the ancient Near East, there is the outstanding example of the collection of forty-two Sumerian temple hymns that may date as early as the late twenty-fourth or early twenty-third century BCE.263 Here we have an obvious collection of individual lyric compositions that have been purposively composed and arranged as a larger whole. The first forty-one hymns share the same basic form264 and are ordered geographically in a general south/southeast to north/northwest orientation as one moves through the sequence.265 The final hymn deviates noticeably from the formal pattern that shapes the other hymns,266 effectively signalling the collection’s impending conclusion. And En▵eduanna, En-Priestess and daughter of Sargon of Akkad, even explicitly articulates her authorial intent as she identifies herself as the “compiler of the tablet” that “no one has created (before)” (ll. 544–45).267
While scholars are beginning to scrutinize more carefully the possibility of the editorial shaping of the Psalms, for example,268 the most obviously integrative poetic collections in the Bible are some of the prophetic collections (e.g., Amos, Isaiah of Jerusalem, Jeremiah). I say most obvious because of the frequent use of the new technology of written prose narrative as a means for staging (however inelegantly at times) the individual oracles, visions, and the like of a given prophet. Here there are (more and less successful) attempts to situate prophetic utterance in light of a (remembered) prophetic biography.269 In a related vein, the fifth-century collection of Aramaic proverbs from Elephantine gathered in the name of Ahiqar is prefaced by a prose narrative that tells the story of this legendary scribe and wise man (TAD C1.1–5). The Joban composition is undoubtedly the high-water mark in the Bible of this strategy for integrating, organizing, and unifying a collection of nonnarrative poems. Written narrative prose frames the entire work (Job 1–2, 42:7–16), setting the scene and story-world for the written poetic dialogues that are gathered and linked by thin prosaic threads introducing new speakers (e.g., “And Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said,” Job 4:1).270 Narrative—as specifically involving a description of the sacred marriage rite—also factors in extending the reach of some singular Sumerian love songs (e.g., “Inanna the watered field, who will plow her?” DI P),271 as Sefati notices: “for such a description would require significantly greater length.”272 And on R. C. Steiner’s reading, it is (p.219) precisely this kind of liturgical description of a New Year’s festival that gives the (mostly) poetic miscellany in the first seventeen columns of the enigmatic P. Amherst 63 its coherence—culminating in the sacred marriage ceremony (col. 17.6–19).273
These several examples show that the practice of collecting nonnarrative poetry in the ancient eastern Mediterranean is a well-attested scribal act and one that may be disposed toward a myriad of ends and with varying degrees of integration. Hence, on evidentiary grounds, it is plausible to suppose (if only hypothetically) that a collection of love poems might form around the single figure of an anonymous singer and exhibit a plethora of unifying (integrative) sensibilities of the kinds that many commentators of the Song have identified. One could even think of the Song’s “newness” (à la Fox) as a kind of pre-Petrarchian sequence or collection of love lyrics. The lyric sequence—a collocation of lyric poems in which the individual “poetic integer” holds “its autonomy as it participates in a larger unity”274—is generally thought to have received its Western vernacular identity in the practice of Francis Petrarch (1304–74 CE) and his seminal amatory sequence, Canzoniere, which was composed over a period of forty years and contained in its final version a total of 366 lyrics (317 sonnets; 4 madrigali; 7 ballate; 29 canzoni). Canzoniere is Petrarch’s continuous attempt to realize, sing, encompass, surmount his love for the lady Laura. Petrarch’s sequence was a lifetime project. It began with one hundred poems and was not completed until his death. Petrarch spent his life composing new poems, revising old ones, and editing and reorganizing the sequence as a whole, continuously adding and eliminating poems.275 Amid the disjunctions that naturally inhere in the lyric and the collocation of multiple lyric poems, Petrarch “exceeds the unities of earlier lyric collections.”276 Petrarch’s known precursors include Dante’s Vita nuova (ca. 1292–1300), the thirteenth-century songbooks of the Occitan troubadours, the Augustan poetry books that were published in long papyrus rolls (e.g., Virgil, Eclogues and the four Georgics; Ovid, Metamorphoses; Horace, Odes),277 and the biblical book of Psalms.
After Petrarch, lyric sequences, especially sonnet sequences, became popular in all Western vernacular traditions. In English some of the more notable sequences include Spenser’s Ruins of Rome (1591), Herbert’s The Temple (pub. 1633), and Donne’s Holy Sonnets (1633). Already in the time of Sydney sonnet sequences were being parodied (Astrophil and Stella, pub. 1591). And Shakespeare, as suggested by J. Fineman, wrote his sonnet sequence (Sonnets ca. 1593–99) after the time of their popularity.278 The modern rebirth of the lyric sequence is usually associated with Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855).279 Modern exemplars of the lyric sequence in English are numerous and would (p.220) include such works as Yeats’s civil war sequences, Eliot’s Waste Land, Pound’s Pisan Cantos, Williams’s Paterson, Stevens’s “Auroras of Autumn,” and Lowell’s Life Studies. Non-Western lyric sequences have also been identified and are starting to be studied. E. Miner, for example, has called attention to sequences extant from China already in the fifth century BCE (Shih Ching, ca. 450) and from Japan beginning in the tenth century CE (Kokinshü, ca. tenth century; Shinkokinshü, ca. thirteenth century CE).280
Such sequences have two counterposing characteristics: on the one hand they are composite works, consisting of multiple discrete and autonomous poetic integers, and thus project a strong sense of fragmentation; on the other hand they exhibit varying manifestations of coherence, whether through large-scale repetition, such as calendrical or numerological patterns, or through smaller scale and less formal means, such as lexical and key word repetition. Yet however fragmented or coherent, the sequence’s overarching structure(s) is explicitly lyrical in nature and design, marked by a conspicuous sense of organicism that ultimately defies reduction to thematic, narratological, or logical explication or paraphrase. On the face of it, this seems an apt description of the counterposing forces that typify the Song as a larger whole.281 Specifically with regard to the debate about the many or the one in Song criticism, the hypothesis of a more integrated poetic collection identifies a technology for writing lyric verse in extenso that is every bit as capable of realizing the kinds of unities prized by those who favor the conception of the Song as a singular long poem. Perhaps it is not irrelevant to point out, as Greene does, that in the modern period, after the advent of the long nonnarrative poem, certain challenges arise “in attempting to distinguish between long poem and lyric sequence.”282 “A lyric poem,” writes R. von Hallberg, “is a thing of parts,”283 and an integrated sequence or collection of lyric poems resembles nothing more closely than just such a part-filled lyric poem writ large.284 Greene writes that the descriptor “lyric sequence”
is most accurately applied to works that maintain a sense of tension between the unity or the interrelation of the whole and the independent workings of each part. The term is particularly apt when individual integers in a sequence demonstrate some level of engagement with the lyric, be this understood as subject position, level of musicality, or aim toward brevity.285
Greene’s comments helpfully return us to the point at dispute in the debate about the Song, is it a simple or complex singularity? If all sides agree that there is much interrelating going on throughout the Song, the question is (p.221) what is the nature of the component parts, the “individual integers” that are doing the interrelating? Are these distinct enough to be called “poems,” or are they better described as “parts” of a larger, longer poem? As a historical datum, deciding the issue remains of interest. But even in advance of that, some clarity on a number of matters will have been gained from this exercise, namely, that writing offers the prime technological means for overcoming the sharp conciseness inherent to lyric discourse and that the collection, a paradigmatic artifact of ancient scribal productivity, may be disposed toward more and less unifying ends—that unities may be manifested by complex as well as simple singularities.
It is not uncommon in the debate about the Song (and its songs) for passing reference to be made to the absence of superscriptions or other editorial indicators of separate, isolatable songs in the extant manuscript traditions. The implication of unity is usually thought to be self-evident, namely “the burden of proof lies primarily on those who wish to assert disunity.”286 Here I want to probe the Song’s textuality more patiently in order to consider the possibility of both a textuality that is not yet fully literary and lyric discourse on an expanded scale that can thrive in the absence of writing. The assumption that “poems,” if they exist, must be written out in some special way (e.g., in lines, with lots of white space) is not sustainable on empirical grounds (see chapter 1). Writing as it spatializes language fixes it in materiality, and thus gives it substance that may be touched, pointed to and returned to, conceptualized. The very notion of “poem” as a whole and stable entity, distinct from other similar entities (“fixed, boxed-off, isolated”),287 is only conceivable once the linguistic verbiage of which it is (in part) composed is transcribed into writing. The “oral poem,” in contrast, is not “poem” in this way but more a spectral intimation of the “poem” that textuality eventually makes possible. Though both make use of “a language that is fundamentally the same,”288 the oral poem is “essentially ephemeral,”289 marked by immediacy and fragmentation, precisely the absence of unity where the concept of finished-ness or finalizable-ness can hardly come to mind—so long as a poem is entirely oral it cannot “become an end in itself”290 or “be glimpsed as a fixed object.”291 Variability marks orally performed art—absent the possibility of making systematic comparisons of different performances, it could hardly be otherwise.292 In performance, the oral poem contains the “phonemic string we call text” (i.e., the words of the poem), but also
all the concomitants of spoken language and performance intonations, special pronunciations, melody, musical accompaniment, facial expressions, somatic gestures, special times or seasons for speaking, not to (p.222) mention the ambiance created by the entire bodily presence of the living speaker and of a living audience. In its functions oral poetry has a force that is always dispersed and weakened by purely textual dissemination.293
The preserved Hebrew manuscripts of the Song (MT, DSS fragments: 4QCanta–c, 6QCant) consist of a wholly consonantal script with words divided by spacing and formatted in columns of running text (figs. 41–42), and although all are belated, it is likely that any earlier written versions in an alphabetic script would have shared this same basic text profile (see chapter 4).294 What is most striking about this form of textuality is not the implication of unity (of a singular poem) but its utter dependence on active vocalizing in order to transform the alphabetic signs on the manuscript page (“the phonemic string we call text”) into language and poetry. This is an inscribed textuality more dependent on the voice and the ear and memory than on the eye. Input from outside what is explicitly written is required. Vowels need supplying to fill out the consonantal frames of the script and to make (sound) actual words. For example, yšqny (6QCant = Song 1:2; fig. 40) must be vocalized, either as yiššāqēnî “let him kiss me” (as in MT; Qal juss. 3 m. sg. + 1 sg. suffix √n-š-q “to kiss”) or yašqēnî “let him give me to drink” (Hiphil juss. 3 m. sg. + 1 sg. suffix √š-q-h “to drink,” cf. Song 8:1–2). Or ddyk (Song 1:2), performed either as dōdeykā “your love” (as in MT) or as *daddeykā “your breasts” (as in LXX, Vg.; cf. Ezek 23:21; Prov 5:19). In order to make such decisions readers must employ their preperformance knowledge of aural and semantic cues derived from the writing itself (e.g., is the girl likely to be admiring the boy’s breasts?), as well as an awareness of what has been written down in the first place (e.g., a love song and not a song of lament). Possible “good” variants—which may reflect oral interference—appear: šmnym ṭwbym /šĕmānîm ṭôbîm/ “finest oils” in 6QCant 1.5 (= Vg. unguentis optimis; cf. 2 Kgs 20:13 = Isa 39:2; Ps 133:2) for MT’s šĕmāneykā ṭôbîm “your oils are fine.”295 And the words fill the columns, running continuously from right to left, with only the odd bit of extra spacing (e.g., B19a: after 1:4 [fig. 41]; 4QCantb: after 5:1 [frag 3.14])296 to indicate a possible structural boundary. Such spare writing assumes that the poetry’s larger rhetorical structures (e.g., line breaks, couplets, stanzas, poems), as in oral verbal art more generally, will be articulated acoustically, through sound, syntax, and rhythm,297 with deictic aid possibly provided by accompanying visual or bodily gestures (e.g., a nod or a shout), “to create patterns that unify a movement either by developing a series of parallel and balanced lines or by developing a pattern different from those of the previous and following units.”298 For example, the waṣf-like song in Song 4:1–7 stands out from what precedes and follows it in a number of obvious ways: its focus on (p.223) individual parts of the girl’s body, the high density of similes and verbless clauses, and the use of exotic imagery, all set apart by a framing inclusio or ring structure (hinnāk yāpâ raʿyātî / hinnāk yāpâ [v. 1] // kullāk yāpâ raʿyātî / ûmûm ʾ ên bāk [v. 7]), a traditional technique for bringing the strongly additive logic of much oral verbal art to a (momentary) stopping point. Song 3:1–5 offers another good example, standing out as a singularity in its immediate context for the narrative logic it employs and the highly repetitive phrasing by which it shapes its individual lines (e.g., the fourfold repetition of b-q-š “to seek,” m-ṣ-ʾ “to find,” and ʾet-šeʾāhăbâ napšî “him whom my soul loves”). The adjuration to the girlfriends (v. 5) offers a gesture of closure (as also in 2:7 and 8:4), not unlike the famous “shout” that A. B. Lord observed at the end of junctural wholes in so many South Slavic epic songs.299 Again the outstanding point is the acute sparseness of readerly cues (metascript conventions) within the preserved Hebrew manuscripts themselves. From this perspective the benefit of the LXX tradition, which in a number of uncials (e.g., Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus) supplies indentation as a visual cue to poetic line structure (see fig. 17), is immense.300 Here the way of writing (now in translation) begins to be better tuned to the needs of “sight” readers (e.g., the scribe who is doing the translating) and less dependent on assumed readerly knowledge.
