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metre, regulated by certain syllabic laws and principles of harmony and cadence. Indeed, this cannot well be doubted, since its strains were so often adapted to nusic. At present, with the exception of those poems, in which the initial letters of the lines follow the order of the Alphabet, neither the eye nor the ear of a moderm can detect anything, which can properly be called metrical, nor is it possible to ascertain with any ac curacy the rules of Hebrew prosody. The rythmical corrospondence of periods or distichs, which has been exhibited, may be denominated verse, and perhaps sounded to the ear of a Hebrew, something as the Thalaba of Southey does to that of an Englishman. Some able critics at a very late period have maintaned that rhyme is to be found in the Old Testament, and that the measures of Hebrew verse are not more irregular that the Latin iambics of Terence. To say the least, it is extremely difficult to discover them, and the parallel conformation may be regarded as the only evident mechanical or artificial arrangement, which characterises the Hebrew poetry.
“The nervous simplicity and conciseness of the Hebrew muse, says the same author, whose beautiful remarks of the English poets have been often quoted in this volume, "prevent this parallelism from degenerating into monotony. In repeating the same idea in different words, she seems as if displaying a fine opal, that discovers fresh beauty in every new light to which it is turned. Her amplifications of a given thought are like the echoes of a solemn melody-her repetitions of it like the landscape reflected in the stream-And whilst her questions and responses give a life-like effect to her compositions, they remind us of the alternate voices in public devotion, to which they were manifestly adapted.”
The other most striking characteristic of the poetry in the Old Testament is one which arises almost necessarily from the essential nature of all poetry ; a freer use of figures, and a more vivid, wild, romantic phraseology. The poetic diction of the Hebrews is also marked by peculiar usages in the choice, signification, and forms of words. In general the whole character and costume cf their poetry is so altogether different from that of their prose, that it would seem impossible for any careful observer to confound or mistake them. They are peculiarly distinguishable in those morsels of poetry to be found amidst their historical books; for whenever prophecies, praises, and patriarchal or parental blessings are to be recou ed, the excited feelings of patriotism and devotion find their natural utterance in the poetic inspiration, which becomes the ruling and peculiar one; so that the plain narrative style, springs, as it were, at once into the highest region of poetry.
Great boldness in figurative and metaphorical language, characterises all the oriental poetry; but in general that of the Hebrews, though far more vivid, powerful, and daring, than any to which the genius of Europeans is accustomed, possesses a chaste severity, simplicity, and perfect freedom from extravagance, which will be looked for in vain among that of any other people in the Eastern world. Themost“ nervous simplicity" does, indeed, mark all the effusions of their muse. To this is owing much of the strength and energy of their descriptions. In what language do they describe a tumultuous commotion; “the roar of the waves and the tumult of the people; and then follows the stillness, and trembling, and “ melting away,” of the nations, when Jehovah uttereth his voice.
They had no languid, or luxurious, or sonorous epithets, such as those, with which thc modern European poets often encum ber and weaken their thoughts, and such as seem to be considered a rare beauty in poetical composition; they had even none such as the Greeks and Romans used, nothing like the “silverfooted,” or the “golden-haired,” or the “far-darting,” &c. Their adjectives do not even admit an alteration from the positive form; the comparative degree is expressed by prefixing a preposition to the noun, and the superlative has no appropriate form or construction, but is expressed by various circumlocutions. They have no compound epithets. They accordingly express their thoughts with the most unconscious simplicity, and seem to have known no such thing as an attempt to elaborate their language or, retouch its colours. The arts of criticism and correction did not exist. Their poets wrote not for fame, but from unsought and almost irresistible impulses : from the free flow of devotional feeling. Everything is pure nature, fresh, early, and undiseased. The sweetness which we find in the Psalms, as well as the sublimity which awes us in Isaiah, may be in great measure ascribed to that simple, unadorned, unartificial manner of expression and feeling, which in a modern writer would perhaps be deemed bald.
