Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible 
POETRY . 1. The presence of poetry in the Bible is natural and fitting. As it is the form of composition which is easiest to memorize, whether in the earlier stages of a literature, or later in the expression of common religious experience, it is natural that poetry should be preserved, and should be the preserver of Hebrew thought. As the form of literature which is concrete in its pictures, it is to be expected that the Hebrew people, to whom abstract thought and terminology are almost unknown, would employ it very freely. As the literature of emotion and imagination, it is naturally used to express religious emotion and religious ideals. It does not suffice, however, to state the fitness of poetry to satisfy in a measure the purposes for which the Bible was written. Does it actually contain poetry? The answer is to be found only by examination of its contents, and only an affirmative answer is possible. Though the Psalms have not been written in poetical form for two thousand years, yet their poetry cannot be obscured. Scholars may differ as to the forms and laws of Hebrew poetry, yet they do not venture to say that none is to be found in the Bible.
The presence of poetry must he recognized if one would gain any adequate knowledge of the Scriptures. Otherwise correct interpretation is impossible. From failure in this respect in the past, our theology has suffered, the warfare between the Bible and science has been intensified if not caused, and Christians have lost immeasurably the comfort and spiritual help available from this kind of literature. Poetry must be interpreted as poetry. To apply to it the same principles of exegesis as are applied to prose is highly absurd; for in attempting to mark the differences between prose and poetry we must go below the form of language, and note that there is a distinctly poetic mode of thought and range of ideas. The facts of experience are so grouped and wrought upon by the imagination as to become a new creation. The singer is not bound to time or place; he speaks in figure without knowing that it is a figure; he speaks in hyperbole because he does not have the sense of proportion. The poetry of the thought affects also the vocahulary of the singer; it modifies his word meanings, and affects his grammar. It alters his literary style, and there arises a distinct study, that of literature as poetry a study in which the attempt is made to discover how poetical forms express the poetical thought of the writer.
2. In treating the poetry of the Bible we are concerned chiefly with the OT. The NT has a few poetical sections (see Hymn), but these are confessedly Hebrew in character, and do not call for independent treatment here. As compared with the OT, the NT contains very little poetry, for the obvious reason that Christianity, early and late, has largely found the Hebrew Psalter sufficient for its devotional purposes.
3. What are the characteristics of Hebrew poetry? They must be found from an inductive study of recognized poetical sections of the OT. A certain part of the Scriptures is clearly poetry; a certain other part is clearly prose. Between the two there is a great amount of literature, especially in the prophetical books, about which there is a difference of opinion. It is called poetry or prose according to the scholar’s definitions and his zeal in making emendations. There are prose poems, products of real poetical imagination, and artistic in form, but lacking in poetic rhythm. These doubtful passages should he left out of account until the essential principles of the poetry of the Hebrew people are determined, and then the test can be reasonably applied to them. Such has not always been the mode of procedure on the part of scholars. Sometimes their aim seems to have been to discover new examples, whether by direct study or by inexact methods. One cannot look very deeply into the subject without discovering the most extreme differences of opinion among scholars. There is abundant reason for this state of things. The very reasons which make the presence of poetry in the Bible natural and fitting, operate to make its definition difficult. The more natural the poetic expression of thought and feeling, the freer it will be from conventional regulation, and the less sharp will be the difference between the prose and the poetical literature of a people. And again, in Hebrew so many facts are lost upon which we are wont to place dependence in such a study, that until we get new light from without, any scheme of Hebrew metre must be merely a working hypothesis, and no complete system can be expected. There is not a commanding tradition of the pronunciation of the language, whether we think of vowels, syllables, or accent. We have no knowledge of Hebrew music of a character that would aid in determining the rhythm of the poems that were sung to its accompaniment. Even the consonantal text is corrupt, in many places confessedly so; and there is almost no place so certain that a new scholar does not feel himself free to arise and emend it, and so win his spurs. Under these circumstances wide differences of opinion are to be expected, and their existence must be endured patiently. If there is any ridicule justifiable, it should he expended, with extreme caution, upon those who, ignoring these many points of uncertainty which necessarily limit the value of their inductions, formulate an elaborate and microscopically minute system of metre, and then turn confidently round and use the system to emend the text so as to bring it to its original condition. Rhythmical considerations may to a certain extent enter into literary and textual criticism, but unsupported they cannot be convincing.