The “shout” of Lord’s “singer of tales” recalls in a striking way the literal absence from these manuscripts of the singer who would have performed the poetry whose wording they preserve.301 In fact, much of the love poetry from the ancient Near East shares a similar kind of textuality, with little or no concession made to the singers these poems presume. Still, that there were such singers of love songs seems certain. In the Bible they are sighted only obliquely, for example, in reference to Ezekiel (33:32), imagined as a singer of a literal “song of love” (šîr ʿ ăgābîm)302 who has a “beautiful voice” (yĕpê qôl) and is a skilled instrumentalist (mēṭīb naggēn lit. “one who plays pleasantly”); to Isaiah of Jerusalem, whose so-called Song of the Vineyard (Isa 5:1–7) parodies a love song—“Let me sing for my beloved …”; and to the performer-scribe of Psalm 45—editorially labeled a “love song” (šîr yĕdîdōt)—who offers a rare bit of compositional self-awareness, “my tongue is the pen of an expert scribe” (v. 2, NJV).303 In Egypt, there is the one (possible) outstanding reference in P. Chester Beatty I to the “sayings of the great entertainer (T3 sḩmḩt-ib ʿ3).”304 Otherwise, the fact of a singer is an inference that may be drawn on the one hand from the characterization of groups of these poems as “entertainment” (sḩmḩt-ib lit. “making the heart forget”; P. Harris 500, groups B and C; P. Chester Beatty I, group A)305 and what is known about entertainment from such things as the tomb paintings; and on the other hand from what may be inferred by the manner of poetic performance itself, which here and there, as (p.224) Fox recognizes, presumes a voicing beyond the various poetic personae (e.g., the girl and the boy) that feature in these poems.306 Analogously, the opening of CAT 1.24, ašr. nklwib. “let me sing of Nikkal-Ib” (l. 1; cf. ll. 37–39, 40) is likely the voice not of any of the main personae (e.g., Nikkal-Ib, Yariḫ; cf. ll. 37–39) but of the singer of the song (cf. Ps 45:2, 18). In Mesopotamia, the fact of a singer is mostly an implication of the mythological projection of these love poems, which presumes a cultic context and thus some kind of performance. In some cases the latter can be posited most confidently, as in the Dumuzi and Inanna songs, which presume the sacred marriage festival,307 or the “Love Lyrics of Nabû and Tašmetu” (SAA 3 14), which also may be associated confidently with a cultic setting: “The ritual setting of the text is beyond any serious doubt. Without being a detailed ritual description, the Love Lyrics clearly reflect different phases of the love ritual of Nabû and Tašmetu discernible from other sources.”308
Both Tg. Cant. and LXX explicitly compensate for this lack in different ways. Tg. Cant., taking its clue from Song 1:1, identifies Solomon as the singer: “Songs and praises which Solomon, the prophet, the king of Israel, recited in the holy spirit before the Sovereign of all the World, the Lord.”309 On the other hand LXX, in a number of manuscripts (e.g., Alexandrinus, Codex 161, Sinaiticus, Venetus) adds rubrics identifying the speaker of specific verses (e.g., LXXS: “the groom to the bride,” 1:15; “the bride to the groom,” 1:16; fig. 17). This practice arises, in part, because Greek does not mark gender morphologically with verbs as does Hebrew, and thus literal translation (alone) into Greek is unable to track the change in speaking voices that is otherwise apparent in the Hebrew original (or in actual performance). It also reflects the addition of the kind of explicit explanatory context (diegesis) that “literary texts”—texts, that is, that are (mainly) read outside of a performative arena—tend to require. As A. N. Doane explains with reference to manuscripts containing Anglo-Saxon (oral-derived) poetry:
These same texts appear almost invariably in manuscripts that entirely fail to put them in context, that is, there is no literary or historical message around them. Voiced poems, where poem, poet, and audience are implicated in a specific situation, do not need explanation. In contrast, literary texts … tend to occur in specific “literary” contexts, however imperfectly realized, because texts separated from speakers and performance need explanations.310
The lack of such explanatory contexts in the Hebrew manuscripts of the Song (e.g., no superscriptions or introductory glosses—aside, perhaps, from 1:1), do (p.225) not so obviously implicate a unified singularity—which presumes a kind of high literary textuality designed for nonperformative uses—as an “emergent” or “interfacial” textuality shaped by and still in service to performance: texts that remain “beholden to performance.”311 These have the format, that is, of the kind of aids to memory that J. Herington supposes for written versions of early Greek song texts—a mostly “mechanical means of preserving [the poems’] wording between performances.”312 By their very failure to accommodate to a singer-less environment (namely a readerly or literary textuality) they provide a glimpse—or better, trace—(through absence and noncompensatory gestures) of the still assumed “substance and presence” of the singer. The singer would have “located, contained, and continuously sustained the performance in its shifts among all different types of discourse that any sustained fabula would require.”313 Such a text, made up almost entirely of only the verbal element, “must have appeared brutally paratactic, lacking in all the means that ensure the cohesion and smooth flow of a performance, in which the embedding of one discourse into another is frequently handled by nondiscursive means.”314 What we may have in the Song, then, is perhaps neither a long poem nor a lyric sequence, both high achievements of a distinctly literate art, but a writing still orally and aurally oriented that is on its way to becoming something akin to these other forms—this, too, would be a “new sort” of something (i.e., the writing down of oral performance).315 C. B. Pasternack coins the phrase “verse sequence” for the inscribed verse of Anglo-Saxon England precisely as a means of deflecting the high literate values otherwise so easily assumed when thinking about poetry and poetry collections. She also writes of “movements” instead of “poems,” mindful that such textuality in support of performance has not yet achieved the settled, boxed-in character of written poetry;316 that such a way of writing, spare with only a minimum of readerly helps, not only requires extratextual input and performance but remains, like oral verbal art, more generally a distinctly open medium, inviting of performance and reperformance, of taking the words and disposing them to one end at one time and to some other end at another time. That is, scholars’ failure to agree, for example, on the precise number of “poems”—or “movements”—in the Song (fourteen, thirty-one, forty-two) may be a sign not that there are not multiple singularities but that the form of the textuality in which these songs were transcribed remains open and variable, accommodating multiple ways of composing and recomposing these poems—the very form of the textuality requires readers in performance to make these interpretive moves without setting the expectation that there is one single, verifiable way of composing these songs.317 It is a way of writing—a first writing—that mimes the way of oral performance.
(p.226) In the end, it is not crucial for my analysis of the idea of lyric poetry in the Bible to settle on one specific understanding of the Song. If I am partial to the latter perspective, that is, the Song as a verse sequence that is inscribed in an emergent textuality that remains open and malleable,318 the foregoing discussion at least reveals the fact that textuality is not everywhere just of one kind and that there are at least two modalities for extending the reach and scale of lyric’s native conciseness, through writing (whether in collocation or as a longer singularity), which has proved most successful over the long run, and through the embodied presence of a singer in performance, who would guide the listening audience through the various junctures and disjunctures that make up a complex performative piece like the Song.
Beyond Lyric: Toward a Richer Understanding of (Other) Biblical Poems
Even if this chapter’s central thesis may be granted (for sake of argument)—namely, that the Bible contains a core of verse that may be accurately (though variably) characterized as lyric and that it is every bit as old as and in some instances older than that far more famous lyric tradition from ancient Greece—this leaves much biblical poetry unaccounted for. What of that poetry? First, it exists. Already at the end of the nineteenth century S. R. Driver had well in view two broad kinds of nonnarrative poetry in the Bible, lyric and what he called gnomic verse.319 By the latter Driver means didactic or wisdom poetry and has Proverbs, Job, and Ben Sira uppermost in mind. He defines this kind of verse broadly as consisting “of observations on human life and society, or generalizations respecting conduct and character.”320 In many respects the basic medium of such verse is similar to the lyric just described. In fact, Driver himself observes that “the line between these two forms cannot always be drawn strictly.”321 Beyond thematic and performative differences (most wisdom literature would not have been sung), different life-settings (e.g., teaching), and a preference for other kinds of genres (e.g., proverbs), the major modal difference is a higher incidence of discursive logic. This leads to a second observation, namely, “that the category lyric,” as Culler writes, “has the virtue of directing our attention to nonnarrative poetry in general”322 and providing a (heuristic or pragmatic) model for how to read it, how to apprehend it. That is, given the general overlap in kind (notwithstanding some real differences, e.g., nonmelic quality) between lyric and other varieties of nonnarrative verse, an appreciation of the basic means of lyric discourse has a certain practical usefulness for reading other nonnarrative poems and for making sense of their prosody and poetics.
(p.227) My own initial interest in lyric was spurred in part by the nineteenth- and twentieth-century commentary tradition on Lamentations, which mostly seemed befuddled by this poetry’s general lack of plot or sustained (theological) argument, as if there was some fault in Lamentations for its failure to meet these readers’ explicitly narrative and discursive expectations. But these poems are not narratives and are not discursive in orientation. The fault was not theirs but was otherwise. I turned to (predominantly) Romantic and post-Romantic notions of lyric as a ready-to-hand antidote to this history of misreading Lamentations. My intuitive sense was that the vast majority of the biblical poetic corpus, including Lamentations, answered quite nicely to what contemporary critics and theorists call lyric today—almost all poetry that does not obviously tell a story. Hence the opening to my “Psalms and Lyric Verse”: “My ambition here is to begin thinking Hebrew poetry through from the lyric point of view out.”323 After some polite prodding by colleagues (esp. Berlin, Linafelt, O’Connor),324 coaxing me back to my own strongly historicist bent of mind, I have long since given up the urge to stuff all biblical poetry into a single “lyric” sack.325 In ancient Greece, to take our most scrutinized example, beyond the songs of the archaic period sung to the lyre or aulos or even unaccompanied by musical instrumentation, there were also unsung (and undanced) varieties of nonnarrative, nonmimetic verse—poetry recited (not sung) in dactylic hexameters, elegiac couplets, and iambic trimeters.326 Beyond the lyric and gnomic varieties of nonnarrative verse touted by Driver, other subgroups of biblical poetry may also be usefully identified. I have already problematized here the “lyricism” of the lament, in its various guises—individual and communal laments, funeral dirges, laments for destroyed cities (e.g., Lamentations). It was an especially common ancient poetic genre.327 Prosodically and materially, it shares much with lyric and didactic verse.328 It may be distinguished, broadly, by its chief thematic concerns (suffering and loss), its typically dark and somber mood, and often (especially in funeral dirges) a fondness for unbalanced couplets—the so-called qinah meter. Some laments—the psalmic laments, for example—were apparently associated with song (e.g., Psalm 13 is labeled a mizmôr and includes a reference to singing, v. 6), though others, like gnomic or didactic verse, were not necessarily sung—so, for example, the qînâ is never introduced by verbs for singing, but only by q-y-n “to lament, keen” (e.g., 2 Sam 1:17; 2 Chron 35:25) or n-ś-ʾ “to lift up” (e.g., Amos 5:1; Ezek 19:1). However, if I would no longer want to characterize Lamentations, for example, as prototypically lyric, it is a closely related type (and therefore I have referenced it periodically in the foregoing discussion) and reading it through the lens of lyric is hugely beneficial (pragmatically)—my aim here is not to reify classificatory schemes but to get in view more perspic (p.228) uously precisely what this kind of poetry requires of its audience, to evolve a critical idiom that is maximally useful for reading biblical poems and for making sense of their prosodies.
Another large block of poetry in the Bible is associated with prophets and prophecy (so Lowth)—the “elaborate artifice” of prophetic verse marks “distinctions from the plainness of instrumental speech” and thereby signals its divine authority.329 One need not insist that such poetry is everywhere in the Bible prototypically lyric in order to recognize that there are some high lyrical moments exhibited among these highly parasitic performers (e.g., Isa 5:1–7),330 who routinely take up forms and genres from elsewhere and use them to their own ends, or that like gnomic verse prophetic verse, even when it moves most decisively away from any kind of strong lyric sensibility, nonetheless holds much in common with the lyric poetry of the Bible. Therefore, in addition to the “abundance of lyric poetry” in the Bible and the strict absence of “epic poems and drama,” as Alonso Schökel observes, there is a range of other kinds of nonnarrative poems in the Bible that differ from the lyric in some important ways (esp. in their nonmelic character) but that also share with it a broad kinship and thus benefit from being considered in light of the habitual practices and tendencies of lyric, because those practices and tendencies are not—descriptively, empirically—exclusive to the lyric genre—so Langer: “there is no device characteristic of lyric composition … that may not also be met in other forms.”331 That is, the various genres and forms of the Bible’s nonnarrative poetry hold in common a core of central characteristics and practices, and thus they tend to go about the poetry making business in much the same way. Where distinctions arise among the genres is in how this shared core poetics is enacted (e.g., with song, with discursive or narrative logic, oracularly) and thematized (e.g., love, loss and suffering, generalizations about character and conduct, critique) and where and in what context (e.g., communal, private, cult, education, war camp) and for what reasons (e.g., critique, edification, prayer, love, celebration). There is, in other words, something very much recognizable as biblical poetry.332
That the nonnarrative verse of the Bible shares a core prosodic profile brings me to a final consideration, which I press in light of the thinking of the comparatist (of East Asian literatures in particular) E. Miner. Miner points out a very “curious” fact: poetics, whether implicit or explicit, everywhere but in the West is “founded not on drama, but on lyric. Western literature with its many familiar suppositions is a minority of one, the odd one out. It has no claim to be normative.”333 Miner is on firmest footing with respect to cultures in which “an explicit ‘originative’ or ‘foundational’ poetics” (e.g., Aristotle’s Poetics or Ki no Tsurayuki’s Japanese preface to the Kokinshī, ca. 910 CE) is (p.229) found.334 Not all cultures evolve such an explicit poetics. Certainly nowhere does this happen in the pre-Hellenistic Near East. There, too, there must have been an operative poetics, but it was “implicit in practice,” and to date not much attention has been paid by scholars to teasing out what its nature might have been. It is enough, then, for my own project to take Miner’s assertion as to the implicitly lyric-based (“affective-expressive”) poetics of “near Eastern cultures” (inclusive of the Hebrew Bible)335 as a hypothesis to be considered and scrutinized. Still, it is a provocative idea and productive in a number of ways even in advance of a full vetting. First, if he is right, then the broad similarities and kinships (family resemblances) that characterize biblical poetry generally—lyric and nonlyric kinds alike—becomes most sensible and the idea of thinking biblical Hebrew poetry through from a lyric point of view ever more attractive. Second, whatever may be made of the poetics implied by ancient Near Eastern and biblical literature, there is no drama extant in these traditional literatures. As is the case generally, “lyric and/or narrative are the genres with which known literary systems originate.”336 Miner elaborates:
We shall see that it is of no little importance that drama is typically (always!) the last kind of literature to achieve separation. In culture after culture, it is so closely bound to religious and social rituals on the one hand, and so nearly allied with music and dance on the other, that it usually emerges only after narrative and lyric. One can see this in cultures as diverse as the Greek, the European after the fall of Rome, and the great Asian cultures of India, China, and Japan.337
We may be confident, then, that the basis of the Bible’s implied poetics is nonmimetic,338 and perhaps as important, that a tacitly assumed mimetic-based criticism, such as has mostly prevailed in the study of literature in the West since Aristotle (including almost all post-Lowthian forms of biblical literary criticism), will only be revealing of nonmimetic genres to a point—“it has no claim to be normative.” The archaic Greek situation is tellingly comparable. Although an Aristotelean mode of criticism might be productively applied to archaic Greek lyric (texts may always be read from different angles and to different ends), there is no reason to privilege such a mode uncritically, nor could Aristotle’s Poetics have emerged from that archaic period, before the advent of drama itself. Western poetics has not been static and did not stop with Aristotle, of course. As Miner emphasizes, Horace’s Ars Poetica “is of crucial importance, since it introduced a strongly effective … poetics into western currency.”339 That is, even a mimetic-based poetics can be enlarged and made to accommodate nonmimetic forms. Nevertheless, one take-away from Miner (p.230) here is the ongoing need to reflect critically on methods and theories of literary study (for me) of the Bible, getting in view as clearly as possible both our own orienting presuppositions—there are no naive positions from which to enter into acts of textual interpretation—and the literary history of the Bible and its implied poetics.
