POETRY, HEBREW (po-et-r5i, he'bru), the poetry which is found in the Bible, rich and multi farious as it is, appears to be only a remnant of a still wider and fuller sphere of Semitic literature.
The New Testament is intended to be com prised in our definition, for, besides scattered portions, disjecti membra poeta, which, under a prosaic form, convey a poetic thought, the en tire book of the Apocalypse abounds in poetry.
I. Poetry of the Bible. The term 'Biblical poetry' may find little acceptance in the ears of those who have identified poetry with fiction, fa ble, and profane delights, under the impression that as such things are of the earth earthy, so religion is too high in its character, and too truth ful in its spirit, to admit into its province mere creations of the human fancy. But whatever opinion may be entertained of the character and tendency of poetry in general, the poetry of the Hebrews is both deeply truthful and earnestly religious. In one sense the Bible is full of poetry ; for very much of its contents which is merely prosaic in form rises, by force of the noble senti ments which it enunciates, and the striking or splendid imagery with which these sentiments are adorned, into the sphere of real poetry. Inde pendently of this poetic prose, there is in the Bible much writing which has all the ordinary characteristics of poetry. And it is no slight at gestation to the essentially poetic character of Hebrew poetry that its qualities shine through the distorting coverings of a prose translation. If, however, the reader would at once satisfy him self that there is poetry in the Bible, let him turn to the book of Job, and after having exam ined its prose introduction, begin to read the poetry itself, as it commences at the third verse of the third chapter.
(1) In the Pentateuch. Much of the Bibli cal poetry is, indeed, hidden from the ordinary reader by its prose accompaniments, standing, as it does, undistinguished in the midst of histor ical narrations. This is the case with some of the
earliest specimens of Hebrew poetry. Snatches of poetry are discovered in the oldest prose com positions. Even in Gen. iv:23, sq., are found a few lines of poetry, which Herder incorrectly terms 'the song of the sword,' thinking it com memorative of the first formation of that weapon. To us it appears to be a fragment of a longer poem, uttered in lamentation for a homicide com mitted by Lamech, probably in self-defense. It has been already cited in this work. (See LA NiEcH.) Herder finds in this piece all the char acteristics of Hebrew poetry. It is, he thinks, lyrical, has a proportion between its several lines, and even assonance; in the original the first four lines terminate with the same letter, making a single or semi-rhyme.
Another poetic scrap is found in Exod. xxxii: 18. Being told by Joshua, on occasion of de scending from the mount, when the people had made the golden calf, and were tumultuously of fering it their worship— 'The sound of war is in the camp,' said: 'Not the sound of a shout for victory, Nor the sound of a shout for falling; The sound of a shout for rejoicing' do I hear.
The correspondence in form in the original is here very exact and striking, so that it is diffi cult to deny that the piece is poetic. If so, are we to conclude that the temperament of the Is raelites was so deeply poetic that Moses and Joshua should find the excitement of this occa sion sufficient to strike improvisatore verses from their lips? Or have we here a quotation from some still older song, which occurred to the mind of the speaker by the force of resemblance? Other instances of scattered poetic productions may be found in Num. 15; also V :18; and v:27; in which passages evidence may be found Ihat we are not in possession of the entire mass of Hebrew, or. at least, Semitic literature. Fur ther specimens of very early poetry are found in Num. xxiii :7, sq.; xviii. sq.; xxiv :3, t5.