“Poetry” calls to mind a Western pattern of balanced lines, regular stress, and rhyme. Hebrew manuscripts do not distinguish poetry from prose in such a clear-cut way. Hebrew poetry has three primary characteristics—parallelism, meter, and the grouping of lines into larger units called stanzas. The predominant feature of Hebrew Poetry is Parallelism.
Sometimes our modern translations can lose the effect of the Hebrew Poetry and sometimes the translations make their own poetry. The Bible contains literature, poetical and prose, equal to the best of literature. Man is a rhythmic animal; he breathes rhythmically, and his blood circulates rhythmically. It may be due to these involuntary rhythms that men are swayed by feeling and less by reasoning and logic. Man walks, dances, sings and poetizes
Parallelism are two lines in poetry, side by side, that are related to each other.
Synonymous parallelism occurs when a poet writes two lines side by side that are worded differently, but which mean about the same.
Matthew 11: 28-30
"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
Antithetical Parallelism indicates that a second line says the opposite of the first.
Luke 6: 24-26
"But woe to you who are rich, For you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full, For you shall hunger
Woe to you who laugh now, For you shall mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all men speak well of you, For so did their fathers to the false prophets."
Synthetic or Two-line or three-line constructive is used to build ideas as a second and even a third line add to the first line.
Mark 12: 10-11
"Have you not even read this Scripture:
'The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the Lord's doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes'?"
Introverted or Chiastic Parallelism represents the same idea in the first and fourth lines, but in a different vocabulary, while lines two and three parallel each other, also in different words. The correct translation would show an A-B-B-A pattern.
Matthew 3: 12
"His winnowing fan is in His hand,
and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor,
He will gather his wheat into the barn,
but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire."
Stairlike Parallelism moves downward on the page, but upward in memory as each line adds a thought to the former.
Luke 4: 18-19
He sent Me
to announce freedom to prisoners and
[to announce] the restoring of sight to the blind;
to set free those who have been oppressed;
to announce the favorable year of the Lord.
Palilogical Parallelism in which one or more words of the first line are repeated as an echo.
Nahum 1: 12
"Yahweh is a jealous God and avenges:
Yahweh avenges and is full of wrath;
Yahweh takes vengeance upon His adversaries,
And He reserves wrath for his enemies"
Climactic or comprehensive parallelism: In this the second line completes the first.
"Give unto Yahweh,
O ye mighty ones,
Give unto Yahweh glory and strength"
Perfect parallelism is that in which the number of words in each line is equal. When unequal, the parallelism is called imperfect.
Alliteration - The repetition of the same sounds or of the same kinds of sounds at the beginning of words or in stressed syllables. In Hebrew, the Bible has many examples but is lost in translation.
"on scrolls of silver snowy sentences" (Hart Crane).
Assonance - The repetition of identical or similar vowel sounds, especially in stressed syllables, with changes in the intervening consonants, as in the phrase tilting at windmills.
Genesis 49: 17
Dan shall be a serpent by the way,
A viper by the path,
That bites the horse's heels
So that its rider shall fall backward.
Rhyme - A poem or verse having a regular correspondence of sounds, especially at the ends of lines. In Hebrew, the Bible has rare examples. In translation, there are some examples.
Acrostics - A poem or series of lines in which certain letters, usually the first in each line, form a name, motto, or message when read in sequence. In Hebrew, there are such alphabetical acrostics in Psalms 9; 34; 37; Proverbs 31:10; Lamentations 1-4; compare Lamentations 5, where the number of verses agrees with that of the Hebrew alphabet, though the letters of that alphabet do not introduce the verses.
Meter - The measured arrangement of words in poetry, as by accentual rhythm, syllabic quantity, or the number of syllables in a line. The poetry of the Hebrew is not in the strict sense metrical, though the writers under the influence of strong emotion express themselves rhythmically. Hebrew word units may be illustrated by the use of hyphens. This example shows a 3+4 meter. Particles and other words which play minor roles in the syntax of Hebrew are generally excluded from the count.
Psalm 42: 1
As-a-deer longs for-flowing-streams,
So-my-soul longs for-you, God.
Didactic - Intended to instruct, morally instructive.
Give ear, O all of you heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.
My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass:
Because I will publish the name of the LORD: ascribe all of you greatness unto our God.
He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.
They have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of his children: they are a perverse and crooked generation.
Do all of you thus requite the LORD, O foolish people and unwise? is not he your father that has bought you? has he not made you, and established you?
Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask your father, and he will show you; your elders, and they will tell you.
When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.
For the LORD's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.
He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.
As an eagle stirs up her nest, flutteres over her young, spreads abroad her wings, takes them, bears them on her wings:
So the LORD alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.
He made him ride on the high places of the earth, that he might eat the increase of the fields; and he made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock;
Butter of cattle, and milk of sheep, with fat of lambs, and rams of the breed of Bashan, and goats, with the fat of kidneys of wheat; and you did drink the pure blood of the grape.
But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: you are becoming fat, you are grown thick, you are covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation.
They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger.
They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not.
Of the Rock that brings forth you you are unmindful, and have forgotten God that formed you.
And when the LORD saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters.
And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very perverse generation, children in whom is no faith.
They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.
For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the low hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.
I will heap evil upon them; I will spend mine arrows upon them.