Third, a similar caution arises about the assumed normativity of prose narration. J. Kittay and W. Godzich observe that contemporary scholars and critics “are very much affected by the predominance of prose today—prose considered as a given or natural state of written language.”340 “Our world,” Kittay and Godzich state, “is a literally prosaic one, full of prose.”341 This was not always the case. So Miner: “Drama comes much later as does, usually, literary narrative in prose. Not only do drama and prose narrative tend to appear far later than lyric and poetic narrative, but their normative acceptance lags even more.”342 Not only has the vast majority of “literary study” of the Bible since the 1960s (a rebirth of sorts) focused on prose narrative, scholars’ tacit pose toward biblical poetry has been what Kittay and Godzich call a “postprose” view of verse,343 a view that considers poetry and poetics from the presumed normativity of written prose narrative. The latter is newly emergent during the biblical period, so the world of the Bible, though not only or purely “preprose” in orientation, was never fully après prose344 either, as is our world, and thus a perennial challenge for students of biblical poetry in particular is the need to continuously negotiate our “postprose” view of verse when reading poetry from a world that prose had yet to fully conquer.
Finally, though lyric and narrative poetry are the originating genres of all known literary systems, “it is passing strange,” writes Miner, “that there is no originative poetics founded on narrative.”345 Again the thought is provocative, if only for providing yet further warrant for the importance of getting some kind of critical handle on the lyric corpus of the Bible and the nature of this kind of discourse. One can hardly consider lyric’s place in a (implicit) biblical poetics in the absence of such a critical understanding. A chief outcome sought in the review of the several lyric practices and tendencies I have discussed in this chapter was to sharpen and extend the critical understanding of the inner workings of this kind of biblical poetry and to (re)introduce the notion of “lyric” as a critical idiom. It is not that the presence of lyric poetry in the Bible has not been well observed in the past. It has, and early on, too. To cite a famous example, Jerome in his Preface to Job compares Psalms, Lamentations, and “almost all the songs of Scripture” to Greek and Roman lyric poets, such as Flaccus, Pindar, and Sappho.346 Rather, what I do not always perceive on the part of contemporary interpreters of biblical poetry is a critical awareness of the lyric as a distinct mode of discourse, and it is (p.231) to this awareness, especially when our default reading strategies are so narratively oriented in this age of novels and Hollywood movies, that I would recall us.
As for the suspicion that the very idea of lyric is somehow foreign to the Bible and the biblical world, Miner’s work, like any minimally inclusive survey of oral and written verbal art (literature) from around the world and throughout history, helps to show that such worry is misplaced—indeed, is simply wrong. Lyric, though called by many different names—šîr, shi, uta, melos, carmen, song—is widely attested, perhaps even universally so. But Miner also helps in seeing better how and why such a worry might arise in the first place. My hunch is that a (mostly though tacitly) monolithic, explicitly Western notion of poetics is the chief culprit. On the one hand Western scholars are only too aware of both the centrality of the Greek lyric in discussions of lyric poetry in general and its place in the Western (post-Horatian in particular) canon and the Bible’s (Near) Eastern and hence non-Greek settings, sensibilities, genres, content. Hence, whatever the psalms, for example, might be, and despite a real “resemblance” to the likes of Pindar, Alcaeus, and Sappho (with deference to Jerome),347 there are many differences, too, and ultimately no mistaking the one for the other—lyric poetry everywhere is a language-specific act unavoidably enmeshed in historical and cultural particularity. On the other hand the bias of a distinctly Western poetics that in good conscience is being guarded against (so as not to impute it to that which is foreign to it) also occludes the very fact that lyric may have a more surpassing sensibility than what is known from Greece or the larger Western literary tradition, that lyric—not literally using the Greek term, of course, which is already belated and anachronistic when first used by the Alexandrians—might also be attested outside the West, might even be, as Miner maintains, the founding basis for another culture’s “originative” and orienting poetics, as, say, in Japan, China, and India, or perhaps even for the incipient impressions of an “implicit” poetics, “as … for near Eastern cultures.”348 In other words, the failure to countenance the idea of lyric in the Bible is in large part a consequence of a certain blindness caused by a lack of critical leverage on the very categories that inform and authorize so much Western literary criticism (of the Bible). Whether or not readers are finally persuaded by my own account of the (biblical) Hebrew lyric, there can be no contestation on principle of the idea of lyric poetry in the Bible. To the contrary, comparative study shows lyric verse almost literally everywhere and at all times. If not all biblical poetry is lyric, which it is not (so Driver’s gnomic verse), that some is should be of no surprise. Indeed, that there may even be “an abundance of lyric poetry” in the Bible is perhaps what should have been supposed all along— (p.232)
whether we consider the Psalter or the Lamentations of Jeremiah, or almost all the songs of Scripture, they bear a resemblance to our Flaccus, and the Greek Pindar, and Alcaeus, and Sappho, let him read Philo, Josephus, Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea, and with the aid of their testimony he will find that I speak the truth.349
(1.) L. Alonso Schökel, A Manual of Hebrew Poetics (Subsidia biblica 11; Rome: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1988), 11; see R. Lowth, Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews (2 vols.; trans. G. Gregory; London: J. Johnson, 1787; reprinted in Robert Lowth (1710–1787): The Major Works, vols. 1–2 [London: Routledge, 1995]), II, 189–210; S. R. Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1956 ), 359–91. J. W. Johnson treats it in his survey of ancient Near Eastern lyric traditions (“Lyric,” in NPEPP, 716).
(2.) For my own earlier attempt at a more comprehensive statement on the poetics of lyric verse in the Bible, specifically at the site of psalms, see F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp, “Psalms and Lyric Verse,” in F. L. Shults (ed.), The Evolution of Rationality: Interdisciplinary Essays in Honor of J. Wentzel van Huyssteen (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 346–79. This chapter is a revised and adapted version of the earlier essay. (p.424)
(3.) Tracing and demystifying the history of this three-way distinction in Western literary criticism is the project of G. Genette’s The Architext: An Introduction (trans. J. E. Lewin; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979). For a now seminal reworking of these classic categories, see N. Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957). For a defense of the three-genre typology beyond its inherited Western lineage, see E. Miner, Comparative Poetics: An Intercultural Essay on Theories of Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990).
(4.) See G. Nagy, Pindar’s Homer: The Lyric Possession of an Epic Past (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), 3; Johnson, “Lyric,” 714. But even in the Alexandrian period it is more a matter of inferring the theories of lyric implied in the gathering, sorting, and ordering of the lyric poets of old (by then) than anything explicitly articulated, see W. R. Johnson, The Idea of Lyric: Lyric Modes in Ancient and Modern Poetry (EIDOS; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), 76–95, esp. 83–84.
(5.) Genette, Architext, 11; his initial discussions of Plato and Aristotle are on 8–9 and 10–14, respectively.
(6.) “Lyric and Greek Myth,” in R. D. Woodard (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Greek Mythology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 19.
(7.) R. Finnegan, Oral Poetry: Its Nature, Significance and Social Context (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992 ), 13; cf. A. B. Lord, “Oral Traditional Lyric Poetry,” in M. L. Lord (ed.), The Singer Resumes the Tale (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995), 22–68; P. Zumthor, Oral Poetry: An Introduction (trans. K. Murphy-Judy; Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990), 76, 103–6.
(8.) Johnson, “Lyric,” 715; see B. Boyd, Why Lyrics Last: Evolution, Cognition, and Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012), esp. 9–23. Though Johnson does not proceed to thematize “oral” lyric as such, his awareness of the genre’s millennia-old roots in human culture presupposes it. And while lyric’s oral pedigree has not received nearly the amount of scholarly attention paid to the genre’s nonmelic oral cousin, epic verse, there is no question that lyric is just as old and widespread in the oral traditions of the world as epic, if not more so. At any rate, the Bible’s lyric tradition is most definitely rooted in orality (see chapter 4 here) and its central practices and characteristics, as I elaborate over the course of this chapter, betray this heritage in any number of telling ways.
(9.) Johnson, “Lyric,” 713–27.
(10.) This is epitomized by the narrow focus of V. Jackson’s entry “Lyric,” in PEPP, especially as it replaces Johnson’s more expansive entry from the earlier edition of the encyclopedia.
(11.) See M. K. Blasing, Lyric Poetry: The Pain and the Pleasure of Words (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007), 4, 20–21, n. 12.
(12.) See esp. H. Dubrow, The Challenges of Orpheus: Lyric Poetry and Early Modern England (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1–14. For my own (p.425) thoughts on genre, see F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp, Weep, O Daughter of Zion: A Study of the City-Lament Genre in the Hebrew Bible (BibOr 44; Rome: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1993); “Darwinism, Genre Theory, and City Laments,” JAOS 120/4 (2000), 625–30. My approach throughout is distinctly pragmatic and heuristic, much in the vein of R. von Hallberg in Lyric Powers (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), esp. 1–7—“opportunistically use whatever distinctions serve understanding and appreciation of particular poems” (2).
(13.) D. Lindley, Lyric (London: Methuen, 1985), 5.
(14.) Cf. Lindley, Lyric, 22. So, for example, J. Culler glosses “poetic” with “lyric” in his own discussion of the three overarching modes or genres (Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997], 69). But more to the point, lyric is simply assumed to be the prototype of poetry in most critical discussions today (a holdover from the Romantic era and from New Criticism?).
(15.) Cf. Blasing, Lyric Poetry, 8—Blasing emphasizes the historical rootedness of all lyric speech (esp. 1–24; cf. 45–77).
(16.) “Genre: Lyric,” in R. Warhol (ed.), The Work of Genre: Selected Essays from the English Institute (English Institute, 2011), http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=acls;idno=heb90055.0001.001 (accessed February 28, 2015), par. 35; see par. 58. Culler here provides the most thoughtful reflection on the importance of thinking lyric and genre through together. From par. 60 he writes the following:
Foregrounding the lyric helps promote the possibility of comparisons with other traditions. In the afterword to the 2007 PMLA [122: 1648] issue, “Remapping Genre,” Bruce Robbins compares notions of genre to the norms in the socioeconomic realm that allow, for instance, transnational comparison of living standards and argues that the case of genre in a nutshell is that of historical comparison. Genre, he argues, is a crucial instrument combating the professional inclination to focus on a literary period—which he calls “a sort of pseudo-anthropocentric norm that has been adopted for a long time out of laziness. It is one level of magnification among others, no less valid than any other but also no less arbitrary.” Genre, he insists, offers us “versions of history that take us beyond the period-by-period agenda of our ordinary studies.” “Why,” he concludes, “would criticism voluntarily deprive itself of the additional scale of transperiodic vision and the aggregations it brings into view?” Why indeed? Genre remains an essential notion for translinguistically broadening critical horizons, connecting various narrower modes of reading and interpretation and enlarging discursive possibilities.
(17.) Lindley, Lyric, 22.
(18.) Heuristically, I operate with an (ideal) discourse continuum in mind. It is composed of narrative at one extreme and lyric at the other, with much mixing in (p.426) between. This is obviously but one way to look at literature, focusing on one set of variables; it is not intended to be a comprehensive interpretive strategy. I find warrant for such an approach both in contemporary literary theory and criticism (e.g., J. Culler, The Pursuit of Signs [Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981], 149–52) and especially in the prose/poetry dichotomy that pervades biblical Hebrew literature and breaks down mostly along a narrative/nonnarrative divide. More broadly (and from a specifically linguistic perspective), K. Hanson and P. Kiparsky argue that verse is the “unmarked form of literary language” and prose the “marked form”; and correlatively, that the “unmarked function of verse is lyric” (“The Nature of Verse and Its Consequences for the Mixed Form,” in J. Harris and K. Reichl (eds.), Prosimetrum: Cross-cultural Perspectives on Narrative in Prose and Verse (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1997), 17–18. H. Dubrow, who also works with such a continuum, nonetheless does so precisely to emphasize the mixture of narrative and lyric moments in early modern English lyric (Challenges of Orpheus, 191–227). P. Zumthor also emphasizes that “the oral text seems to fight against its model” (namely lyric, narrative, gnomic) and “there always subsist an uncertain fringe, heterogeneous bands, reflections: ‘lyric’ in narration, or the reverse” (Oral Poetry, 105).
(19.) The Challenge of Comparative Literature (trans. C. Franzen; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993), 142.
(20.) S. Langer, Feeling and Form; A Theory of Art (New York: Scribner, 1953), 259. And similarly, D. Levertov remarks that lyric verse is constructed out of the everyday language of normal discourse—idle chat, news briefs, dinner table conversation (The Poet in the World [New York: New Directions, 1973], 87).
(21.) Lyric Poetry, 116. Hence, G. Genette prefers to speak of the the broad (macro)genres (namely epic, drama, lyric) as modes of “enunciation” (Architext, 61).
(22.) Von Hallberg, Lyric Powers, 143, 144.
(23.) Finnegan, Oral Poetry, 13; cf. A. Welsh, Roots of Lyric: Primitive Poetry and Modern Poetics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), 135.
(24.) Idea of Lyric, 28. Others also emphasize the orality of ancient Greek lyric, e.g., C. M. Bowra, Greek Lyric Poetry: From Alcman to Simonides (2d ed.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961); J. Herington, Poetry into Drama: Early Tragedy and the Greek Poetic Tradition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985); E. A. Havelock, The Literate Revolution in Greece and Its Cultural Consequences (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), 17; B. Gentili, Poetry and Its Public in Ancient Greece: From Homer to the Fifth Century (trans. A. T. Cole; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), esp. 3–49; Nagy, Pindar’s Homer; “Lyric and Greek Myth,” 19; R. S. Garner, Traditional Elegy: The Interplay of Meter, Tradition, and Context in Early Greek Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. For an elaboration on the oral roots of lyric discourse, see chapter 4 here.
(25.) The Legends of Genesis (trans. W. H. Carruth; Chicago: Open Court, 1901), 38; cf. 41. (p.427)
(26.) Cf. D. Pardee, “Preliminary Presentation of a New Ugaritic Song to ʿAṯtart (RIH 98/02),” in K. L. Younger (ed.), Ugarit at Seventy-Five (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2007), 30.