The OT is not quite destitute of evidence that the Hebrews themselves were conscious of a difference between their prose and their poetry. They had special names for ‘proverb’ and ‘song’ ; they provided the Psalms with headings, some of which must have been musical directions; they made alphabetical poems, the several lines or stanzas of which begin with the letters of the alphabet in regular order. These lines and stanzas are of equal length and similar rhythm. Some of the poems inserted in the prose books are written and printed line by line, as Exodus 15:1-27 , Deuteronomy 32:1-52 , Judges 5:1-31 , 2 Samuel 22:1-51; and for the three poetical books of the canon the Massoretes of later times provided a special system of pointing, thereby recognizing a distinction that must have had its basis in tradition, although the special pointing was not to preserve the poetic value.
Passing over, with the brief allusion already made, the peculiarities of thought, of vocabulary, and of grammar which poetry reveals, the features that one expects to find in OT poetry concern the line, and the stanza or strophe. (1) The line is so constructed that when it is read aloud it sounds agreeable to the ear by virtue of a distinct rhythm; this rhythm is repeated with little or no variation from line to line; the end of the line coincides with a break in the sense. The line is properly regarded as the unit of poetical expression. It is commonly of a length to be uttered with a single breath, and, if sung, a brief strain of music suffices to accompany it. The fundamental importance of the line makes it desirable to determine, if possible, what are the rules for its length, and what is the nature of the measurement that secures the rhythmical effect so universally recognizable. The history of the search for a satisfactory system of metre cannot be given here. Classical models, with quantity as a basis, were long ago abandoned; one group of scholars discard the Massoretic accents, and attempt an explanation on the basis of Syriac metre, counting syllables, and accenting alternate ones; but the predominant theories are accentual. Of these some have reckoned only the rises (accented syllables), and others count the falls also, permitting only a certain number of them to intervene between rises. This number is made to depend on the metrical value of the syllables, which, according to some scholars, is determined by the number of morÅ“ , or time units, which they contain.
It should be remembered that we are dealing with an early form of an ancient literature, and that this literature is an Oriental one. This creates a very strong presumption against an elaborate and minute system of metre. The Hebrew language was indeed dominated by tradition, which made it difficult to alter established practice; but in case the tradition was one of freedom on the part of the writer to construct his poem as he chose, it naturally operated to keep him free from the complicated rules which spring up in the later periods of the life of a language.
Until the contrary is shown on other grounds, it must be assumed that the Hebrew accent system, differing traditionally from Arabic and Syriac, differed from them actually; and as the traditional grammatical forms depend largely upon the accent, the natural Inference is that it is an important feature of the language. If so, it may he supposed that it is important also in poetry. The view that seems best to suit the facts as they exist, that makes the smallest demands in the way of departure from ordinary prose style, and that yields at the same time results reasonably satisfying to the poetic feeling, is this: the line was composed of a definite number of accents, or, as ordinarily each word had one accent, of a definite number of words. This view does not fit all the lines of every poem; but the possibility of exceptions at the will of the writer is a part of the theory. Moreover, the percentage of exceptions is very likely not greater than that of probable corruptions in the text. It is not to be counted as an exception when, in order to secure the regular number of accents, two short words must be pronounced as one, as is so often done for other reasons with the insertion of a maqqeph ( Ö¾ ), or when a word exceptionally long and heavy must be pronounced with two accents for the same purpose. (2) The next higher unit is the group of lines taken together. The name strophe might be applied to all such groups, but it is usually reserved for the larger groups. The smallest group the couplet or distich exhibits the most characteristic feature of the poetry of the language, namely Parallelism , a name given by Lowth in 1753. The lines are so related to each other that there is a correspondence of parts, both in form and in sense. It is not confined exclusively to poetry, for it is nothing but the development of the idea of balance and euphony of parts which is found in elevated prose style, especially such as is uttered orally. The mind more easily grasps the thought of a second clause, if fashioned like an earlier one. It is less occupied with the form, for that is already familiar. It is also, and doubtless for that very reason, more agreeable to the ear. What is desirable in prose, and often used there, becomes the rule in poetry, as one may easily understand when one considers the necessity of a uniform line for the sake of easy utterance with musical accompaniment. It is by its persistence and uniformity that parallelism certifies to the poetical nature of a passage. This parallelism is of the utmost importance in determining the meaning of a verse. While its adoption as a poetical form has a logical basis, once let it become the rule for such composition, and it cannot fail to operate to modify the thought as well as the form. What would otherwise appear to be a careful choice of synonyms, for example, perhaps to secure climacteric effect, may be simply the operation of this principle. So the unusual position of a word in a clause may be traceable to this rather than to a desire to secure special emphasis. Several distinct forms of parallelism have been observed.
