Happy Black History Month to all readers.
Over the last two posts, our exploration of poetry has been rooted to the Earthly realm, seeing how it affects human beings in their thoughts and actions, our view of the natural world and of the societies that we live in.
It would seem that poetry can only be used as a tool of change in these two instances and can not be found or be used for anything else.
The truth is that all creative exercises, sooner or later, have a spiritual agenda that leads us to religion and to God. Whether it may be the verses of the Koran or the Gregorian chants of the Roman Catholic Church, poetry can become an avenue with which me direct our prayers and requests up to heaven.
One of the most famous examples of ‘‘spiritual poetry’’ comes from the Book of Psalms in the Bible which has been referenced by both Jews and Christians.
Composed mostly by King David in the Old testament, 3 of the main genres that the psalms contain are: hymns of praise, lament and royal psalms.
- hymns of praise — This genre of psalms describes the greatness of God (G-d for Jewish readers) and his relationship with his people( the Israelites).
When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language;
Judah was his sanctuary, and Israel his dominion.
The sea saw it, and fled: Jordan was driven back.
The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs.
What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest? thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back?
Ye mountains, that ye skipped like rams; and ye little hills, like lambs?
Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob;
Which turned the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters
2. Lament — These forms of psalms can either be lamentations for the individual or for the community/ nation. It can involve such subjects in the verses as describing the suffering, addressing sorrows to God and faith in a heavenly intervention.
Psalm 79: 1-4 and 9-13(NIV)
A psalm of Asaph.
O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance;
they have defiled your holy temple,
they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble.
They have left the dead bodies of your servants
as food for the birds of the sky,
the flesh of your own people for the animals of the wild.
They have poured out blood like water
all around Jerusalem,
and there is no one to bury the dead.
We are objects of contempt to our neighbors,
of scorn and derision to those around us.
Help us, God our savior,
for the glory of your name;
deliver us and forgive our sins
for your name’s sake. Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Before our eyes make known among nations
that you avenge the outpoured blood of your servants.
May the groans of the prisoners come before you;
with your strong arm preserve those condemned to die.
Pay back into the laps of our neighbors seven times
the contempt they have hurled at you, Lord.
Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture,
will praise you forever;
from generation to generation
we will proclaim your praise.
- Royal psalms — The royal psalms speak of the role of the kings in the worship of God, but not entirely. Each of the psalms make reference to the king and their power which is granted by God.Psalm 72
Endow the king with your justice, O God,
the royal son with your righteousness.
May he judge your people in righteousness,
your afflicted ones with justice.
May the mountains bring prosperity to the people,
the hills the fruit of righteousness.
May he defend the afflicted among the people
and save the children of the needy;
may he crush the oppressor.
May he endure as long as the sun,
as long as the moon, through all generations.
May he be like rain falling on a mown field,
like showers watering the earth.
In his days may the righteous flourish
and prosperity abound till the moon is no more.
May he rule from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
May the desert tribes bow before him
and his enemies lick the dust.
May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores
bring tribute to him.
May the kings of Sheba and Seba
present him gifts.
May all kings bow down to him
and all nations serve him.
For he will deliver the needy who cry out;
the afflicted who have no one to help.
He will take pity on the weak and the needy
and save the needy from death.
He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
for precious is their blood in his sight.
Long may he live!
May gold from Sheba be given him.
May people ever pray for him
and bless him all day long.
May grain abound throughout the land;
on the tops of the hills may it sway.
May the crops flourish like Lebanon
and thrive like the grass of the field.
May his name endure forever;
may it continue as long as the sun.
Then all nations will be blessed through him,
and they will call him blessed.
Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel,
who alone does marvelous deeds.
Praise be to his glorious name forever;
may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
Amen and Amen.
This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.
As a final note, one of the most recurring features of Biblical poetry is a literary rhetoric known as parallelism which, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means: the use of successive verbal constructions in poetry or prose which correspond in grammatical structure, sound, metre, meaning, etc.
In the psalms, there can be five forms: Synonymous, antithetical, synthetic, introverted and stair-like. Two examples are:
- Psalm 27:1 – The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (synonymous)
- Psalm 1:6 – The Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked parish. (antithetic)
Next week: the series concludes with What is Poetry 3 – Creative expression where we explore poetry in its most unusual forms.