(27.) The musicality of Sumerian love poetry is suggested by its occasional designation as “composition for a TIGI (harp)” or “for a KUN.GAR instrument” and by the likelihood that the Inanna-Dumuzi poems were chanted as a part of the cult (see J. Goodnick Westenholz, “Love Lyrics from the Ancient Near East,” in J. M. Sasson (ed.), CANE, IV [New York: Scribner, 1995], 2474, 2476). A second-millennium catalog from Asshur attests to the musical quality of Akkadian love songs. Many of the compositions listed in the catalog are labeled zamāru “song” and were sung to musical accompaniment (cf. E. Ebeling, Ein Hymnen-Katalog aus Assur (Berlin, 1929). For the song quality of Egyptian love poetry, see M. V. Fox, The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1985), 244–47. Ugaritic (e.g., mšr. l. dd. aliyn bʿ l, “a song about the love of Mightiest Baal,” CAT 1.3.III.5–6; cf. 1.101.16–18) and biblical love poetry (e.g., Song 1:1; Isa 5:1; Ps 45:1) is also explictly labeled as “song.”
(28.) A. Cooper, “Biblical Poetics: A Linguistic Approach” (Ph.D. diss.; Yale University, 1976), 3. It is tempting to replace the belated and specifically Greek derivation “lyric” with the more indigenously rooted term “song” (e.g., šîr) when referencing the lyric forms of biblical verse. However, it is quite likely as Gunkel supposes that oral Hebrew narrative poetry (see chapter 4 here) was also “sung” and thus equally referenced as “song.” U. Cassuto, in fact, suggests that the reference in Job 36:24 (“Remember to extol his work, / of which mortals have sung [šōrĕrû],” NRSV) is specifically to such a sung mythic narrative song about Yahweh (“The Israelite Epic,” in Biblical and Oriental Studies [Jerusalem: Magnes, 1975 (1943)], II, 73–74). Certainly, at ancient Ugarit š-y-r was used explicitly for both narrative (e.g., CAT 1.23.1; 24.1) and nonnarrative (RIH 98/02.1) songs. Furthermore, “lyric” has evolved as the preferred literary critical term for designating such songs regardless of tradition or indigenous terminology. In fact, as noted earlier, the Greek term itself was not yet in use when the archaic and classical forms it came to designate were initially composed. The broader term used in these earlier periods would have been melos “song,” which is a good deal closer to the biblical (and Ugaritic) designations (e.g., Nagy, “Lyric and Greek Myth,” 19–20). In other words, the term “lyric” is no less appropriately used of Hebrew than of Greek poems. “Lyric” here, like “line,” “verse,” and “poetry,” is used chiefly as an idiom of current critical discourse, mindful of its particular (Greek) etymology but not captivated by it. To talk about biblical Hebrew lyric poetry is not to ascribe Greek parochial characteristics to it but to identify a kind or genre of poetry via a conventional idiom of literary criticism.
(29.) Lectures, II, 189.
(30.) Cf. P. King and L. Stager, Life in Biblical Israel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 290–98; J. Braun, Music in Ancient Israel/Palestine (trans. D. W. Stott; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 8–32. (p.428)
(31.) Cooper, “Biblical Poetics,” 3–4; Braun, Music, 37–42.
(32.) See King and Stager, Life in Biblical Israel, 286.
(33.) See A. D. Kilmer, “Music and Dance in ancient Western Asia,” CANE IV, 2601–13; King and Stager, Life in Biblical Israel, 285–300; Braun, Music, 47–320. On the hymn recovered from ancient Ugarit, see A. D. Kilmer, R. L. Crocker, and R. R. Brown, Sounds from Silence: Recent Discoveries in Ancient Near Eastern Music (Berkeley: Bit Enki, 1976). Levantine lyre-players may be seen in Sennacherib’s reliefs (ME #124947).
(34.) M. Schneider, “Primitive Music,” in The New Oxford History of Music I, Ancient and Oriental Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957), 31; B. Nettl, Music in Primitive Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1956), 57; Nagy, Pindar’s Homer, esp. 34–35; M. L. West, Ancient Greek Music (Cambridge: Clarendon, 1992), 39. Nagy points out that accompaniment by instrumental music is another way in which song is marked (and thus distinguished) from speech (Pindar’s Homer, 33–34).
(35.) Nettl, Music in Primitive Culture, 57.
(36.) One may suppose that as in Greece knowledge of the melodies and such were likely handed down orally (lacking an established written notation system for music), see A. Ford, “From Letters to Literature: Reading the ‘Song Culture’ of Classical Greece,” in H. Yunis (ed.), Written Texts and the Rise of Literate Culture in Ancient Greece (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 20–21; Herington, Poetry into Drama, 45.
(37.) As Nettl notes (Music in Primitive Culture, 6–7), the most important role of music in “primitive” culture is “assisting in religious rituals,” which, of course, is precisely the generative context for much of the lyric verse preserved from the ancient Near East, and especially in the biblical psalms.
(38.) Johnson, “Lyric,” 714.
(39.) About rhythm Nettl writes, it “is in some ways the most basic musical principle” (Music in Primitive Culture, 62). For my account of the basic rhythm(s) of Hebrew verse, see chapter 2, which elaborates on the seminal insights of B. Hrushovski, especially his notion of “free rhythms” (see “Prosody, Hebrew,” in EcyJud [1971–72], 13: 1200–1203; “On Free Rhythms in Modern Poetry,” in T. Sebeok (ed.), Style in Language [New York: Wiley, 1960], 173–90). At the core of Hrushovski’s thesis is the idea that the rhythmic organization of biblical verse is analogous to that of free verse poetries more generally. That is, it is variable and organized by other than numerical (i.e., metrical) modes and involving any number of features (e.g., lineation, stress or accent, syntax). The resulting asymmetry is precisely the “most conspicuous characteristic” of primitive musical rhythm (Nettl, Music in Primitive Culture, 63; Bruce Zuckerman put me onto the connection between the free-verse-like rhythms that typify Hebrew verse and the dominant rhythmical shape of preclassical music).
(40.) Langer, Feeling and Form, 260; cf. Lindley, Lyric, 43; Johnson, “Lyric,” 714–15.
(41.) Johnson, Idea of Lyric, 26–29. (p.429)
(42.) Johnson, Idea of Lyric, 27.
(43.) On rhythm and musicality, see von Hallberg, Lyric Powers, 167–68.
(44.) S. Brewster, Lyric (New York: Routledge, 2009), 19; E. Hirsch, How to Read a Poem (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1999), 17. For the musicality of Sumerian verse, see P. Michalowski, “Ancient Poetics,” in M. Vogelzang and M. Vanstiphout (ed.), Mesopotamian Poetic Language: Sumerian and Akkadian (Groningen: STYX, 1996), 145–46.
(45.) E.g., Welsh, Roots of Lyric, 134–35.
(46.) See H. Jahnow, Das hebräische Leichenlied im Rahmen der Völkerdichtung (BZAW 36; Giessen: A. Toppelmann, 1923).
(48.) Cf. Culler, “Genre: Lyric,” par. 37.
(49.) “Approaching the Lyric,” in C. Ho¡ek and P. Parker (ed.), Lyric Poetry: Beyond New Criticism, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), 31.
(50.) E.g., Langer, Feeling and Form, 259; B. H. Smith, Poetic Closure: A Study of How Poems End (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968), 122; M. P. Coote, “On the Composition of Women’s Songs,” Oral Tradition 7 (1992), 333, 334; Johnson, Idea of Lyric, 35; M. L. Rosenthal and S. M. Gall, The Modern Poetic Sequence: The Genius of Modern Poetry (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), 11; Johnson, “Lyric,” 713, 714; Race, “Melic,” in NPEPP, 755; Culler, Literary Theory, 70; “Why Lyric?,” 203; “Genre: Lyric,” par. 46.
(51.) Literary Theory, 73; cf. Smith, Poetic Closure, 122. Or, as Langer puts it, the lyric creates a “virtual history”—“the occurrence of a living thought, the sweep of an emotion, the intense experience of a mood” (Form and Feeling, 259).
(52.) The Art of Biblical Poetry (New York: Basic Books, 1985), 27; cf. Driver, Introduction, 360–61.
(53.) This is a point well stressed by Genette in his discussion of modes (Architext) and is the cornerstone of most contemporary genre theorists (e.g., A. Fowler, Kinds of Literature [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982]).
(54.) E. S. Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part 2, and Lamentations (FOTL 15; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 281. Cf. 1 Samuel 10:2; Ezekiel 1:19, 21; 5:16; Jonah 2:8; Esther 1:5; 2:12, 15, 19; Daniel 10:15. It is very common with wayhî (e.g., Gen 35:17, 18, 22; 38:28; Exod 13:17; Judg 13:20; 1 Sam 16:6; 23:6; 1 Kgs 11:15; Ezek 10:6; Est 2:8; Dan 8:15). The construction without wayhî is fairly common in poetic texts (e.g., Judg 5:2; Ps 4:2; 9:4; 27:2; 68:15; 76:10; 105:12; 109:7; 142:4; Job 29:7; cf. CAT 1.17.V.9), evidencing something of the typical compactness of Hebrew poetry. Given the obvious creation imagery that pervades the psalm, e.g., sanctuary (v. 2), imagery drawn from the mythology of the Chaoskampf (vv. 3, 5; see S. A. Geller, “The Language of Imagery in Psalm 114,” in T. Abusch et al. (eds.), Lingering over Words [HSS 37: Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990], 179–94, esp. 182–84), (p.430) it is tempting to hear the faintest echoes of a very specific kind of story, the epic of creation, e.g., bĕrēʾšît bārāʾ ʾĕlōhîm “When God first created” (Gen 1:1), e-nu-ma e-liš la na-bu-u ša-ma-mu “When on high the heavens had not been created” (Enuma elish I 1).
(55.) Psalms 60–150: A Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1989), 316.
(56.) “Disturbing is the plethora of terms referring to the nation” (Geller, “Language of Imagery,” 182).
(57.) Such fundamental dependence on extratextual knowledge—the need to infer a “referential tie between text and context” (U. Schaefer, “Hearing from Books: The Rise of Fictionality in Old English Poetry,” in A. N. Doane and C. B. Pasternack (eds.), Vox Intexta: Orality and Textuality in the Middle Ages [Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991], 121)—also epitomizes traditional, performative verbal art more generally.
(58.) Psalms 60–150, 370; cf. Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part 2, 283.
(59.) Both Langer (Feeling and Form, esp. 260–79) and R. Greene (Post-Petrarchism: Origins and Innovations of the Western Lyric Sequence [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991], 23–62) include interesting discussions of temporality and its linguistic manifestations (e.g., tense, deixis) in lyric verse. In this sense, the presence or absence of the wayyiqtol form in biblical psalms (especially in standard biblical Hebrew) can be a good barometer of “narrativity.” There are clearly psalms (e.g., Ps 105–6) whose narrative ambitions are announced by their liberal use of the wayyiqtol.
(60.) Psalms 60–150, 371.
(61.) At least since Gunkel (Die Psalmen [5th ed.; Göttingen: Vändenhoeck, 1968], 493).
(62.) E.g., Culler, “Genre: Lyric,” par. 38; von Hallberg, Lyric Powers, ch. 2 (“Praise,” esp. 51–55 on the Psalms).
(63.) Lectures, II, 189.
(64.) Lectures, II, 190.
(65.) The kî clause, which prototypically initiates the second movement in Israel’s hymns of praise and thanksgiving (cf. P. D. Miller, They Cried to the LORD [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999], 206), grammatically and semantically gives the reason for the praise. The underlying grammar and syntax is made clear by passages such as Judges 16:24, where the Philistines “praised their god” (wayhalĕlû ʾet-ʾĕlōhêhem) Dagan, “because they said, ‘ … ’ ” (kî ʾāmĕrû …), or even Ezra 3:11, where the priests and Levites sing “with praise and with thanksgiving [bĕhallēl ûbĕhôdōt] to Yahweh because [kî] he is good, because [kî] his steadfast love endures forever over Israel” (cf. 2 Chron 5:13). Especially since F. Crüsemann’s Studien zur Formgescichte von Hymnes und Danklied in Israel ([WMANT 32; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1969], esp. 32–35), it has been customary to construe the kî clauses here as a direct quote (e.g., NRSV; cf. Miller, They Cried to the LORD, 358–62). However, this is unlikely for several reasons. First, nowhere else does hll “to praise” introduce direct discourse. Second, (p.431) though kî may introduce either direct or indirect discourse in biblical Hebrew (see C. L. Miller, The Representation of Speech in biblical Hebrew Narrative: A Linguistic Analysis [HMS 55; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1996], 97–116), the presence of “transparent deixis” (Miller, Representation of Speech, 65) here favors the indirect construal. And in fact one of the tendencies of late biblical Hebrew is to favor indirect discourse (see M. Eskhult, “Verbal Syntax in Late Biblical Hebrew,” in T. Muraoka and J. F. Elwolde (eds.), Diggers at the Well [Leiden: Brill, 2000], 86, 90 and n. 31). Moreover, as P. D. Miller observes, “in the several [other] examples where there is a call to praise and those so called are explicitly told what to say, there is never … any use of the kî particle” (They Cried to the LORD, 359). But the discursive logic here is subordinated (pragmatically) to the poem’s larger lyric ambition, which is to offer praise to Yahweh. And as such, the literal reasons given for praise (the steadfast love and faithfulness of Yahweh) are at the same time—by dint of their lyric framing, as it were—themselves expressions of praise. In other words, the poet’s chief aim is not to argue a theological point (namely the nations should praise Yahweh because his steadfast love is mighty and his faithfulness enduring) but to offer that argument as part and parcel of the poem’s expression of praise.
(66.) Many would emend to millipnê ʾădôn kol-hāʾāreṣ based on the phrase’s resemblances to ʾădôn kol-hāʾāreṣ in Joshua 3:11 and Psalm 97:5 (e.g., F. M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972], 138, n. 91; Kraus, Psalms 60–150, 371; Geller, “Language of Imagery,” 180). However, there is no textual support for such a reading and MT makes good sense, especially when the poem is read as a hymn (if the imperative is emended away, a significant basis for identifying the poem as a hymn is lost—the so-called hymnic participle in v. 8 is “hymnic” only by virtue of being in a hymn!). Besides, I suspect that the emendation is motivated by narrative assumptions about discourse continuity and logic, e.g., Cross (“The hills like lambs [danced], / Before the lord”) and Kraus (“Why do you [skip] … / O hillocks, like the lambs of the flock?— / in the presence of the Lord”) make v. 7 a prepositional phrase dependent on v. 6, while Geller construes v. 7 as the explicit answer given to the question in vv. 5–6 (“Why … ? / It’s from the Lord”). However, Geller, at least, concedes that MT is construable as is—a “bold apostrophe” (“Language of Imagery,” 188, n. 25). As Michael Carasik has emphasized to me (in person and via email, October 6, 2013), though MT is readable and “makes sense” as is, the “emendation” is nonetheless obvious and “was meant to be so by the poet.”