( a ) Synonymous parallelism . The thought of the two lines is synonymous, and so are the several terms by which the thought is expressed.
How shall I curse whom God hath not cursed?
And how shall I defy whom Jahweh hath not defied? ( Numbers 23:8 ).
( b ) Antithetic parallelism . The second line expresses the same real truth as the first, but it does it antithetically. The form is truly parallel, and one member of the lines is synonymous, the other two contrasted. This is especially common in proverbs.
A wise son maketh a glad father,
But a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother. ( Proverbs 10:1 ).
( c ) Stair-like or ascending rhythm . The thought of the first line is repeated in part, or, if entirely, more briefly, so that the second line can add a further item of thought, thus rising above the parallel line.
Till thy people pass over, Jahweh,
Till thy people pass over, which thou hast purchased. ( Exodus 15:6 ).
( d ) Synthetic parallelism . The thought of the second line is entirely different or supplementary, none of the first being repeated. The distich remains in parallelism, for the two lines correspond in form.
Answer not a fool according to his folly,
Lest thou also be like unto him. ( Proverbs 26:4 ).
Other varieties are often singled out for discussion, and it will not be supposed that a typical form is always to be discovered. The variations and combinations are very numerous, and the study of them is full of interest and novelty.
The two-line group, or distich, has been considered above, as the simplest in which parallelism can be observed. It is also by far the commonest. Three lines grouped in a similar way are not uncommon. In this case the first and second may be synonymous, and the third synthetic to them; or other combinations may be found. Moreover, distiches may be arranged in pairs, with the same parallelism as between single lines of the distich. It often occurs that several lines are grouped together so regularly that a stanza or strophe is recognizable. It may be marked off by a line repeated as a refrain, or by a special initial letter, in alphabetical poems; but such indications are not of common occurrence. Absolute regularity in length is not often found, and scholars often attempt to secure it by assuming the loss or insertion of a couplet or two. There is also no specific principle distinct from the parallelism above mentioned, to form the basis of a strophical division. It seems likely, then, that strophes are not to be regarded as an essential feature of Hebrew poetry, like the stanzas of a hymn that is to be sung; but that the grouping is entirely optional and ordinarily logical a literary feature. Rhyme and assonance are known in the language, but are not used persistently throughout a poem, and cannot be anticipated or reduced to rule when present.
3 . By far the greater part of the OT poetry is of course religious and ethical, as the Psalms, Proverbs , and Job (see artt.). Outside of these books, however, is an interesting and by no means small amount of poetry which the Bible student may profitably study for its literary and historical value.
In family and social life, poetry evidently had a large place. Marriage occasions furnished the very best opportunity for the composition of songs, and for their execution to the accompaniment of music. Such are the songs in the Book of Canticles. The wedding song evidently furnished the model of the passage Isaiah 5:1 ff. Lamentation for the dead is also an evidence. The finest example is that of David over Saul and Jonathan ( 2 Samuel 1:17 ff.). A part of a lament by him over Abner is found in 2 Samuel 3:33 f. The tenderness and fitness of these utterances are very different from the stereotyped dirges of which there is notice in Jeremiah 9:16 (17). The character of these may be seen from the Book of Lamentations, where the poet laments over the city as over a person. The first four of the five poems of this book are alphabetical, a strong mark of artificiality, which is further emphasized by the choice of a peculiar rhythm, known as the elegiac rhythm. There is a long line, commonly broken by a cÃ¦sura. The first half contains three beats or rises, the ordinary length of the Hebrew line. The second half has hut two. In ordinary rhythm it would have three, and would form a second line in parallelism with the first. The same rhythm is detected in a few passages of similar import in the prophets. There are allusions, too numerous to cite, to the use of songs at feasts of various kinds, and at the drunken revels against which the prophets protest. Numbers 21:17 f. is claimed to he an example of the songs often sung to celebrate the discovery of a spring or the successful digging of a well. The religious use of poetry is scarcely to be distinguished from its national use. For when Jahweh could be addressed as the God of the hosts of Israel, poems composed to incite or reward bravery could not fail to make use of religious as well as of patriotic emotions to secure their end. See, for example, Judges 5:1-31 .
