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Sunday, November 05, 2006

ancient hebrew poetry

    Psalm 137

    By the rivers of Babylon
    there we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion
    on the willows in its midst
    we hung our lyres

    For there our captors
    demanded words of song
    our mockers mirth
    sing for us
    a song of Zion
    how can we sing a song of Yahweh
    on foreign soil?

    If I forget you, Jerusalem
    let my right hand wither
    let my tongue cleave to my palate
    if I do not remember you
    if I do not set Jerusalem
    above my highest delight

    Remember, Yahweh,
    against the Edomites
    that day of Jerusalem
    when they said, lay bare, lay bare
    the foundation of it

    Lovely Babylon, the doomed
    how happy he who rewards you
    with the portion you apportioned us
    how happy he who seizes and dashes
    your infants against the rock Psalm 137

John Hobbins, of ancient hebrew poetry, learned Hebrew in high school and has been developing his interest in translating Hebrew poetry all his life. He has recently adapted many of his poems so they would be easier to post on the internet in plain text. Thanks John. I am very happy to share this translation along with your many essays and posts on Hebrew poetry.

John writes about his poetry,

    The goal has been to furnish a global approximation of the poetry and prosody of the Hebrew text, even if the results are necessarily piecemeal. The rich texture of the original cannot be mapped onto a translation except in fits and starts. I sometimes retain, in imitation of the Hebrew, examples of chiasm, inversion, and ellipsis which perforce result in a less idiomatic rendering.

    It is not possible, of course, to reproduce every case of two stresses in a row in the original or to suppress every case of two stresses in a row in translation without analogy in the original. Nevertheless, some attempt has been made to mimic the overall frequency of stress clash in the Hebrew text. The reproduction of metrical feet in translation is a daunting task. Some attempt has been made to represent shorter feet in Hebrew with shorter feet in English, and longer with longer, but no attempt has been made to avoid dactyls and first class paeons, though of course they are non-existent in Hebrew.


At Sun Nov 05, 02:37:00 AM, Blogger John Dekker said...

I didn't know Hebrew poetry used meter.

At Mon Nov 06, 08:03:00 AM, Blogger John said...

The role of meter in ancient Hebrew poetry is controversial. One school of thought, pioneered by Julius Ley and Eduard Sievers, holds that the minimal counting unit was what modern linguists call the prosodic word. In my view, this approach elucidates the structure of poem after poem in the Hebrew Bible.

For more discussion, see my website to which Suzanne linked. Comments are welcome.


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