(67.) LXX construes the concluding halĕlû yāh of Psalm 113 as belonging to Psalm 114.
(68.) In Jeremiah 51:29 “the land of Babylon” (ʾereṣ bābel) is said to “writhe” (wattāḥōl) at the news of the Yahweh’s impending onslaught, and it is this deity’s terrible theophany that causes “the earth to writhe” (wattāḥēl hāʾāreṣ) in Psalm 97:4; cf. D. R. Hillers, “A Convention in Hebrew Literature: The Reaction to Bad News,” ZAW 77 (1965), 86–90 (reprinted in D. R. Hillers, Poets before Homer: Collected (p.432) Essays on Ancient Literature [ed. F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2015], 29–33).
(69.) Geller (“Language of Imagery,” 187–90) also recognizes the psalm’s darker moments.
(70.) Esp. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic, 138–39.
(71.) Gerstenberger’s (and others) assertion that the “mountains and hills jumping like lambs … should be taken as an expression of joy” (Psalms, Part 2, 283) seems to me to ignore the significance of the biblical (and extrabiblical) literary parallels and to misread the psalm’s basic tenor. Indeed, the nature of the image in Psalm 29:6 (the only other place where the image explicitly appears in the Hebrew Bible) is unmistakable: it registers “the convulsions and travail” (Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic, 152; note also the threefold use of the root ḥ-y-l in Ps 29:8–9) that accompany the theophany of the Storm God—similar upheavals attend the march of the Divine Warrior from the southland, too (Judg 5:4–5; Hab 3:3–6). In sum, the reactions of Sea and Mountains in Psalm 114 seem to me to be very much of a piece.
(72.) Feeling and Form, 259.
(73.) Or perhaps even better, a combination of apostrophe and personification not unlike that in “With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb’st the skies,” cited from Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella (31) by T. V. F. Brogan and A. W. Halsall in “Poropopoeia,” in NPEPP, 994.
(74.) Geller, “Language of Imagery,” 188, n. 25.
(75.) See Culler’s discussion of what “distinguishes the lyric from other speech acts” (Literary Theory, 74).
(76.) Cf. Geller, “Language of Imagery,” 181.
(77.) Light Up the Cave (New York: New Directions, 1981), 60; cf. Blasing, Lyric Poetry, 28.
(78.) Psalms 60–150, 375.
(79.) L. C. Allen, Psalms 101–150 (Waco: Word, 1983), 105.
(80.) So Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part 2, 282.
(81.) The same thing would appear to be at issue in Numbers 20:2–13, though there the point is made through the failure of Moses and Aaron to follow Yahweh’s instruction literally (see the comments by E. Greenstein in The HarperCollins Study Bible [San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1993], 111).
(82.) Idea of Lyric, 35; cf. Langer, Feeling and Form, 261.
(83.) Many psalms, of course, are far less interested in narrative, while some others move a long way toward narrative. Psalms 105 and 106 are good examples of the latter. Both contain multiple narrative runs, in which a variety of devices (the wayyiqtol form and the like) are used to emplot action, resulting in what R. Alter aptly calls “incipient narrativity” (Art of Biblical Poetry, 27–61).
(84.) Culler, “Why Lyric?,” 205; cf. Blasing, Lyric Poetry, 2–3. This is to focus the language material of the lyric outside of a consideration of putative extralinguistic contributions made in performance (e.g., gestures). (p.433)
(85.) Feeling and Form, 259; cf. Johnson, Idea of Lyric, 23; R. P. Draper, Lyric Tragedy (New York: St. Martin’s, 1985), 4–5; Blasing, Lyric Poetry, 34. Langer, of course, has modern lyric principally in mind, whose resurces are almost wholly verbal—linguistic. Lyric in it aboriginal state as oral art could draw on nonverbal resources as well—a wink or nod, a tapping foot, musical accompaniment—but so, too, could oral epic, and thus the differences in the deployment of verbal resources remains.
(86.) A Poet’s Guide to Poetry (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 142.
(87.) Boyd, Why Lyrics Last, ch. 1; J. Culler, “Lyric, History, and Genre,” New Literary History 40/4 (2009), 896.
(88.) Anatomy of Criticism, 275; von Hallberg (Lyric Powers, 19) speaks of “charm.”
(89.) Anatomy of Criticism, 271; cf. Culler, Literary Theory, 74.
(90.) I. M. Casanowicz, Paronomasia in the Old Testament (Boston, 1894); E. König, Stilistik, Rhetorik, Poetik (Leipzig, 1900); A. Berlin, “Motif and Creativity in Biblical Poetry,” Prooftexts 3 (1983) 231–41; E. Greenstein, “Wordplay, Hebrew,” in ABD VI, 968–77; D. Grossberg, Centripetal and Centrifugal Structures in Hebrew Poetry (SBLMS; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989).
(91.) See F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp, Lamentations (IBC; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002).
(92.) The major difference between ṭippuḥîm “to be reared” and tappûaḥ “apple” is the initial phoneme, the former beginning with the emphatic interdental stop and the latter with the voiceless interdental stop.
(93.) Lamentations (AB 7A; 2d. rev. ed.; New York: Doubleday, 1992), 87.
(94.) “The Rhetoric of Lamentations and the Representation of Catastrophe,” Prooftexts 2/1 (1982), 4; Hurban: Responses to Catastrophe in Hebrew Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), 25.
(95.) In more detail, see F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp and T. Linafelt, “The Rape of Zion in Lam 1:10,” ZAW 113/1 (2001), 77–81.
(96.) Cf. Culler, Literary Theory, 79–81.
(97.) Reading for the Plot (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984), 5; cf. Greene, Post-Petrarchism, 49.
(98.) Psalm 45:2 is one of the rare instances in which a biblical poet shows some conscious awareness of craft. Here the poet prefaces the poem with a statement about how his mind is teeming with a “good word” (dābār tôb) and that he proclaims to/for the king “my work” (maʿăśay). The latter offers a rough equivalent to the Greek notion of poesy.
(99.) There are occasions, as well, when the tropological density on display is more than doubled, as in Psalm 9:2–3, where the opening aleph stanza also intentionally alliterates the guttural sound of the aleph in the sequence of five verbs: ʾôdâ, ʾăsappĕrâ, ʾeśmĕḥâ, wĕʾeʿelṣâ, ʾăzammĕrâ (cf. ṣôd ṣādûnî kaṣṣippôr in the ṣade stanza in Lam 3:52).
(100.) As elsewhere in the Psalms, it is not easy to discern whether this inclusio is compositional or editorial. (p.434)
(101.) For this notion of conventional form, see esp. K. Burke, Counter-Statement (2d ed.; Chicago: Phoenix Books, 1953), 126.
(102.) E.g., Miller, They Cried to the LORD, 205–6.
(103.) A sign of this form’s conventionality (though not precisely “as form”) is the frequency with which it is quoted (in part or whole) in later biblical compositions (e.g., Jer 33:11; Ezra 3:11; Neh 9:5; 2 Chron 7:3, 6; 20:21). Moreover, a compelling case can be made that the Joban poet uses the model hymn of praise (though semantically inverted) to shape the opening stanza of the curse of Job’s day of birth (3:3–10; an initial jussive, “let it perish,” followed after much elaboration by a closing kî clause), which if correct shows the hymn’s significance “as form” (for some details, C. L. Seow, Job 1–21 [Illuminations; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2013], 315, 321–22).
(104.) The quote is taken from “Shakespeare’s Judgment Equal to His Genius,” in Selected Poetry and Prose of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (ed. D. A. Stauffer; New York: Random House, 1951), 432–33, as cited in C. O. Hartman, Free Verse: An Essay on Prosody (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1980), 92 and esp. 183, n. 4.
(105.) See Smith (Poetic Closure, 38) for the idea that “repetition is the fundamental phenomenon of poetic form.”
(106.) Nettl notes that “one of the best known and most widely recognized characteristics of primitive music” is “its frequently asymmetrical and irregular structure” (Music in Primitive Culture, 62).
(107.) Poetic Closure, 10, 12, 13.
(108.) Though stanzaic form in metrical verse traditions are routinely associated with rhyme schemes, metrical constraints, line counts, and the like, as M. Oliver reminds us, the term itself designates “a group of lines in a poem” and “is used to indicate the divisions of a poem,” but beyond this “there is no further exact definition” and “there are no absolutely right or wrong ways to divide a poem into stanzas” (A Poetry Handbook [New York: Harcourt Brace, 1994], 60–61). She continues by suggesting—and this seems especially apt for free verse poetries—that “it may be useful, when considering the stanza, to recall the paragraph in prose, which indicates the conclusion of one thought and the beginning of another, a sensible division” and that the “sensible paragraph” be thought of “as a kind of norm … from which to feel out the particular divisions that are best for a particular poem” (61).
(109.) See King and Stager, Life in Biblical Israel, Ill. 16.
(110.) Whatever one makes of the compositional techniques on display in this poem—a notoriously difficult matter to discern without the evidence of explicit comment—the poem itself hangs together as a whole. Thematically, vv. 12 and 15 play key roles in unifying the two parts. Verse 12 makes explicit and implicit connections with the main foci of the poem—nature and Torah. Nizhār: NRSV, for example, glosses as “is … warned,” construing as a Niphal Part ms √ zhr II (p.435) “to be warned,” which given the context of the second part of the poem makes sense, as it is precisely Torah that guides the psalmist in his or her life. And yet, deriving from zhr I “to shine” also makes good sense, as this root is used explicitly in the Bible (e.g., Dan 12:3) and elsewhere of the sun shining! The latter sense is especially relevant as bāhem comes at the end of the line, formally—though not semantically, as different antecedents are involved—pointing back to bāhem in v. 5c. The tone of “illumination, seeing, shining” also fits well the adoring tone of the poem as a whole. But it is not likely a matter of choosing between the two, except perhaps for translation purposes (it is hard to get both senses into English) and for determining which is primary (i.e., at the surface of the poem), since the poet would appear to have intended both senses to resonate. I would emphasize the derivation from zhr I “to shine” only because this has not been routinely appreciated and because there are those who still continue to insist that we have two poems here instead of one. Note, too, how the notion of guarding, etc. is precisely one of the activities that is predicated of Shamash in the Mesopotamian hymn.
The closing triplet in v. 15 is well known. What may be missed is that the invocation of Yahweh as “rock and redeemer” points rather clearly—if metaphorically—to the two dominant movements in the poem—nature and Torah. Redemption, of course, is itself a legal concept. Here, what is intended (at least in part) is that it is precisely through Torah that the psalmist finds well-being, salvation.
(111.) Free verse compositions come most generally in long-line and short-line varieties (e.g., C. Beyers, A History of Free Verse [Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2001], esp. 39–42).
(112.) Note further how the repetition of 3ms suffixes syntactically tracks the main actor of the stanza—the sun—but in doing so also builds (formal) coherence into the stanza. A more elaborate use of this kind of anaphora is evidenced in Lamentations (cf. Dobbs-Allsopp, Lamentations, 49).
(113.) As a way of valorizing the image as a vehicle for thought, it may be helpful to recall that according to neurobiologists like A. Damasio, “having a mind means that an organism forms neural representations which can become images” of various kinds (e.g., visual, sound, olfactory) but which only latterly become translated into language (see Descartes’ Error [New York: Quill, 1995], 83–113, esp. 89–90). That is, image—and presumably even linguistically stimulated images—is itself a most natural and congenial mode of thought for the human organism and one that should not be disparaged on account of our current love affair with all things linguistic.
(114.) On the “densely patterned” ways in which biblical verse typically means, see Alter’s comment in Art of Biblical Poetry, 113.
(115.) Psalms, Part 2, 372.
(116.) Psalms 60–150, 485. (p.436)
(117.) In H.-J. Kraus, Psalms 1–59 (trans. H. Oswald; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 115 (citing Buber).
(118.) It is perhaps crucial to underscore two things here: one, that such tropological density arises in the lyric chiefly in compensation for the absence of other discourse features, and two, that such “babbledness,” if typical of lyric discourse, also appears in other discourse mediums—in other words, we need not essentialize this characteristic in order to appreciate its typicality and significance for the lyric. Furthermore, such ornamentation, as it turns out, also characterizes oral and oral-derived verbal art, because it aids both aural intake and in distinguishing such art from everyday speech.
(119.) Literary Theory, 71.
(120.) “The Text and the Voice,” New Literary History 16/1 (1984), 69.
(121.) The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998), 8. And Blasing throughout her Lyric Poetry stresses the embodied nature of lyric art generally, and importantly for her, this includes the cognitive dimensions of human biology.
(122.) Pinsky, Sounds of Poetry, 8.
(123.) For example, Zumthor writes with regard to medieval oral poetry of “that fullness of the voice, its concreteness, the sensual tactile quality of a puff of air and the vibration of breathing” and that “each syllable acquires a rhythm from pulsing of blood in our veins” (“Text and the Voice,” 74).
(124.) Literary Theory, 75. Similarly, Frye notes that what is distinctively “lyrical” is the “union of sound and sense” (Anatomy of Criticism, 272; cf. Blasing, Lyric Poetry, 28; Frye’s additional notion of poetic creation as specifically “oracular,” though but one way of conceptualizing the creative process, does flesh out quite vividly the lyrical fusion of “sound and sense”: “an associative rhetorical process, most of it below the threshold of consciousness, a chaos of paronomasia, sound-links, ambiguous sense-links, and memory-links very like that of a dream,” 271–72; cf. Levertov, Light Up the Cave, 29–45). Levertov also stresses the importance of sound to the lyric poet: “All words are to some extent onomatopoeic” (Light Up the Cave, 60). And: “The primary impulse for me was always to make a structure out of words, words that sounded right. And I think that’s a rather basic foundation of a poet’s word” (78). Further, the idea of the “oracular” offers pragmatic benefit when focusing on ancient poetic phenomena, such as from the Bible, since so much of this poetry literally would have been rooted in oracular contexts where “sound and sense” could have never been un-/re-fused.
(125.) Greene, Post-Petrarchism, 5.
(126.) Sounds of Poetry, 8.
(127.) Sounds of Poetry, 5–6.
(128.) Sounds of Poetry, 6.
(129.) Sounds of Poetry, 9; cf. Johnson, Idea of Lyric, 59, 74.
(130.) Schaefer, “Hearing from Books,” 124. (p.437)
(131.) “Direct Discourse and Parallelism,” in A. Brenner-Idan (ed.), Discourse, Dialogue, and Debate in the Bible: Essays in Honor of Frank H. Polak (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014), 79.