O. H. Gates.
Holman Bible Dictionary 
Poetry in the Old Testament
Genesis 2:23; Genesis 3:14-19; Genesis 3:23-24; Genesis 8:22; Genesis 9:25-27; Genesis 14:19-20; Genesis 16:11-12; Genesis 25:23; Genesis 27:27-29 ,Genesis 27:27-29, 27:39-40; Genesis 48:15-16; Genesis 49:2-27
Exodus 15:1-18 ,Exodus 15:1-18, 15:21
Numbers 6:24-27; Numbers 10:35-36; Numbers 12:6-8; Numbers 21:14-15; Numbers 21:17-18 ,Numbers 21:17-18, 21:27-30; Numbers 23:7-10; Numbers 23:18-24; Numbers 24:3-9 ,Numbers 24:3-9, 24:15-24
Deuteronomy 32:1-43; Deuteronomy 33:2-29
Judges 5:2-31; Judges 14:14 ,Judges 14:14, 14:18; Judges 15:16
Ruth 1:16-17 ,Ruth 1:16-17, 1:20-21
1 Samuel 2:1-10; 1Samuel 15:22-23, 1 Samuel 15:33; 1 Samuel 18:7; 1 Samuel 21:11; 1 Samuel 29:5
2 Samuel 1:19-27; 2 Samuel 3:33-34; 2 Samuel 22:2-51; 2 Samuel 23:1-7
1 Kings 8:12-13; 1 Kings 12:16
2 Kings 19:21-28
1 Chronicles 16:8-36
2 Chronicles 5:13; 2 Chronicles 6:41-42; 2 Chronicles 7:3; 2 Chronicles 10:16; 2 Chronicles 20:21
Ecclesiastes 1:2-11 ,Ecclesiastes 1:2-11, 1:15 ,Ecclesiastes 1:15, 1:18; Ecclesiastes 3:2-9; Ecclesiastes 7:1-13; Ecclesiastes 8:1; Ecclesiastes 10:1-4 ,Ecclesiastes 10:1-4, 10:8-20; Ecclesiastes 11:1-4
Song of Song of Solomon 1-8
Jeremiah—poetic selections throughout except for 32–45
Ezekiel 19:2-14; Ezekiel 23:32-34; Ezekiel 24:3-5; Ezekiel 26:17-18; Ezekiel 27:3-9; Ezekiel 27:25-36; Ezekiel 28:1-10; Ezekiel 28:12-19; Ezekiel 28:22-23; Ezekiel 29:3-5; Ezekiel 30:2-4; Ezekiel 30:6-8; Ezekiel 30:10-19; Ezekiel 31:2-9; Ezekiel 32:2-8; Ezekiel 32:12-15; Ezekiel 32:19
Daniel 2:20-23; Daniel 4:3; Daniel 4:34-35; Daniel 6:26-27; Daniel 7:9-10; Daniel 7:13-14; 7:23-27 Hosea—all poetry except for 1; Daniel 2:16-20; Daniel 3:1-5
Joel—all poetry except for Daniel 2:30-3:8
Zechariah 9-11:3; Zechariah 11:17; Zechariah 13:7-9
Parallelism The predominant feature of Hebrew poetry is parallelism. In parallelism, two or three short lines stand in one of three relationships to one another: synonymous, antithetic, or synthetic.
In synonymous parallelism, the succeeding line expresses an identical or nearly identical thought:
My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding. Psalm 49:3 (NRSV)
The lines are not synonymous in the sense that they express exactly the same meaning. To the contrary, slight differences color the parallel lines expanding or narrowing the theme brought forward in the first line.
In antithetic parallelism, succeeding lines express opposing thoughts:
The wicked borrow, and do not pay back, but the righteous are generous and keep giving. Psalm 37:21 (NRSV)
Line two is a positive expression of line one, but the psalmist's choice of words does more than reflect a pair of mirrored images. Each line means something more as it is linked with the other.
In synthetic parallelism, succeeding lines display little or no repetition
How good and pleasant it is When brothers live together in unity! Psalm 133:1 (NIV)
There is no one-to-one correspondence between the word groups. Continuity joins the parallel lines. Synthetic parallel lines may describe an order of events, list characteristics of a person or thing, or simply modify a common theme.
Meter Various methods for determining meter have been developed. Attempts to establish a classical system of meter (iambic feet, for example) have failed. Other theories use letter counts, vowel counts, stress counts, and word counts. The last mentioned is one of the most effective methods.
