(5) Loss by Translation. It may have struck the reader as somewhat curious that the poetical productions should, in the common version of the Bible, be scarcely, if at all, distinguishable from prose. Much of classical poetry, however, if turned into English prose, would lose most of its poetic characteristics; and, in general, the He brew poetry suffers less than perhaps any other by transfusion into a prosaic element : to which fact it is owing that the Book of Psalms, in the English version, is, notwithstanding its form, emi nently poetic. There arc, however, cases in which only the experienced eye can trace the poetic in and under the prosaic attire in which it appears in the vulgar translation. Nor, until the subject of Hebrew poetry had been long and well studied, did the learned succeed in detecting many a po etic gem contained in the Bible. In truth, poetry and prose, from their very nature, stand near to each other, and, in the earlier stages of their ex istence, are discriminated only by faint and van ishing lines. If we regard the thought, prose sometimes even now rises to the loftiness of po etry. If we regard the clothing, the simpler form of poetry is scarcely more than prose; and rhet orical or measured prose passes into the domain of poetry. A sonnet of Wordsworth could be converted into prose with a very few changes ; a fable of Krummacher requires only to be dis tributed into lines in order to make blank verse, which might be compared even with that of Mil ton. Now in translations, the form is for the most part lost ; there remains only the substance, and poetic sentiment ranges from the humblest to the loftiest topics. So with the Hebrew poetry in its original and native state. Whether in its case poetry sprang from prose, or prose from poetry, they are both branches of one tree, and bear in their earlier stages a very close resem blance. The similarity is the greater in the litera ture of the Hebrews, because their poetic forms are less determinate than those of some other na tions: they had, indeed, a rhythm ; but so had their prose, and their poetic rhythm was more like that of our blank verse than of our rhymed meter.
2. General Characteristics of Hebrew Poetry. Of poetical feet they appear to have known nothing, and, in consequence, their verse must be less measured and less strict. Its melody was rather that of thought than of•art and skill—. spontaneous, like their religious feelings, and there fore deep and impressive, but less subject to law, and escaping from the hard limits of exact defini• tion. Rhyme properly so called, is disowned as well as meter. Yet Hebrew verse, as it had a kind of measured tread, so had it a jingle in its feet, for several lines are sometimes found terminating with the same letter. In the main, however, its essential form was in the thought. Ideas are made to recur under such relations that the sub stance itself marks the form, and the two are so blended into one that their union is essential to constitute poetry. It is, indeed, incorrect to say that 'the Hebrew poetry is characterized by the recurrence of similar ideas' (Latham's English Language, p. 372), if by this it is intended to in timate that such a peculiarity is the sole char acteristic of Hebrew poetry. One, and that the chief, characteristic of that poetry, such recur rence is; but there are also characteristics in form as well as in thought. Of these it may be suffi cient to mention the following: (1) Verbal Rhythm. There is a verbal rhythm, in which a harmony is found beyond what prose ordinarily presents; but as the true pronun ciation of the Hebrew has been long lost, this quality can be only imperfectly appreciated.
(2) Correspondence of Words. There is a correspondence of words, i. r. the words in one verse, or member, answer to the words in an other ; for as the sense in the one echoes the sense in the other, so also form corresponds with form, and word with word. This correspondence in form will fully appear when we give instances of the parallelism in sentiment ; meanwhile, an idea of it may be formed from these specimens : 'Why art thou cast down, 0 my soul? And why art thou disquieted in me?' Ps. xliii :5. 'The memory of the just is a blessing; But the name of the wicked shall rot.' Prov. x:7.
'He turneth rivers into a desert, And water-springs into dry ground.' Ps. cvii :33.
In the original this similarity in construction is more exact and more apparent. At the same time it is a free, and not a strict correspondence that prevails; a correspondence to be caught and recognized by the ear in the general progress of the poem, or the general structure of a couplet or a triplet, but which is not of a nature to be ex actly measured or set forth by such aids as count ing with the fingers will afford.
(3) Inversion. Inversion holds a distinguished place in the structure of Hebrew poetry, as in that of every other; yet here again the remark al ready made holds good; it is only a modified in version that prevails, by no means (in general) equalling that of the Greeks and Romans in bold ness, decision, and prevalence. Every one will however, recognize this inversion in the following instances, as distinguishing the passages from ordinary prose: 'Amid thought in visions of the night, When deep sleep falleth upon men, Fear and horror came upon me.' Job iv:I3.
'To me men gave ear and waited.
To my words they made no reply.' Job xxix :21.
'For three transgressions of Damascus, And for four will I not turn away its punish ment.' Amos i :3. 'His grave was appointed with the wicked, And with the rich man was his sepulcher.' Is. liii :9.
(4) Archaic. The last verbal peculiarity of Hebrew poetry which we notice is, that its lan guage betrays an archaical character, a license, and, in general, a poetic hue and coloring which cannot be confounded with the simple, lowly, and unrhythmical diction of prose. The formation of a poetic diction is, in any nation, dependent on the possession, by that nation, of a poetical tem perament, as much as of a poetical history. Wher ever these two elements are found, the birth of poetry and the formation of a poetical language are certain. Great events give rise to strong pas sions, and strong passions are the parents of no ble truths; which, when they spring from and nestle in a poetic temperament, cannot fail to create for themselves an appropriate phraseol ogy, in which the tame and quiet march of prose is avoided, and all the loftier figures of speech are put into requisition. For a time, indeed, the line of demarcation between the diction of prose and that of poetry will not be very distinct; for poetry will predominate, as in men's deeds so in their words, and, if they as yet have any, in their literature. Soon, however, the passions grow cool, enthusiasm wanes, a great gulf opens be tween the actual and the ideal—the ideal having ceased to be actual in ceasing to be possible,—and a separate style of language for prose and poetry becomes as inevitable as the diversity of attire in which holy and ordinary days have their re spective duties discharged.