(132.) Interpreting the Psalms (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986), 50–51; cf. R. Greene, “Sir Philip Sidney’s Psalms, the Sixteenth-Century Psalter, and the Nature of Lyric,” Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 30/1 (1990), 23.
(133.) The Dramatic Monologue (New York: Twayne, 1966), 6.
(134.) R. Pinsky, Democracy, Culture and the Voice of Poetry (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 23.
(135.) “Lyric, History, and Genre,” 886, 887; cf. Culler, “Apostrophe,” in Pursuit of Signs, 135–54.
(136.) A. Grossman, “Summa Lyrica: A Primer in the Commonplaces in Speculative Poetics,” Western Humanities Review 44 (1990), 7.
(137.) In fact, toward the end of the chapter I raise the possibility, following the thinking of comparatist (of Asian literatures) E. Miner, that biblical (and other ancient Near Eastern) poetics is predicated primarily on ideas founded on lyric assumptions. For the moment it is enough to deconstruct the givenness of the postprose orientation of much modern scholarship, see esp. J. Kittay and W. Godzich, The Emergence of Prose: An Essay in Prosaics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), xii–xiii.
(138.) Pinsky, Voice of Poetry, 23.
(139.) Johnson himself stresses the pragmatic (“somewhat dubious even to me”) nature of his categories here; they are but one grid through which to view lyric discourse and therefore should not be pressed too far or reified (Idea of Lyric, 2–3).
(140.) For this assessment of the pronominal orientation of much lyric poetry, see Johnson, Idea of Lyric, 1–23.
(141.) H. Vendler, Soul Says (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995), 2; H. Fisch, Poetry with a Purpose (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 104–35.
(142.) Brewster, Lyric, 17.
(143.) The English Ode from Milton to Keats (New York: Columbia University Press, 1940), 11–12 (as cited in Brewster, Lyric, 17).
(144.) Some of the most detailed narrative representations of performed poetry in the Bible appear in prophetic literature (e.g., Jeremiah 36), though how prototypically “lyric” prophetic poetry is depends on which poem (or oracle) is in view (see my thoughts in Beyond Lyric and in chapter 4).
(145.) Cf. Schaefer, “Hearing from Books,” 123; Culler, “Why Lyric?,” 204. As elsewhere in antiquity but especially in ancient Greece, the voice heard in biblical lyric comes in two predominant varieties: solo and choral (e.g., individual laments vs. communal laments). Both varieties, as Johnson claims, “were equally valid and equally important, each of them necessary to the total shaping of the human personality” (Idea of Lyric, 177). (p.438)
(146.) S. Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship (trans. D. R. Ap-Thomas; Nashville: Abingdon, 1962), II, 91; cf. R. C. Culley, Oral Formulaic Language in the Biblical Psalms (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967), 113; S. Niditch, Oral World and Written Word: Ancient Israelite Literature (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996), 122–23.
(147.) Note Culler’s metonymic description of typical concerns met in lyric poems: “They provide a panoply of poetic speech acts of praise, invocation, celebration, and complaint” (“Genre: Lyric,” par. 38).
(148.) Kathy Rowe of Bryn Mawr College named this for me most explicitly a number of years ago while I was working on Lamentations; cf. Fisch, Poetry with a Purpose, 108.
(149.) Von Hallberg claims that this “you” of the beloved stands (emblematically perhaps) “at the core of lyric poetry”—“an ideal of desire fulfilled in an allegory present in all lyric” (Lyric Powers, 160).
(150.) Culler, “Genre: Lyric,” par. 45; see Greenstein, “Direct Discourse,” 88–89.
(151.) W. J. Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (London: Routledge, 1982), 34.
(152.) For details on this poem itself, cf. Seow, Job 1–21, 312–79.
(153.) In his chapter on the Psalms (“Psalms: The Limits of Subjectivity”) in Poetry with a Purpose, Fisch says much that is consonant with my own approach to the Psalms as lyric, including that “the one book of the Bible that … seems to offer itself as a model of lyrical subjectivity … is the book of Psalms” (106), though his own understanding of lyric discourse is profoundly shaped by Romantic ideology. And since the lyric subjectivity of the Psalms is not that of the Romantic poets and thinkers, he eventually prefers to characterize the Psalms as “covenantal discourse” (120), which hardly clarifies the nature of psalmic discourse.
(154.) Lyric, 3.
(155.) See the various rough statistics reported by Johnson himself throughout his Idea of Lyric (e.g., Catullus: 70 percent I-You; 14 percent meditative; 16 percent dialogic, etc.).
(156.) Cf. Lindley, Lyric, 12–13.
(157.) E. Bowie, “Lyric and Elegiac Poetry,” in J. Boardman et al. (eds.), The Oxford History of the Classical World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 99. Besides, the idea that a poet could speak through different personae was already well articulated by Plato (Lindley, Lyric, 2).
(158.) Esp. M. Jeffreys, “Songs and Inscriptions: Brevity and the Idea of Lyric,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 36/2 (1994), 117–34—though his chief focus is on written lyrics from the fourteenth century on; von Hallberg, Lyric Powers, 17, 83. Zumthor (Oral Poetry, 103–6) also focuses explicitly on the “short poem” in oral verbal art.
(159.) “Approaching the Lyric,” 31; cf. Langer, Feeling and Form, 260; Rosenthal and Gall, Modern Poetic Sequence, 3; Johnson, “Lyric,” 714; Culler, Literary Theory, 70; (p.439) B. Hardy, The Advantage of Lyric: Essays on Feeling in Poetry (London: Athlone, 1977), 2–4; Dubrow, Challenges of Orpheus, ch. 4.
(160.) Critical research into the nature, dynamics, and extent of the lyric sequence is still very much in its infancy. Scholars have for the most part focused on the Western poetic tradition (e.g., Rosenthal and Gall, Modern Poetic Sequence; Greene, Post-Petrarchism; T. L. Roche, Jr., Petrarch and the English Sonnet Sequences [New York: AMS, 1989]; D. Fenoaltea and D. L. Rubin, The Ladder of High Designs: Structure and Interpretation of the French Lyric Sequence [Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991]). Nevertheless, the potential for identifying other non-Western lyric sequences is good, see the comments to this effect by M. L. Rosenthal and S. M. Gall (“Lyric Sequence,” in NPEPP, 729) and J. Rothenberg, “Ethnopoetics and Politics/The Politics of Ethnopoetics,” in C. Bernstein (ed.), The Politics of Poetic Form [New York: Roof, 1990], 13).
(161.) See esp. C. B. Pasternack, The Textuality of Old English Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). See my discussion later in the chapter, “Lyric in extenso: Probing (Some) Possibilities in the Song.”
(162.) Poetic Closure, 96–150. Aristotle identified the same two organization structures in prose, which he termed lexis eiromenaā “strung-on or continuous” style and lexis katestrammenā “periodic or rounded” style (see R. L. Fowler, The Nature of Early Greek Lyric: Three Preliminary Studies [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987], 53—Fowler helpfully goes on to make clear that parataxis need not imply a lack of logic or rationality).
(163.) Poetic Closure, 110.
(164.) Poetic Closure, 57–59, 98–99; cf. Zumthor, Oral Poetry, 107 (“the lyric register does so [i.e., juxtapose elements through parataxis] by cutting the discourse into short affirmations, exclamations, imperatives, and series of discontinuous accumulations; in the extreme, verbs disappear; there are no more phrases but rather a parade of liberated nominal elements”).
(165.) Smith, Poetic Closure, 98–99.
(166.) Anatomy of Criticism, 270ff.
(167.) J. A. Notopoulos, “Parataxis in Homer: A New Approach to Homeric Literary Criticism,” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 80 (1949), 15; cf. Ong, Orality and Literacy, 37–38; Culley, Oral Formulaic Language, 97; W. G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry: A Guide to Its Techniques (London: T. and T. Clark, 2001 ), 75, 81.
(168.) Pasternack, Textuality of Old English Poetry, 120.
(169.) “Lyric Sequence”; cf. Rosenthal and Gall, Modern Poetic Sequence, 15. Alter’s discussion of “structures of intensification” in biblical poetry offers another way of articulating the generative dynamic that most distinguishes lyrical structure (Art of Biblical Poetry, 62–84).
(170.) Greene, Post-Petrarchism, 18.
(171.) In performance, this “adding style” is under the control and guidance of a singer who helps negotiate these (dis)junctions, thus meliorating and defusing (p.440) some of the extreme fragmentation that can arise when written lyric poems become solely works of words alone.
(172.) My discussion of the fragmenting effects is dependent on Greene, Post-Petrarchism, esp. 20. His own discussion at this point has lyric sequences principally in view. But insofar as lyric sequences are essentially lyric poems writ large, his observations, as he himself would maintain, are very much applicable to the structure of individual lyric poems.
(173.) Greene’s focus is on written lyric poems. It is likely that the disjunction made manifest on a written page full of only the lyric’s linguistic material would have been blunted aboriginally in performance where the “full existential contexts” (Ong, Orality and Literacy, 38), including, most important, the embodied presence of the singer, would suffuse the lyric poem with meaning (and cues) beyond the words alone. That is, in performance there is more to guide an audience through the tumbled and fragmented parataxis of lyric’s dominant “adding style.”
(174.) Poetic Closure, 99.
(175.) E.g., H. Gunkel, and J. Begrich, Introduction to Psalms: The Genres of the Religious Lyric of Israel (trans. J. D. Nogalski; Macon: Mercer University Press, 1998), 30–31, 34–35.
(176.) Miller, They Cried to the LORD, 57.
(177.) Alter uses the analogy of film montage in his discussion of the “composite artistry” of Hebrew prose (The Art of Biblical Narrative [New York: Basic Books, 1981, 140–41). But the analogy is equally (if not more) applicable to paratactic verse of the kind found in much biblical poetry (e.g., Lamentations).
(178.) Alter, Art of Biblical Narrative, 140 (quoting S. Eisenstein, The Film Scene [ed. and trans. J. Leyda; London, 1943], 17; emphasis in Eisenstein’s original).
(179.) For an insightful discussion of this phenomenon in oral-derived Old English poetry, see Pasternack, Textuality of Old English Poetry, 11–12, 120–46.
(180.) The reading is that of J. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), 17–20.
(181.) The quote is Levenson’s taken from Y. Kaufmann, The Religion of Israel (New York: Schocken, 1972), 60.
(182.) Persistence of Evil, 18.
(183.) Persistence of Evil, 19.
(184.) Persistence of Evil, 18.
(185.) “Lyric,” NPEPP, 715.
(186.) I borrow the language Hillers uses to describe Lamentations (Lamentations, 6).
(187.) Post-Petrarchism, 5, 11, 12.
(188.) Post-Petrarchism, 15; cf. Culler, “Genre: Lyric,” par. 46.
(189.) Post-Petrarchism, 13.
(190.) Post-Petrarchism, 10. My use of Greene’s notion of the fictional is pragmatic, a means to spotlight the rituality of so much biblcal lyric. The concept of “fiction” (p.441) is more generative than Greene’s usage and has yet to be fully exploited by interpreters of the Bible.
(191.) M. C. Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 69.
(192.) Post-Petrarchism, 5; Greene, “Sir Philip Sidney’s Psalms,” 20.
(193.) Lyric Poetry, 12.
(194.) Greene, Post-Petrarchism, 5, 8.
(195.) So broadly on this topic, see the classic study of Mowinckel, Psalms in Israel’s Worship.
(196.) Greene, “Sir Philip Sidney’s Psalms,” 23.
(197.) See esp. Dobbs-Allsopp, Lamentations, 12–23.
(198.) Lamentations, 6. Of course, Lamentations has long served ritual ends in Judaism as a part of the Ninth of Ab services.
(199.) There are two four-couplet stanzas: 1:7 and 2:19.
(200.) D. Attridge, Poetic Rhythm: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 1, 9.
(201.) F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp, “The Effects of Enjambment in Lamentations (Part 2),” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 113/5 (2001), 2–4.
(202.) Greene, Post-Petrarchism, 5–6.
(203.) Greene, Post-Petrarchism, 7–8.
(204.) Greene, Post-Petrarchism, 5–6.
(205.) Greene, Post-Petrarchism, 6.
(206.) Greene, Post-Petrarchism, 9; cf. Johnson, Idea of Lyric, 59, 74.
(207.) Greene, Post-Petrarchism, 6. Greene’s express “readerly” pose is not totally inappropriate to Lamentations, which is composed of written acrostic poems intended at one level for actual readers (of some variety)—the alphabetic acrostic is a visual trope.
(208.) Greene, Post-Petrarchism, 10, 11.
(209.) Lamentations, 122.
(210.) H.-J. Kraus, Klagelieder (BK; 3d ed.; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1968), 50–54; Hillers, Lamentations, 123.
(211.) In more detail, see Dobbs-Allsopp, Lamentations.
(212.) Blasing, Lyric Poetry, 70.
(213.) For the beginnings of such a reading, see Dobbs-Allsopp, Lamentations.
(214.) Blasing argues more generally, “The lyric poet is both an individuated/socialized speaker in the mother tongue and a discursive ‘I,’ individuated and socialized over again in a tradition to ensure the linguistic community’s historical truth and its reproduction” (Lyric Poetry, 52).
(215.) Johnson, Idea of Lyric, 53–71.
(216.) Johnson, Idea of Lyric, 177, 182.
(217.) See further, Dobbs-Allsopp, Lamentations.
(218.) Greene, Post-Petrarchism, 6. (p.442)
(219.) Johnson, Idea of Lyric, 16.; Culler, “Genre: Lyric,” par. 45; von Hallberg, Lyric Powers, 21; cf. Dubrow, Challenges of Orpheus, ch. 3.
(220.) Greene, Post-Petrarchism, 31 (emphasis in the original).
(221.) Greene, Post-Petrarchism, 26 (emphasis in the original).
(222.) Greene, “Sir Philip Sidney’s Psalms,” 24. Contrast Greene’s discussion of Petrarch’s deictic program, which builds toward a more prominently fictional type of lyric sequence, see Post-Petrarchism, 22–62.
(223.) Esp. Greenstein, “Direct Discourse,” 79–91.
(224.) L. Ryken, The Literature of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974), 123–24. So also Driver (Introduction, 360): “In lyric poetry, the poet gives vent to his personal emotions or experiences—his joys or sorrows, his cares or complaints, his aspirations or his despair.”
(225.) Form and Feeling, 259; cf. Culler, Literary Theory, 72.
(226.) Ryken, Literature of the Bible, 123–24; see Blasing, Lyric Poetry, 50. Greenstein underscores the correlation between heightened emotiveness and direct discourse in the biblical lyric, “Direct Discourse,” esp. 89–90.