Hebrew word units may be illustrated by the use of hyphens:
As-a-deer longs for-flowing-streams, So-my-soul longs for-you, God. Psalm 42:1
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. Individual lines range from two to four words each, even though these “words” may be translated as two or three words in English. 3+2,2+3 meter is common. Parallel lines may also be 3+3. Groups of three parallel lines may express a 2+2+2 pattern or 3+3+3. Numerous metrical systems are possible. Consequently, Hebrew meter is described in terms of general patterns rather than absolute uniformity. Systems of meter, unlike parallelism, are apparent only in the Hebrew language and not in English translations.
Stanzas Sets of parallel lines are often, but not always, divided into larger units. Such stanzas may be set off by identical lines or by parallel lines expressing similar thoughts. These introductions may take the form of a refrain not unlike a musical refrain. Sections separated in this way may be dissimilar in theme, form, and vocabulary. Psalm 42-43 present a good example of clear-cut stanzas. The two chapters together form a single poem. A refrain is repeated three times: Psalm 42:5 ,Psalms 42:5, 42:11; Psalm 43:5 . The refrain subdivides the poem into three sections.
Poetry provides imagery and tone for inspired writers to drum God's word home to His people. Awareness of poetic form alerts the reader to listen for the images and moods of a passage.
Donald K. Berry
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology 
Introduction . The significance of studying biblical poetry lies largely in the amount of the Bible that is penned in poetic style. No doubt many readers will conjure images of the so-called poetic books in the Old Testament (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon) upon hearing the term "biblical poetry." Unfortunately, this preconception is not wholly accurate for at least two reasons.
First, the books deemed "poetic" do not always yield solid examples of biblical poetry. For instance, Ecclesiastes does not consistently exhibit examples of verse. Major sections of the book are prosaic. The Book of Job manifests prosaic sections that frame the book (cf. chaps. 1,42).
Second, the term "poetic books" implies that the other Old Testament material is not poetic. This simply is not the case. Some of the most sublime poetry in the Bible lies in such diverse texts as Exodus 15 and Deuteronomy 32-33 in the Pentateuch, to Judges 5, 2 Samuel 1 in the historical books, to the majority of the Book of Isaiah in the prophets, to name only a few. Indeed, one should note that most of the prophetic books are poetic. Although there is some difference of opinion among scholars about certain texts between one-third and one-half of the Old Testament is written in a poetic style. Clearly, when such a large portion of Sacred Writ occurs in poetic shape, one should note carefully the distinguishing characteristics.
Another reason for studying poetry rests with the unique effect it produces on the reader. Although we will develop this point later, poetry is particularly appropriate for numerous types of passages because of its powerful ability to communicate an emotional message. Thus, for emotions as diverse as laments, oracles of judgment, and paeans of praise, poetry is perfectly suited.
Definition . There are basically two schools of literary thought on how to define the basic nature of poetry. One approach attempts to make the matter purely subjective, arguing that if a text "feels" poetic and impresses itself upon the mind of the reader as such, then the text is indeed poetic. The other school analyzes texts for diagnostic features that could delimit a passage as poetry.
A genuinely poetic text should impress itself upon the reader as poetry on an emotive level. However, there are characteristics of poetry that can be objectively described.
The Old Testament . When many think of poetry, common characteristics of English poetry such as rhyme, alliteration, and assonance come to mind. However, Old Testament poetry does not rhyme, and examples of alliteration and assonance are rare.
Hebrew poetry does possess some form of meter, but there is no agreement about how to analyze it with precision. For instance, some would try to count larger stressed units such as words, while others seek to count syllables. The former method is much more widely utilized, although all recognize great uncertainty regarding their analyses. Despite the uncertainties, enough texts exhibit clear metrical patterns that meter cannot be dismissed outright (for example, Genesis 49 generally manifests a 3:3 pattern ).
Perhaps one of the two most distinguishing features of Old Testament poetry is the presence of figurative language. Of course, both formal prose and casual conversation are well sprinkled with figurative language. However, in poetry, the frequency and sophistication of the figures rise dramatically.
When one encounters a text where figurative language might be present, two issues arise. The first relates to knowing how to determine whether an expression is a figure of speech. In other words, should the expression be taken "literally" (many interpreters prefer either the word "normal" or "plain") or "figuratively"? The second matter concerns the proper interpretation of the figure once it is identified as such.
