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The Poetry of the Hebrews.

Who shall tempt with wandering feet
The dark, unbottomed, infinite abyss ;
And through the palpable obscure find out
His uncouth way? Or spread his airy flight,
Upborne with indefatigable wings,

Over the vast abrupt ? The description here is strengthened by the epithets. The wandering feet, the unbottomed abyss, the palpable obscure, the uncouth way, the indefatigable wing, are all happy expressions.



In treating of the various kinds of poetry, that of the Scriptures justly deserves a place. The sacred books present us the most ancient monuments sf poetry now extant, and furnish a curious subject of criticism." They display the taste of a remote age and country. They exhibit singular, but beautiful species of composition; and it must give great pleasure, if we find the beauty and dignity of the style adequate to the weight and importance of the matter, Dr. Lowth's learned treatise on the poetry of the Hebrews ought to be perused by all. It is an exceeding- : ly valuable work both for elegance of style and justness of criticism. We cannot do better than to follow the track of this ingenious author.

Among the Hebrews, poetry was cultivated from the earliest times. Its general construction is singular and peculiar. It consists in dividing every period into correspondent, for the most part into equal members, which answer to each other

The Poetry of the Hebrews.

both in sense and sound. In the first member of a period a sentiment is expressed; and in the second the same sentiment is amplified, or repeated in different terms, or sometimes contrasted with its opposite. Thus, “Sing unto the Lord a new song; sing unto the Lord all the earth. Sing un. to the Lord, and bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the heathen; his wonders among all people."

This form of poetical composition is deduced from the manner in which the Hebrews sung their sacred hymns. These were accompanied with music, and performed by bands of singers and musicians, who alternately answered each other. One band began the hymn thus: “ The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice;" and the chorus, or semichorus, took up the corresponding versicle ; “ Let the multitudes of the isles be glad thereof."

But, independent of its peculiar mode of construction, the sacred poetry is distinguished by the highest beauties of strong, concise, bold, and figurative expression. Conciseness and strength are two of its most remarkable characters. The sentences are always short. The same thought is never dwelt upon long. Hence the sublimity of the Hebrew poetry; and all writers, who at. tempt the sublime, might profit much by imitating in this respect the style of the Old Testament. No writings abound so much in bold and animated figures, as the sacred books. Metaphors, comparisons, allegories, and personifications, are par. ticularly frequent. But to relish these figures justly, we must transport ourselves into Judea, and attend to particular circumstances in it.

The Poetry of the Hebrews.

Through all that region little or no rain falls in the summer months. Hence, to represent distress, frequent allusions are made to a dry and thirsty land, where no water is ; and hence, to describe a change from distress to prosperity, their metaphors are founded on the falling of showers, and the bursting out of springs in a desert. Thus in Isaiah, “ The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. For in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert ; the parched ground shall become a pool; and the thirsty land springs of water; in the habitation of dragons there shall be grass with rushes and reeds."

Comparisons, employed by the sacred poets, are generally short, touching only one point of resem: blance. Such is the following: "He that ruleth over men, must be just, ruling in the fear of God; and he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth ; even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain.'

Allegory is likewise frequently employed in the sacred books : and a fine instance of tbis occurs in the Ixxxth Psalm, wherein the people of Israel are compared to a vine. Of parables, the prophetical writings are full; and, if to us they sometimes appear obscure, we should remember that in early times it was universally the custom among all eastern nations, to convey sacred truths under mysterious figures.

The figure, however, which elevates beyond all others the poetical style of the seriptures, is per. sonification. The personifications of the inspired

The Poetry of the Hebrews.

writers exceed in force and magnificence those of all other poets. This is more particularly true when any appearance or operation of the Almighty is concerned. 6 Before him went the pestilence. The waters saw thee, O God, and were afraid. The inountains saw thee, and they trembled. The overflowings of the waters passed by; the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high.” The poetry of the scriptures is very different from modern poetry. It is the burst of inspiration. Bold sublimity, not correct elegance, is its character,

The several kinds of poetry, found in scripture, are chiefly the didactic, elegiac, pastoral, and lyric. The book of Proverbs is the principal instance of the didactic species of poetry. Of elegiac poetry, the lamentation of David over Jonathan is a very beautiful instance. Of pastoral poetry, the Song of Solomon is a high exemplification; and of lyric poetry, the Old Testament is full. The whole book of Psalms is a collection of sacred odes.

Among the composers of the sacred books, there is an evident diversity of style. Of the sacred poets, the most eminent are the author of the book of Job, David, and Isaiah. In the compositions of David there is a great variety of manner. In the soft and tender be excels; and in his Psalms are many lofty passages, but in strength of description he yields to Job; in sublimity, to Isaiah. Without exception, Isaiah is the most sublime of all poets. · Dr. Lowth compares Isaiah to Bomer, Jeremiah to Simonides, and Ezekiel to Æschylus. Among the minor prophets, Hosea, Joel, Micah, Habakkuk, and especially Naium, are distin

Epic Poetry.

guished for poetical spirit. In the prophecies of Daniel and Jonah, there is no poetry.

The book of Job is extremely ancient; the author uncertain; and it is remarkable, that it has no eonnection with the affairs or manners of the Hebrews. It is the most descriptive of all the sacred poems. A peculiar glow of fancy and strength of description characterize the author; and no writer abounds so much in metaphors. He renders visible whatever he treats. The scene is laid in the land of Uz, or Idunæa, which is a part of Arabia ; and the imagery employed differs from that which is peculiar to the Hebrews.


Of all poetical works, the epic poem is the most dignified. To contrive a story which is entertaining, important, and instructive; to enrich it with happy incidents; to enliven it by a variety of characters and descriptions; and to maintain a uniform propriety of sentiment, and a due elevation of style, are the highest efforts of poetical genius.

An epic poem is the recital of some illustrious enterprize in a poetical form. Epic poetry is of a moral nature; and tends to the promotion of virtue. With this view it acts by extending our ideas of perfection, and exciting admiration. Now this is accomplished only by proper representations of heroic deeds and virtuous, characters. Valour, truth, justice, fidelity, friendship,

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