(227.) M. L. Rosenthal, The Poet’s Art (New York: Norton, 1987), 96; cf. Johnson, Idea of Lyric, 37.
(228.) Idea of Lyric, 197, n. 5.
(229.) “On Biblical Style,” St. John’s Review 54/1 (2012), 39; cf. T. Linafelt, “The Bible’s Literary Merits,” Chronicle of Higher Education 55/31 (April 10, 2009), B6, http://chronicle.com; “Private Poetry and Public Eloquence in 2 Samuel 1:17–27: Hearing and Overhearing David’s Lament for Jonathan and Saul,” Journal of Religion 88/4 (2008), 506–8.
(230.) Linafelt, “On Biblical Style,” 39; cf. Driver, Introduction, 368 (specifically with respect to Psalms).
(231.) Linafelt, “On Biblical Style,” 39; “Private Poetry,” 508.
(232.) E.g., M. C. Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Damasio, Descartes’ Error.
(233.) Literary Theory, 72–74; cf. von Hallberg, Lyric Powers, 12.
(234.) Literary Theory, 72–74.
(235.) Art of Biblical Poetry, 62–84.
(236.) Art of Biblical Poetry, 66 (emphasis added).
(237.) Literary Theory, 73.
(238.) Cf. F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp, “Daughter Zion,” in J. J. Ahn and S. L. Cook (eds.), Thus Says the LORD: Essays on the Former and Latter Prophets in Honor of Robert R. Wilson (LHBOTS 502; London: T. and T. Clark, 2009), esp. 125.
(239.) R. Wilbur, “On My Own Work,” in Responses: Prose Pieces 1953–1976 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976), 122 as cited in Kinzie, Poet’s Guide, 200.
(240.) As S. Heaney writes, “it is obvious that poetry’s answer to the world is not given only in terms of the content of its statement. It is given perhaps even more emphatically in terms of metre and syntax, of tone and musical trueness; and it is given (p.443) also by its need to go emotionally and artistically ‘above the brim’, beyond the established norm” (The Redress of Poetry [New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995], 25).
(241.) For my own sense of the Song’s lyricism, see my entry “Song of Songs,” in K. Doob Sakenfeld (ed.), The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 5, S–Z (Nashville: Abingdon, 2009).
(242.) J. C. Exum, Song of Songs (OTL; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005), 33.
(243.) Song of Songs, 35.
(244.) Esp. Grossberg, Centripetal and Centrifugal Structures.
(245.) T. Gardner, “Long Poem,” in PEPP (Kindle ed.). Dubrow (Challenges of Orpheus, ch. 4) problematizes the strong distinction between sequence or collection and long poem already in the early modern period in England.
(246.) C. Altieri, “Motives in Metaphor: John Ashbery and the Modernist Long Poem,” Genre 11/4 (1978), 653.
(247.) Or “backward scanning” as J. Goody termed it, see The Domestication of the Savage Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 49–50.
(248.) Consider the so-called great hymns from the Akkadian tradition (e.g., “Great Hymn to Shamash,” cf. B. R. Foster, Before the Muses [Bethesda: CDL, 1993], II, 536–44), which as B. R. Foster notes,” are so called because of their exceptional length, about two hundred lines each, whereas most other hymns are seldom more than fifty lines long” (“Akkadian Literature” in C. Erhlich (ed.), From an Antique Land: An Introduction to Ancient Near Eastern Literature [Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009], 137–214 [Kindle ed.]). These are explicitly “literary” and thus written hymns—in some cases the written sources drawn on have even been identified (Foster, Before the Muses, I, 39). That is, the length of these hymnic “long” poems is precisely enabled by writing.
(249.) Fox, Song of Songs, esp. 195–226.
(250.) Love Songs in Sumerian Literature: Critical Edition of the Dumuzi-Inanna Songs (Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 1998), 28.
(251.) Sefati, Love Songs, 24.
(252.) “Love Lyrics of Nabû and Tašmetu: An Assyrian Song of Songs?,” in M. Dietrich and I. Kottsieper (eds.), “Und Mose schrieb dieses Lied auf.” Studien zum Alten Testament und zum Alten Orient (AOAT, 250; Münster: Ugarit- Verlag, 1998), 585–634; “Akkadian Rituals and Poetry of Divine Love,” in R. M. Whiting (ed.), Mythology and Mythologies: Methodological Approaches to Intercultural Influences (Helsinki: Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 2001), 93–136; “Song of Songs and Sacred Marriage,” in M. Nissinen and R. Uro (eds.), Sacred Marriages: The Divine-Human Sexual Metaphor from Sumer to Early Christianity (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2008), 173–218; “Akkadian Love Poetry and the Song of Songs: New Sources, New Perspectives” (unpublished manuscript; presented at the annual meeting of the SBL, San Diego, November 23, 2014).
(253.) See A. Livingstone, Court Poetry and Literary Miscellanea (SAA 3; Helsinki: Helsinki University Press, 1989), 35–37; Nissinen, “Love Lyrics,” 587–92, (p.444) http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/saao/saa03/P223388/, accessed December 3, 2014; hand-drawing: http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/cdli/P223388/image, accessed December 3, 2014. For the ritual background of these “love lyrics,” see Nissinen, “Love Lyrics,” 592–96; “Akkadian Rituals and Poetry,” 95–97. CAT 1.24, the Ugaritic poem about the marriage of Yariḫ and Nikkal-Ib, similarly is of small compass, less than fifty lines (not counting the “hymn” that is added after the horizontal line on the reverse of the single-column tablet, ll. 40–50).
(254.) Fox, Song of Songs, 226.
(255.) See K. van der Toorn, Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007), 118–25—note in particular his comments on Proverbs and Psalms (118–19, 124–25). The Mesopotamian penchant for collection and organization is well known and exemplified by the existence of numerous literary catalogues of various kinds, including hymnic literature (for bibliography, see A. L. Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization [rev. ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977], 377, n. 16; G. H. Wilson, Editing of the Hebrew Psalter [Chico: Scholars Press, 1985], 25–61), and of a multitude of scholarly collections of all kinds—laws, omens, incantations, and so on (see Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia, 206–331; cf. van der Toorn, Scribal Culture, 119–22, nn. 38–43).
(256.) For example, see the relevant entries in NPEPP and PEPP.
(257.) See van der Toorn, Scribal Practice, esp. 177–78; M. Nissinen et al., Prophets and Prophecy in the Ancient Near East (WAW; Atlanta: SBL, 2005), esp. 97–124.
(258.) Fox, Song of Songs, 204—the consensus opinion as Fox reports (195) is that Egyptian love poetry consists primarily of “independent songs, some of which are assembled in loose collections.” Love poetry in Akkadian is mostly attested only in individual compsoitons (see the catalogue of love poems, KAR 158; cf. B. Groneberg, “Searching for Akkadian Lyrics: From Old Babylonian to the ‘Liederkatalog,’ KAR 158,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 55 , 55–74).
(259.) Nissinen (“Akkadian Love Poetry”) well emphasizes the scribal context of the preserved Akkadian love poems: “Whatever the social or religious context, function, and purpose of each ancient text may have been, the first material context of every text is the workshop of the scribe. This is often the only context of a cuneiform tablet we can be sure about. The song lists and the colophons indicate that tablets containing love poetry were part of organized libraries, and as several colophons indicate, love songs were sometimes compiled in thematic collections such as the irtum songs and the pārum songs.”
(260.) N. Fraistat, “Introduction: The Place of the Book and the Book as Place,” in N. Fraistat (ed.), Poems in Their Place: The Intertextuality and Order of Poetic Collections (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), 44–65.
(261.) See J. Van Sickle, “The Book-Role and Some Conventions of the Poetic Book,” Arethusa 13 (1980), 5–42.
(262.) Fraistat, “Introduction,” 14, n. 5.
(263.) (p.445) Å. Sjöberg and E. Bergman, The Collection of Sumerian Temple Hymns (Locust Valley, N.Y.: J. J. Augustin, 1969).
(264.) Sjöberg and Bergmann, Temple Hymns, 5.
(265.) H. Zimmern, “Ein Zyklus altsumerischer Lieder auf die Haupttempel Babyloniens,” ZA 5 (1930), 247; C. Wilke, “Der aktuelle Bezug der Sammlung der sumerischer Tempelhymnen und ein Fragment eines Klagelieds,” ZA 62 (1972), 39, 48–49.
(266.) Sjöberg and Bergman, Temple Hymns, 12, 149.
(267.) The classic Mesopotamian city laments offer additional examples of collective poetic works which evidence larger integrities, structures, and teleologies, see M. Green, “Eridu in Sumerian Literature” (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1975); cf. Dobbs-Allsopp, Weep, O Daughter of Zion.
(268.) E.g., Wilson, Editing of the Hebrew Psalter; D. M. Howard, Jr., “Recent Trends in Psalm Study,” in D. Baker and B. Arnold (ed.), The Face of Old Testament Studies: A Survey of Contemporary Approaches (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), esp. 332–44. Some of this “shaping” appears in the presumed additions of Psalm 1, as a kind of introduction to the collection as a whole, and of the several closely related doxologies that stand at the seams of the various subcollections of psalms (Pss 41:14; 72:18:20; 89:53; 106:48), and the editorial interventions in the latter part of the collection that are revealed when comparing MT 150 Psalms with the various psalms scrolls preserved from Qumran. The additions, in particular, suggest the possibility of editorial activity for other than archival purposes.
(269.) Such narrative staging stands out precisely because it is contrary in practice to the roughly contemporary Neo-Assyrian oracle collections (esp. van der Toorn, Scribal Culture, 184). However, the individual prophetic reports from Assyria (and Mari) do share with the biblical tradition the basic impetus to situate prophetic utterance with a specific prophet, albeit restricted in scale and scope to a singular occasion.
(270.) For thoughts on the function of “written” frame stories for “readers,” see Ong, Orality and Literacy, 103.
(271.) Sefati, Love Songs, 218–35.
(272.) Sefati, Love Songs, 28–29 and n. 69.
(273.) R. C. Steiner, “The Aramaic Text in Demotic Script: The Liturgy of a New Year’s Festival Imported from Bethel to Syene by Exiles from Rash,” JAOS 111/2 (1991), 362–63; COS I, 309–27. For the relevance of the sacred marriage poem in col. 17 (= col. 16 in Steiner) to Akkadian love poetry more generally, see Nissinen, “Akkadian Rituals and Poetry,” 101–2. Curiously, the last six columns of the papyrus consist of a narrative about the two brothers Assurbanipal and Shamash-shum-ukin.
(274.) R. Greene, “Lyric Sequence,” in PEPP (Kindle ed.).
(275.) See C. T. Neely, “The Structure of English Renaissance Sonnet Sequences,” ELH 45 (1978), 360–61; Greene, Post-Petrarchism, 22–62; Roche, Petrarch. (p.446)
(276.) Greene, “Lyric Sequence.”
(277.) See the articles in Arethusa 13 (1980); W. S. Anderson, “The Theory and Practice of Poetic Arrangement from Vergil to Ovid,” in Fraistat, Poems in Their Place, 44–65.
(278.) “Shakespeare’s Sonnets’ Perjured Eye,” in C. Ho¡ek and P. Parker (eds.), Lyric Poetry (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), 120.
(279.) Rosenthal and Gall, Modern Poetic Sequence, 25–44; cf. Greene, Post-Petrarchism, 133–52.
(280.) “Some Issues for Study of Integrated Collections,” in Fraistat, Poems in Their Place, 18; “Poetic Collections,” in NPEPP, 222.
(281.) For example, I have expressed my sense of the Song’s wholeness in these precise terms, see my “Song of Songs” both in NIDB and in B. Gaventa and D. Peterson (eds.), New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary (Nashville: Abingdon, 2010), 375–86.
(282.) “Lyric Sequence.”
(283.) Lyric Powers, 83. Von Hallberg elaborates: “Lyric poems are traditionally comprised of smaller units: striking phrases, lines, shapely stanzas; lyrics tend to break down into their parts, and their parts even to move away from each other toward enigmas”—fragmentation and disunity is as much a part of the lyric’s fiction as of the lyric sequence.
(284.) Dubrow problematizes the question of size altogether for the lyric in early modern England, arguing that the connections between the “parts” is more important: “the potentialities for fluidity and malleability that in effect shape and reshape the dimensions of a single lyric by breaking it into parts or inserting it into larger entities” (Challenges of Orpheus, ch. 4). She, of course, is working with highly literate poems, as is Greene.
(285.) Greene, “Lyric Sequence.”
(286.) Fox, Song of Songs, 202; cf. Exum, Song of Songs, 33. Of course, the issue of unity ceases to be a determining factor once it is admitted that unities are imaginable for collective as well as singular entities. That is, the Song can be a unified whole and also be a collocation of independent poetic integers.
(287.) Schaefer, “Hearing from Books,” 124—presumably quoting Ong, though I have not been able to track the quotation.
(288.) Zumthor, “Text and the Voice,” 86, 76; cf. Finnegan, Oral Poetry, 28.
(289.) Finnegan, Oral Poetry, 28.
(290.) Zumthor, “Text and the Voice,” 75.
(291.) A. N. Doane, “Oral Texts, Intertexts, and Intratexts: Editing Old English,” in J. Clayton and E. Rothstein (eds.), Influence and Intertextuality in Literary History (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), 78; cf. Zumthor, “Text and the Voice,” 76–77, 87; A. N. Doane, “The Ethnography of Scribal Writing and Anglo-Saxon Poetry: Scribe as Performer,” Oral Tradition 9 (1994), 435.
(292.) Kittay and Godzich, Emergence of Prose, xviii. (p.447)
(293.) Doane, “Oral Texts,” 77 (emphasis added).
(294.) Dobbs-Allsopp, “Space, Line,” 49–61. In the “old Hebrew” script word division was marked by points instead of spacing, though whether written versions of the Song date back to such an early period is an open question. Linguistically, the language of MT seems late (see F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp, “Late Linguistic Features in the Song of Songs,” in A. C. Hagedorn (ed.), Perspectives on the Song of Songs—Perspektiven der Hoheliedauslegung [BZAW; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2005], 27–77; for a contrasting point of view, see S. B. Noegel and G. Rendsburg, Solomon’s Vineyard: Literary and Linguistic Studies in the Song of Songs [Atlanta: SBL, 2009]; D. M. Carr, The Formation of the Hebrew Bible: A New Reconstruction [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011], 442–48), and the lack of editorial interventions in the preserved manuscripts and a better understanding of scribal practice in the ancient southern Levant make the presumption of transmission through generations of copying the Song hard to sustain. That traditional love poetry was known in ancient Israel and Judah seems safe to assume (e.g., Isa 5:1–7; Ezek 33:32; Ps 45:1; for the possible influence of love poetry on Hosea and Deuteronomy, see Carr, Formation, 434–38). Transmission may have been predomnantly oral, through performance—“songs don’t require scribes” (W. Schniedewind, How the Bible Became a Book [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004], 149). The Song, however late, may simply be one instantation of this “stream of tradition” that also happended to get written down. The fact of word division is no small matter. Orally, words come in continuous streams, phrases. It is writing that begins to resolve words into distinct entities.
