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How To Read A Psalm?

Submitted by on Wednesday, 15 October 2008No Comment



"Parallelism and balance are two distinctive features of biblical poetry, " writes Laverdierre. These will be the topic of the present article. By using examples from the poetic sections of the Bible, I will illustrate what parallelism is and how it contributes to poetic balance.

Parallelism refers to the external form that a listener or a reader perceives in a poem. It is not a technique that has been developed for a particular effect, but the external manifestation of an interiority that grasps reality in similarities and contrasts. Knowledge is gained by comparing and contrasting experiences that have something in common (the similar). When such experience is expressed as poetry, it may sound like this:

    A wise son makes his father glad;
    A foolish son is a grief to his mother

    Proverbs 10:1

What is expressed in these two lines is the observation that a son’s wisdom or lack of it, will affect his parents. The poet has expressed it the way he did without making any abstractions, but calling forth the experience itself, he illustrates an aspect of reality capturing it in its similarities (son, parents) and contrasts (gladness-grief, wise-foolish).

We draw another example from the realm of prayer (Psalm 8):

4Whenever I gaze at the heavens
 the work of your fingers;
 the moon and the stars
 which your hands have fixed in their place;
5What is man that you should remember him?
Son of man that you should keep him in mind?

This section of Psalm 8 is the beginning of the poet’s cry of wonder and amazement at the place that he and the whole of humanity holds before God. In verse 4 we find the line "at the heavens, the work of your fingers" somehow repeated and expanded in "the moon and the stars which your hand have fixed in their place…"

Immediately following this is the cry of wonder in two lines that implicitly contrasts earth-bound humanity to the celestial bodies (v.5). Note however the structure: Man=Son of Man; You-Remember-Him=You-Keep-Him-In-Mind. Ideas in the first line are repeated in the second line with a bit more coloring. While you find this same phenomenon in v. 4 in the particularization of "heavens" into "moon and the stars", here one finds an intensification in the verbs used (zkr, "to remember" and pqd, "to visit") and in the meaning of the nouns employed (‘nwsh, "man-in-general", bn-‘adm, "son of Adam", "son of dust", "mortal man").

Continue reading…

Proverbs 10:1
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg LXX Hebrew
1A wise son maketh the father glad: but a foolish son is the sorrow of his mother.

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