They shall be burnt with hunger, and devoured with burning heat, and with bitter destruction: I will also send the teeth of beasts upon them, with the poison of serpents of the dust.The sword without, and terror within, shall destroy both the young man and the virgin, the nursing infant also with the man of gray hairs.I said, I would scatter them into corners, I would make the remembrance of them to cease from among men:Were it not that I feared the wrath of the enemy, lest their adversaries should behave themselves strangely, and lest they should say, Our hand is high, and the LORD has not done all this.
For they are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them.O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had shut them up?
For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges.For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter:Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps.
Is not this laid up in store with me, and sealed up among my treasures?
To me belongs vengeance and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.
For the LORD shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he sees that their power is gone, and there is none shut up, or left.
And he shall say, Where are their gods, their rock in whom they trusted,
Which did eat the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their drink offerings? let them rise up and help you, and be your protection.
See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand.
For I lift up my hand to heaven, and say, I live for ever.
If I sharpen my glittering sword, and mine hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me.
I will make mine arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh; and that with the blood of the slain and of the captives, from the beginning of revenges upon the enemy.
Rejoice, O all of you nations, with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people.
And Moses came and spoke all the words of this song in the ears of the people, he, and Hoshea the son of Nun.
And Moses made an end of speaking all these words to all Israel:
And he said unto them, Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which all of you shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this law.
For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life: and through this thing all of you shall prolong your days in the land, where all of you go over Jordan to possess it.
And the LORD spoke unto Moses that very same day, saying,
Get you up into this mountain Abarim, unto mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, that is opposite to Jericho; and behold the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel for a possession:And die in the mount where you go up, and be gathered unto your people; as Aaron your brother died in mount Hor, and was gathered unto his people:
Because all of you trespassed against me among the children of Israel at the waters of MeribahKadesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because all of you sanctified me not in the midst of the children of Israel.
Yet you shall see the land before you; but you shall not go thither unto the land which I give the children of Israel.
Epic - An extended narrative poem in elevated or dignified language, celebrating the feats of a legendary or traditional hero.
Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day, saying,
Praise all of you the LORD for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves.
Hear, O all of you kings; give ear, O all of you princes; I, even I, will sing unto the LORD; I will sing praise to the LORD God of Israel.LORD, when you went out of Seir, when you marched out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water.
The mountains melted from before the LORD, even that Sinai from before the LORD God of Israel.
In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways.
The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel.
They chose new gods; then was war in the gates: was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?
My heart is toward the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless all of you the LORD.
Speak, all of you that ride on white asses, all of you that sit in judgment, and walk by the way.
They that are delivered from the noise of archers in the places of drawing water, there shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the LORD, even the righteous acts toward the inhabitants of his villages in Israel: then shall the people of the LORD go down to the gates.
Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead your captivity captive, you son of Abinoam.
Then he made him that remains have dominion over the nobles among the people: the LORD made me have dominion over the mighty.
Out of Ephraim was there a root of them against Amalek; after you, Benjamin, among your people; out of Machir came down governors, and out of Zebulun they that handle the pen of the writer.
And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah; even Issachar, and also Barak: he was sent on foot into the valley. For the divisions of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart.
Why abode you among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks? For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.
Gilead abode beyond Jordan: and why did Dan remain in ships? Asher continued on the sea shore, and abode in his breaches.
Zebulun and Naphtali were a people that jeopardized their lives unto the death in the high places of the field.
The kings came and fought, then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; they took no gain of money.
They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.
The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon. O my soul, you have trodden down strength.
Then were the horse-hoofs broken by the means of the prancings, the prancings of their mighty ones.
Curse all of you Meroz, said the angel of the LORD, curse all of you bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the LORD, to the help of the LORD against the mighty.
Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent.
He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish.
She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen's hammer; and with the hammer she stroke Sisera, she stroke off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples.
At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down: at her feet he bowed, he fell: where he bowed, there he fell down dead.
The mother of Sisera looked out at a window, and cried through the lattice, Why is his chariot so long in coming? why tarry the wheels of his chariots?
Her wise ladies answered her, yea, she returned answer to herself,
Have they not succeeded? have they not divided the prey; to every man a damsel or two; to Sisera a prey of divers colours, a prey of divers colours of needlework, of divers colours of needlework on both sides, meet for the necks of them that take the spoil?
So let all yours enemies perish, O LORD: but let them that love him be as the sun when he goes forth in his might. And the land had rest forty years.
Elegy - -A poem or song composed especially as a lament for a deceased person.
II Samuel 1: 19-27
Song When Saul Died
The beauty of Israel is slain upon your high places: how are the mighty fallen!
Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.
All of you mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain, upon you, nor fields of offerings: for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, as though he had not been anointed with oil.
From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan turned not back, and the sword of Saul returned not empty.
Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided: they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.
All of you daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights, who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel.
How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! O Jonathan, you were slain in yours high places.
I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant have you been unto me: your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.
How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!
Sacred Lyrics - Song for the worship of a deity
Luke 1: 44-55
And Mary said, "My soul does magnify the Lord,
And my spirit (o. pneuma) has rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty has done to me great things; and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
He has showed strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
He has filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he has sent empty away.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever."
As you can see, poetry is throughout the Bible. One third of the Old Testament is cast in poetry. But there are five poetic books in the Bible which are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs (Song of Solomon).
Read it for yourself!