(295.) On “good variants,” see Carr, Formation, esp. 13–35.
(296.) The final letters visible in 4QCantb frag 3.14 are ום\די, in which the mem is “much larger” than the letters in the preceding lines. This sequence is then followed by a space that has been left intentionally blank. Further, Tov (“Canticles,” in E. C. Ulrich et al. [eds.], Qumran Cave 4/XI: Psalms to Chronicles [DJD XVI; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000], 217) calculates that this also constitutes the final line of the column. Assuming the word is related to the preceding literary context (and thus not taken to be related to the root דום “to be silent”), one can reconstruct דים[דו]“love,” the final word in the previous poem (4:8–5:1). The larger size of the final mem followed by the vacat would then signal the end of the poem. After the blank space at the extreme left edge of the fragment, Tov also notices “the traces of what looks like a Greek gamma (Γ) or a sign similar in shape to a diple obelismene (a paragraph sign used in the Greek scribal tradition for separating different sections in tragedies and comedies)” (218). (Other such signs appear in the margins to this fragment.) MT also has extra spacing after 5:1, and again after 6:3, thus nicely isolating 5:2–6:3 as a literary unit—MT’s extra spacings (mostly sĕtumôt in MTA and MTL) often coincide with what may be considered structural wholes on internal literary criteria, e.g., 1:2–4, 1:5–8, 2:1–7, 3:1–5, 4:1–7, 5:2–6:3, 6:4–10 (I. Yeivin [Introduction to the (p.448) Tiberian Masorah (E. J. Revell; Scholars Press, 1980] also notices that the sĕtumôt and pĕtuḥôt commonly function to frame sense units; see P. W. Flint, “The Book of Canticles (Song of Songs) in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Hagedorn, Perspectives, 102). OG lacks a major enumerated divison at this point, though several smaller divisions cluster at 5:1–3.
(297.) “Rhythm has an indexical function and enables hearing—ensures the audibility of—what is meant by what is said” (Blasing, Lyric Poetry, 54).
(298.) Pasternack, Textuality of Old English Poetry, 11; cf. A. B. Lord, Singer of Tales (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960), 55–58.
(299.) Lord, Singer of Tales, 55.
(300.) See J. C. Treat, “Lost Keys: Text and Interpretation in Old Greek Song of Songs and Its Earliest Manuscript Witnesses” (Ph. D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1996).
(301.) Schaefer stresses that even without any compensatory gesture “the simple act of writing down had already transformed the ‘singer’s’ existence onto parchment,” though this is not a maximally efficient means of negotiating a singer-less text as it still depends on reoralization, i.e., it “had to be brought to life again by somebody who usually was not this singer” (“Hearing from Books,” 124; cf. Kittay and Godzich, Emergence of Prose, 17).
(302.) The reading of MT is supported by all the versions, though none of them understand ʿăgābîm—Syr. does not even try but simply renders zmyrtʾ “song.” Many suggest emending MT to read kĕšar ʿăgābîm “like a singer of love (songs)” (e.g., BHS, HALOT, 1482) or something analogous (cf. W. Zimmerli, Ezekiel 2 [Hermeneia; trans. J. D. Martin; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983], 197). However the textual difficulties are resolved, the informing image of the prophet as a singer of love songs is at least clear.
(303.) On related imagery from Mesopotamia, see D. M. Carr, Writing on the Tablet of the Heart: Origins of Scripture and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 28–29. There is also the two triplets from the “song of the harlot” (šîrat hazzônâ, v. 15) recorded/adapted in Isa 23:16 that imagine Tyre as a “forgotten harlot” singing and playing “many songs.” Though the songs are not explicitly called love songs—and may in fact be entirely different—the explicit image of the performer is illuminating nonetheless. And from a much later time there is Rabbi Akiba’s famous complaint about the Song (“the Holy of the Holiest”) being sung at banquets, which, beyond everything else, foregrounds a sung performance and thus presumes a singer.
(304.) For details, see Fox, Song of Songs, 52, 55–56, n. a.
(305.) Fox, Song of Songs, 244 and n. 18.
(306.) Fox, Song of Songs, 253–55.
(307.) Sefati, Love Songs, 30–49.
(308.) Nissinen, “Akkadian Rituals and Poetry,” 115; cf. 97–99.
(309.) P. S. Alexander, The Targum of Canticles. Translated, with a Critical Introduction Apparatus, and Notes (Aramaic Bible 17A; Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2003), 75. (p.449)
(310.) “Oral Texts,” 86.
(311.) Kittay and Godzich, Emergence of Prose, 17.
(312.) Poetry into Drama, 45. The characteristic use of word dividers in alphabetic cuneiform, as also in the later “old Hebrew” script, is to be noted, since they are among the few metascript conventions that appear in these texts and they specifically, graphically distinguish “words.” That is, they do quite literally what Herington supposes of early Greek song texts, they preserve the “words” of the poems—recall any oral performance of poetry would have involved much, much more than just the words of the poem (e.g., music, dance, gestures of all kinds, poetic ad-libs, audience participation). It is noteworthy that sometimes in the Bible it is precisely the “words” of a song or oracle that are said to be recited or written down (e.g., Deut 31:30; 2 Sam 22:1; Jer 36:2, 4; Ezek 33:32; Ps 137:3).
(313.) The language is from Kittay and Godzich, Emergence of Prose, 13, who have the medieval French jongleur in view—Kittay and Godzich emphasize throughout their work the real difficulty for written verse and prose to make such accommodations (esp. 14–106). M. Leuchter (“Persian Imperial Mythology and the Levites: Implications for the Origins of Jewish Midrash,” unpublished manuscript, paper presented to Old Testament Research Colloquium, Princeton, December 5, 2014), understands the Levites (in the Second Temple period) in an analogous fashion in their singing/reading of psalm texts (Pss 24, 48, 82, 94, 81, 93, and 92, according to Mishnah Tamid 7:4) as a part of the Tamid rite (Lev 6:8–13; cf. Mishnah Tamid 7:3). That is, the ritual performance of these texts required and included more than just what was provided by the (alphabetic) marks on the page, e.g., vocalization of words. Or as Leuchter emphasizes, following the insight of M. Gertner (“The Masorah and the Levites,” VT 10 , 252–72), “the role occupied by the Levites as readers/chanters of liturgical texts immediately provided them with an opportunity to make choices about how those texts should be read and subsequently understood.” And: “if the Levites were entrusted with the vocalization of these written works upon their performance or pronouncement, then even the peshat of a given text could be refracted through an interpretive or exegetical lens” (“Persian Imperial Mythology”; cf. Neh 8:7–8). On such a view, midrash could be understood as evolving (in part at least) as a consequence of the kind of textuality at its disposal and the ongoing performative environment of reading out loud (Leuchter: “these texts were probably primarily performed or read in ritual contexts”).
(314.) Kittay and Godzich, Emergence of Prose, 17.
(315.) I wonder whether the textuality of the “Love Lyrics of Nabû and Tašmetu” (SAA 3 14), the Akkadian composition that can claim the “closest kinship” with the Song of Songs, should be considered in a similar vein. Nissinen has emphasized the impression of a “literary composition” that “the arrangement of the episodes” in a “rather loose and not always quite coherent” fashion suggests (p.450) (“Love Lyrics,” 595). But given the obvious ritual background of the text (its “cultic affiliation,” Nissinen, “Love Lyrics,” 592–95; “Akkadian Rituals and Poetry,” 97–99; Sefati, Love Songs, 46–47) and Nissinen’s comparison to the usage of “hymns in Christian churches,” I am more struck by the nonliterariness of this poem’s textuality. Its writtenness, of course, is beyond doubt (Nissinen rightly stresses the scribal setting of Akkadian love poetry, esp. “Akkadian Love Poetry”), but the question is what kind of textuality is exhibited by this writing? It seems to me to be one that, like that of the Song, presumes a great deal of extratextual input from the ritual singer(s) of this poem. This is most evident in the use of KI.MIN and KI.MIN-ma (lit. “ditto, repetition”) as a kind of refrain throughout the composition—the content of what is to be repeated is not given and therefore must be supplied by the performer(s)—and in a number of second and first person plural references (e.g., “As for us [anīnu] … What is ours [ša attūni attūni] … ,” ll. 2–5; “to Tašmetu say [qibânišši],” l. 6; cf. ll. 22–24), which epitomize a performative environment. Such a supposition is also consistent with the “dramatic” and dialogic character of the composition, as well as its “loose” and not “quite coherent” design (Nissinen, “Love Lyrics,” 592, 595)—all of which demand/suppose extratextual staging.
(316.) Pasternack, Textuality of Old English Poetry, 10–11.
(317.) Interestingly, a number of the Song manuscripts from Qumran (4QCanta and 4QCantb) exhibit scribal “performances” of the Song that differ from that reflected in MT, shortenings of the text (the omission of 4:8–6:10 in 4QCanta and 4:4–7 in 4QCantb) that do not seem to result from typical kinds of scribal errors (e.g., homoioteleuton), i.e., they are “good variants” (see Tov, “Canticles,” 202, 216; Flint, “Book of Canticles,” 99–103). Carr also emphasizes the fluidity of the Song’s textual transmission (Formation, 432–33), though to slightly different ends.
(318.) This is not to oppose the scribal artifactuality that has preserved the Song (and as emphasized, for example, by Nissinen) but to conceptualize it as it interfaces with and supports orality and operates in realms beyond education (for the possibility of the latter in particular, see Carr, Formation, 432–48). Scribes were themselves traditional performers (e.g., R. Person, “The Ancient Israelite Scribe as Performer,” JBL 117 , 601–9) for whom writing, speaking, and memory were equally consequential (cf. Ps 45:2).
(319.) Driver, Introduction, 360–61.
(320.) Driver, Introduction, 361.
(321.) Driver, Introduction, 360–61. So today such “wisdom” poetry would be folded into a broader understanding of lyric (esp. von Hallberg, Lyric Powers, 105–42). Von Hallberg well emphasizes the long tradition of wisdom and poetry and the idea that “poetry yields knowledge” (105), an idea easily forgotten after philosophy. It is worth stressing that poetry, and lyric poetry in particular, offers resources for thinking that are not so readily available to essayists, such as “figures, dramatic dialogue, juxtaposition, paradox, and all the devices of resonance.” (p.451)
(322.) “Why Lyric?,” 202.
(323.) “Psalms and Lyric Verse,” 346.
(324.) In a discussion of an early version of the essay that was eventually published as “Psalms and Lyric Verse”: “Psalms as Lyric,” in the Psalms group at the annual meeting of the SBL, November 2004. I also benefited immensely from a discussion of the same paper with colleagues from the Biblical Research Colloquium at their annual summer meeting, Harvard University, August 2005.
(325.) See esp. F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp, “Poetry, Hebrew,” in Sakenfeld, New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 4, Me–R (Nashville: Abingdon, 2009), 550–58.
(326.) Cf. M. L. West, Greek Lyric Poetry (World Classics; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), vii; cf. Bowie, “Lyric and Elegiac Poetry,” 99–100; H. Fränkel, Early Greek Poetry and Philosophy (trans. M. Hadas and J. Willis; New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973), 133, n. 4; Nagy, “Lyric and Greek Myth,” 19–20; Garner, Traditional Elegy.
(327.) See Dobbs-Allsopp, Weep, O Daughter of Zion, esp. 1–29; “Darwinism,” 625–30.
(328.) Dobbs-Allsopp, Lamentations, 12–20.
(329.) Cf. von Hallberg, Lyric Powers, 23.
(330.) Cf. K. M. Heffelfinger, “I Am Large, I Contain Multitudes”: Lyric Cohesion and Conflict in Second Isaiah (Leiden: Brill, 2011).
(331.) Langer, Feeling and Form, 259.
(332.) This insight I owe in particular to A. Berlin’s penetrating critique of one of my early presentations on lyric verse in the Bible in which she basically made allowances (in the same vein as I do above) for the obvious differences in some of the genres (e.g., song or not song) and ended by urging me (and the audience) to simply recognize this for what it was, biblical Hebrew poetry. This, of course, does not mean that there is no such thing as lyric verse in the Bible. There is. It is just that the Hebrew lyric shares much with other kinds of specifically unsung or nonmelic biblical verse.
(333.) Miner, Comparative Poetics, 8 (emphasis added); cf. “Why Lyric?,” in The Renewal of Song: Renovation in Lyric Conception and Practice (ed. E. Miner and A. Dev; Calcutta: Seagull Books, 2000); “On the Genesis and Development of Literary Systems: Part I,” Critical Inquiry 5/2 (1978), esp. 349, 353. For an informative discussion of the triadic genre conception that is mostly assumed in Western scholarship, see esp. Genette, Architext. Culler, too, points to the mostly unfathomed significance of Miner’s work, “Lyric, History, and Genre,” 899, n. 37.
(334.) Miner, Comparative Poetics, 7.
(335.) Miner, Comparative Poetics, 8–9.
(336.) Miner, “Literary Systems: Part I,” 349.
(337.) Miner, “Literary Systems: Part I,” 344. For the emergence of Greek tragedy in particular, see esp. Herington, Poetry into Drama. (p.452)
(338.) Miner: “mimesis is one of the least frequent systematic ideas about literature” (“Literary Systems: Part I,” 349).
(339.) Comparative Poetics, 9.
(340.) Emergence of Prose, xii–xiii.
(341.) Emergence of Prose, xiii.
(342.) Miner, “Literary Systems: Part I,” 349; Kittay and Godzich, Emergence of Prose, xi–xii.
(343.) Emergence of Prose, xiii.
(344.) Emergence of Prose, xiii.
(345.) Miner, Comparative Poetics, 9; “Literary Systems: Part I,” 353. Such strangeness, nevertheless, is predicted by Hanson and Kiparsky’s argument that verse is used “for narrative functions only if it is also used for lyric functions” (“Nature of Verse,” 18). In other words, what Miner finds from a comparative literature perspective also follows linguistically, and both emphasize in their way the urgency for biblical scholarship to have lyric and what is required to read it intelligently better in view.
(346.) P. Schaff (ed.), Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II (vol. VI; New York: Christian Literature Company, 1893), 491.
(347.) See Jerome’s Preface to Job, in Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, 491.
(348.) Miner, Comparative Poetics, 8.
(349.) From Jerome’s Preface to Job, see Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, 491.