Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

second the poetic order not but poetry admits the former arrangement, though modern prose seldom will admit the latter.

The 3d and most characteristic property of Hebrew poetry is what Bishop LoWTH' calls a parallelism; or a certain poetic correspondency between the parts and members of the poetic verses. The different lengths and measures of the Hebrew verse are ascertained by the alphabetic psalms' and poems, in which every verse begins with a certain letter, in the manner of an acrostic. Transferring the rules derived from these examples to the other poetical parts of scripture, we find that they resolve themselves into poetic lines, or verses, as in the following examples; though it may not be always easy to mark and divide them so distinctly.

Seek ye Jehovah, while he may be found; 'Call ye upon him while he is near?.

'A wise son rejoiceth his father;

'But a foolish son is the grief of his mother3."

'Give a portion to seven, and also to eight;

For thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the ' earth'.'

These instances, borrowed from Bishop LOWTH, exhibit the three kinds of parallels, which he calls synonymous, antithetic, and constructive; but for a full account of them I must refer to his learned preliminary disserta

1 Psalm xxv. &c. xxxiv. xxxvii. cxi. cxii. cxix. cxlv. Prov. xxxi. 10-31; and Lament. i. ii. iii. iv.

2. Isa. lv. 6.

3 Prov. x. 1.

⚫ Eccles. xi. 2.

[ocr errors]

tion to Isaiah, where the inquisitive reader will find ample satisfaction.

I would add, however, that the Hebrew poetry consists of long and short lines, of couplets, triplets, and other combinations of verses sufficient to form a considerable variety, and to suit the different species of poetic composition employed by the inspired writers.

[ocr errors]

4. The last mark of the poetic style is a certain rhythm and harmonious arrangement of the syllables. • That the verses had something regular in their form and composition, seems probable from their apparent parity and uniformity, and the relation which they mani* festly bear to the distribution of the sentence into its members. But as to the harmony * and cadence, the metre or rhythm, of what kind they were, and by what laws regulated, these examples give us no light, nor afford us * sufficient principles on which to build any theory, or to form any hypothesis. For harmony arises from the proportion, relation, and 'correspondence of different combined sounds; and verse from the arrangement of words, and the disposition of syllables, according to the number, quantity, and accent; therefore the harmony and true modulation of verse depends upon a perfect pronunciation of the language, and a knowledge of the principles • and rules of versification; and metre supposes an exact knowledge of the number and ' quantity of the syllables, and in some languages of the accent. But the true pronunciation of Hebrew is lost: lost to a degree far

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

beyond what can ever be the case of any European language preserved only in writings: 'for the Hebrew language... has lain now for '2000 years, in a manner mute, and incapable 'of utterance: the number of syllables is, in a great many words, uncertain: the quantity ' and accent wholly unknown'.'

[ocr errors]

Thus the learned translator of Isaiah; and, by this extract, the reader will perceive his ́ lordship pays little regard to the Masoretic points and accents, and esteems the rules of the Jews of no authority.' Without these, however, that the Hebrew writers had a respect to quantity and accent, there is sufficient evidence in the poetic licences they employ in lengthening and abbreviating words, by forms little used in their prose or historical compositions; and by an arrangement of words sometimes very intricate, and at this distance of time, very hard to understand.

We have said, the Hebrews had their poetic licences, and to these, I conceive, should be referred some peculiarities in their language, which critics and grammarians have found it difficult to account for. Among these, one of the principal seems to be an enallege or change of tenses; the past for future, and the future for past, or rather both past and future for the present; which is wanting in the Hebrew, excepting the participle, and this in many cases cannot be conveniently employed. It is how

1

Lowth's Prelim. Dissert. to Isaiah, 8vo. ed. p. 10. See also his Lectures, Lect. III.

E

ever rather as a poetic beauty, than from ne cessity, that the prophets so frequently,

rapt into future times,' consider them as present, or even past, and relate them with all the certitude of history. Instances of this abound in Scripture, and none is perhaps more beautiful and striking than the 53d chapter of Isaiah.

It is true, indeed, that the sacred writers frequently employ the contrary idiom, and use the future for the past', which seems not so easy to be accounted for. In many places the tenses are used promiscuously, and interchangeably, in the same or in succeeding verses; in which case, perhaps, both ought to be rendered into English by the present, for which I suppose them generally to be used; being designed to collect the actions or events, either past or future, more immediately under the observer's eye; and thus rendered would, I conceive, acquire additional elegance and beauty3.

1

2

Deut. iv. 42. Psal. lxxx. 9, &c.

Grammarians have endeavoured to get over thefe difficulties by ascribing a kind of magic influence to the particle vau (1) which has the power, they say, according as it is pointed, to convert preters into futures, and vice versa. Some give it a sort of magnetic virtue, by which they suppose it can operate at a distance; so that if you can find this vau within two or three verses it may suffice. Others go farther, and supposing this vau to be often omitted, allow you to understand, or supply one. So that in short, wherever you may suppose an enallege of tenses, you have only to find a vau prefix; or, if you cannot find, you may supply one, and the work is done. Every one must see the futility of these rules, and their tendency to perplex translators.

3 Examine, for instance, Deut. xxxii. 10-20; Ps. lxxviii. 36-41, in the original.

SECTION III.

ON THE HEBREW MUSIC AND RECITATION.

LET us now enquire into the primitive method of reciting poetry. Poetry, being in a peculiar manner the language of contemplation and devotion, appears naturally to require and assume a higher tone, and sublimer expression, than mere prose. It is said that the celebrated president Edwards, who was fond of retirement and solitary contemplation, used when alone in the woods of North America, to chaunt forth his meditations; and it was probably the case with the first generations. MILTON reckons devotional melody among the employments of our first parents, in their state of innocence,

• Their oraisons each morning duly paid
In various style; for neither various style,
Nor holy rapture, wanted they to praise
Their Maker in fit strains pronounc'd, or sung
Unmeditated; such prompt eloquence

Flow'd from their lips, in prose, or num❜rous verse,
'More tunable than needed lute or harp
To add more sweetness'.'

Dr. Blair assumes it as a principle2, 'that the pronunciation of the earliest languages was accompanied with more gesticulation, and with more and greater inflexions of voice than

[blocks in formation]
« AnteriorContinua »