At the same time the Hebrew tongue is “confessedly bold and figurative in its idioms, insomuch that it is often impossible to transfuse its spirit by literal translation into the more sober languages of the west. Its genius is averse from abstraction, but its individual expressions teem with powerful and picturesque imagination. The thoughts of the niind are clothed in life and made visible. Thus the blood of Abel cries from the ground, and the shadow of death is on the eyelids of the mourner.'. Its metaphors too have a peculiar union of grandeur and familiarity, as when the Psalmist compares his afflictions to the ploughshare ploughing over him, or when Isaiah describes the devoted nation that shall be swept before the besom of destruction.”
Besides the longer poetical books which have been mentioned, there are hymns and snatches of song, scattered here and there among the prose parts of the Scriptures, especially in the pentateuch, or five historical books of Moses. The Jewish lawgiver himself added to the many accomplishments, by which he was "skilled in all the wisdom of the Egyptians," a genius for poetry scarcely inferior to that of any other Hebrew poet, as is evident from the 90th Psalm, and from his other poems contained in his history; which, it may here be remarked, is itself the sweetest and simplest in the world.
The poetry of the Hebrews is the earliest of which we have any knowledge, and the oldest specimen that the world can produce is contained in Gen. iv. 23, the address of Lamech to his wives, generally supposed to be the remnant of a song composed on some particular occasion. “ Their historical records may be said to end, where those of Greece begin; the first of their historians being a thousand years anterior to Herodotus, and the last of them his contemporary; and they possessed beautiful poetry, which was committed to writing, probably, centuries before letters were known in Greece, and before the remotest period, in which we can suppose the author of the Iliad to have existed.”
The following is an enumeration of the poetical pieces to be found in the historical books of the Old Testament. If the pupil examines them carefully, even by the English translation, it will be an interesting as well as a useful exercise. Parallelism may be detected in them at once; and the tone rises so suddenly from that of the surrounding history into elevated poetry, that no one, with any feeling for the beauty of song, can possibly be unconscious of its presence. They may be taken in the order, in which they come in the sacred books, from Genesis onwards.
The first poetical fragment, which occurs after that of Lamech, is the address of Noah respecting his sons, Gen. ix. 25-27. The next in order is the bessing of Isaac on his sons, Gen. xxvii. 27-29, 39, 40. Next comes the blessing of Jacob; in the original, unrivalled for its beauty and sublimity, but in the English translation rendered obscure and shorn of its beams. It is contained in the 49th chapter of Genesis. We next meet with the triumphal song of the Hebrews after the passage of the Red Sea ; a sublime ode, composed probably by Moses, Exodus xv. The next is a fragment, contained in Numbers xxi. 17, 18, of a song sung by the children of Israel at the digging of a well; verses 27-30 of the same chapter contain a triumphal song of the Hebrews for their victory over the Ammonites, which is quoted in Jeremialı xlviii. 45, 46. Next we have in Numbers xxiii, xxvi, the prophetic addresses of Balaam, remarkable for their sublimity, and for the wild, sudden, and yet mournful manner, in which they seem to burst from his lips, by an impulse which he cannot resist. Then we have, in the 320 chapter of Deuteronomy, another song of Moses, a beautiful and affecting appeal to the children of Israel, containing some of the most pathetic passages in all the Old Testament, and indeed in all poetry. Then in the 33d chapter we are presented with “ the blessing, where with Moses, the man of God, blessed the children of Israel before his death." This should be read in connexion with the blessing of Jacob, which it very much resembles. What it says of Joseph is full of sweetness, and its closing verses are a sublime strain of religious and patriotic ferv our, worthy indeed to be recorded as the last words of the man of God, who had led his chosen people, till they could view afar off the promised land, who was himself to “see it with his eyes," from the suinmit of Pisgah, and then to be gathered to the dead in silence, and solitude, and awful secresy, by the hand of the Almighty.
