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World Poetry: Some Hebrew Poetry form the Bronze and Iron Ages

As I mentioned in my earlier post on World Poetry , this book presents poetry chronology, further divided by culture. The first division is poets of Bronze and Iron Ages, which the book dates from 2200-250 BCE. That’s long period of time. The editors say they chose the poems for their ability to “surprise and delight the common reader.”

The next section deals the poetry written in Hebrew. The editors chose bits and pieces of poetry from the poetic books of the Christian Old Testament . I haven’t read this for a while and have forgotten how striking the poetry is. All poetry is attributed to that singularly prolific source, anonymous. Dating is always something of a squabble, so I’ll just use the dates the book gives:

1) An excerpt from the Song of Songs (c. 600 BCE): This seems to me very nicely presented, with vivid, poignant passages.

2) An excerpt from Ezekiel , specifically the “Valley of Dry Bones” (c. 550 BCE): This is the first time I can recall seeing this passage presented in verse format. My guess is the text has been massaged a little, but it makes for striking reading. No attempt to place any sort of context or interpretation is offered.

3) Psalm 137 (c. 530 BCE): This is presented in its entirety, from the familiar “By the waters of Babylon,” to the often ignored, “Blessed shall he be that taketh thy children/ and throweth them against the stones.”

4) Two excerpt from Job (c. 400 BCE): In the first excerpt, Job curses the day he was born. In the second, god answers Job out a whirlwind. The latter is taken from the King James Bible.

5) Some excerpts from Lamentations (c. 400 BCE): These include some modern language and, as one would expect, some mourning for a city that got smacked because people weren’t behaving themselves (or so the story goes…).

I think my favorite, and certainly the most fun to read was the Song of Songs :

“The sound of my lover coming from the hills quickly like a deer

upon the mountains

Now at my windows walking by the walls here at the lattices he calls—

Come with me, my love, come away …” (p. 25)

Though, of course, the passage of the “Valley of Dry Bones” is striking:

“The hand of the Lord held me transported

and spirited my spirit and set me down

in the fell of a valley filled with bones.

“And then he addressed me: Proffer this prophecy

over these bones: O dry bones!

welcome the Word:

“So I proffered the prophecy commanded of me

and as I uttered it a clacking clattered” (p. 28)

And the passage in Job is also quite powerful, even to an old heathen such as myself.

Thanks for reading.


World Poetry: An Anthology of Verse from Antiquity to Our Time 1998

Eds: Katherine Washburn, John S. Major, and Clifton Fadiman

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arthurchappell wrote on February 5, 2015, 2:58 AM

the Bible's poetic works are lovely and like the Song of songs you quote, often move way away from religious and spiritual reflection

msiduri wrote on February 5, 2015, 7:09 AM

Certainly the Song of Songs does. Of course, when it's taught in church, layers of spiritual interpretation are heaped on top of it. I have no idea if the same is true in Jewish traditions, but I imagine there's a wide range of teachings. Much of what I remember about the history boils down to dynastic struggles with god on OUR side, naturally. But as I mentioned, it's been a while since I've read any of this stuff.

Telynor wrote on February 5, 2015, 10:25 PM

If you are curious, the Jewish Bible is referred to as the Tanakh -- an acronym for The Torah, Prophets and Writings. It's never referred to as the Old Testament, for very obvious reasons; as my former rabbi put it, "Them's fighting words." The Song of Songs is often incorporated into the Passover Seder.

msiduri wrote on February 5, 2015, 10:57 PM

I knew the work Tanakh and understood it was an acronym, but never having studied in a Jewish setting, i.e., outside the context of Christian teachings, I'd be at a loss how others might see such a piece as the Song of Songs. For example, I remember being taught that it's an allegory for Christ as the lover and the church as the beloved. I read it now and I see that's quite the stretch, but regardless, I wouldn't expect this to be big within Jewish teachings.

I can see it being used in the Passover Seder now that you mention it, however.

Telynor wrote on February 5, 2015, 11:27 PM

Judaism pretty much sees it as a work of eroticism, at least with a lot of the commentators that I've read. I love the poetry of it, where you can smell springtime in the air, and the return of warmth and light.

msiduri wrote on February 6, 2015, 12:13 AM

A work of eroticism... How common sense.

Telynor wrote on February 6, 2015, 12:23 AM

Judaism is very common sense as far as religions go. LoL