These are all the poetry in the historical books of Moses ; the next poetical piece in order is the sublime song of Deborah contained in the fifth chapter of Judges. Next is the prayer, (as it is called in the translation) of Hannah, I Sam. ii. 1-10, which may be compared with the song of Mary, Luke i. 46-55. Then we find the pathetic lamentation of Divid over Saul and Jonathan; JI. Sam. i. 19-27. Then David's song of gratitude to God, " for deliverance from the hand of all his enemies and of Saul,” II Sam. xxii. This contains what is perhaps the sublimest description in all Hebrew poetry, not excepting even the compositions of Isaiah. It also exhibits in a very beautiful manner the placid spirit of David, and the confidence of his trust in God his deliverer. This song forms with some slight alterations, the 18th Psalın, and should be examined along with it. In the next chapter, (xxiii.) verses 2-7, we have " the last words of David,—the son of Jesse, the man raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the sweet psalmist of Israel ;" beautiful morsel, full of his own sweet, rural, confiding manner. In I Chron. xvi. 8–36, we find a sublime song of thanksgiving, composed by David on occasion of bringing up the ark from the ho of Obed-edom to the city of Jerusalem, part of which constitutes the 96th Psalm, which will be found translated on
These we believe, are all the poetical remains contained in the historical portions of the Hebrew Scriptures. They are full of beauty, and the study of them, standing as they do, in the midst of plain prose, will give the pupil a more forcible idea of the nature and peculiarities of Hebrew poetry, even than the perusal of the exclusively poetical books. Having brought the enumeration down to the last production of David, we shall close with the following fine extract from Campbell, on the influence and character of his genius.
“The gifteil influence of David evidently created a new era in the productions of the Hebrew muse. It is impossible to conceive his example and genius as a poet, combined with the splendid circumstances of his reign, having failed to communicate an enthusiastic impulse to the imaginations of his people. He extended their empire, he subdued their enemies, and founded their capital, Jerusalem, in Zion, which he had won from the Jebusites ; and having brought the ark of the cove
nant to the consecrated city, he invested the national worship with a pomp of attendance, and a plenitude of vocal and instrumental music, calculated to give an inspiring effect to its solemnities. He himself relieved the cares attending a diadem, with the harp, which had been the solace of his adversities and the companion of his shepherd days; and leading his people in devotion as he had led them in battle, he employed his genius in the composition of beautiful strains for the accompaniment of their sacred rites. He must have thus diffused a taste for music and poetry, much beyond what the nation had hitherto possessed.
His traits of inspiration are lovely and touching, rather than daring and astonishing. His voice, as a worshipper, has a penetrating accent of human sensibility, varying from plaintive melancholy to luxuriant gladness, and even rising to ecstatic rapture. In grief, “his heart is melted like war; and deep answers to deep, whilst the waters of afliction pass over him." Or his soul is led to the green pastures by the quiet waters. Or his religious confidence pours forth ihe metaphors of a warrior in rich and exulting succession. " The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer-my God, any strength, in whom I will trust-my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.” Some of the sacred writers may excite the imagination more powerfully than David, but none of them appeal more interestingly to the heart. Nor is it in tragic so much as in joyous expression that I conceive the power of his genius to consisi. Its most inspired aspect appears to present itself, when he looks abroad on the universe with the eye of a poet, and with the breast of a glad and grateful worshipper. When he looks up to the starry firmament, his soul assimilates to the splendour and serenity which he contemplates. This lofty but bland spirit of devotion peculiarly reigns in the 8th and in the 19th Psalms. But above all, it expands itself in the 104th into a minute and richly diversified picture of the creation. Verse after verse in that Psalm, leads on the mind through the various objects of nature as through a mighty landscape, and the atmosphere of the scene is coloured, not with a dim or mystic, but with a clear and warm light of religious feeling. He spreads his sympathies over the face of the world, and rejoices in the power and goodness of its protecting Deity. The impression of that exquisite ode dilates the heart with a pleasure too instinctive and simple to be described."
PART OF THE PROPHECY OF BALAAM.
NUMBERS, xxiii, xxiv.