It would be misleading to imply that one can always know without the slightest uncertainty if an expression is a figure. Despite this qualification, however, one can be confident about the author's intent the overwhelming majority of the time. The basic question the reader should ask when looking for a figure is, "does this text make sense in its normal sense?"
When presented with a figure, the reader must then attempt to understand it precisely. One of the biggest misunderstandings at this point is the notion that figurative language cannot be interpreted as accurately as can nonfigurative expressions. This is a common misapprehension. Figures can be interpreted with as much accuracy as can nonfigurative language. The difference lies in the figure's ability to communicate on an emotive level in addition to the cognitive.
Finally, how does one begin to analyze a figure of speech in a biblical text? Some figures are relatively simple and easy to analyze. For instance, most metaphors and similes offer few difficulties. Other types, such as metonymy, are significantly more challenging. Unfortunately, the diversity of figures makes it impossible to study the different types of figures here.
The second characteristic of Old Testament poetry, one that is unique to poetry in the ancient Near East, is parallelism. In the mid-nineteenth century Robert Lowth formulated the understanding of parallelism that still prevails today in modified form. Parallelism is an analogy drawn from geometry that assumes that two (or sometimes more) lines are paired in such a fashion that the meaning of one line relates to the meaning of the other line(s) in one of several predictable ways.
The basic unit in the parallel lines is the word pair, that is, two or more words that naturally pair together as synonyms, antonyms. or amplifications of one other. "Day" and "night, " "sun" and "moon, " and "earth" and "world" serve to illustrate this phenomenon. Much of the poet's ingenuity lies in the ability to use well-known stock pairs in surprising and innovative ways.
Although word pairs are the building block of parallelism, the basic unit is the poetic line. Usually biblical poetry utilizes pairs of lines called couplets. Less frequently, three lines (or triplets) occur. Four paired lines are called a quatrain. Old Testament poetry only rarely utilizes strophes, unlike much English poetry.
In the Old Testament one encounters several different types, or aspects, of parallelism, each demonstrating a different semantic relationship between the lines. Although not one of the most common aspects, "synonymous" parallelism is one of the simplest. In synonymous parallelism the second line of the pair essentially restates the meaning of the first.
It is misleading to describe the two lines as being synonymous in the strict sense since the meaning of the two lines is not precisely equivalent. The second line gives a subtly different view in comparison to the first, contributing more than a simple restatement or paraphrase of the first. To illustrate, consider the perspective on an object seen with binocular vision. If while viewing that object, one closes one eye and then opens it and closes the other eye, the perspective from either eye singly will be quite similar to that of the other. However, the differences will be perceptible. The perspective given by both eyes together, like that of the pair of synonymous lines, yields a unique perspective and a depth of perception available only in tandem.
Consider the following example:
The lines emphasize the same message by creative restatement. In the following case,
we also see synonymy. However, the context of the couplet helps us understand "glory of God" as basically equivalent to "work of his hands." Without the context the reader might not make such a connection, but the poet guides his readers to this conclusion with a skillful use of parallelism.
A second expression of parallelism has been named "antithetical" parallelism. Antithetical parallelism sets the paired lines in opposition to one another. One line restates the other, but negatively. Most examples of antithetical parallelism occur in the Wisdom Literature, where the two paths, the way of wisdom and that of folly, are contrasted for the one who would be wise. The following couplet illustrates this type of parallelism:
The third aspect of parallelism, called "synthetic" (or "formal") parallelism is the largest grouping, and also the most controversial. With synthetic parallelism, the second line presupposes the thought of the first and advances the thought of the initial line. Before we proceed with the discussion, it might prove helpful to examine examples:
Some have argued that this type of parallelism is no parallelism at all because the second line typically differs so significantly from the first that the meaning of the pair seems to be more akin to prose than poetry. However, the symmetry of paired lines, figurative expressions, and occasionally meter argue convincingly that synthetic parallelism is a legitimate understanding.
Although synonymous, antithetical, and synthetic parallelism comprise the major types of parallelism, several additional types of parallelism occur. We will mention only two. In emblematic parallelism, one line states a poetic proposition while the other illustrates with a simile. A well-known example is:
Another kind of parallelism is chiastic parallelism, where the second line restates the first in reversed order. Note the following example:
The New Testament . The New Testament does not include extended sections that could be designated as poetic in the same sense as in the Old Testament. However, there are several brief passages that are generally regarded as poetic. The kenosis passage in Philippians 2:6-11 offers an excellent example. Another is 1 Timothy 3:16 . A cursory comparison of several modern translations of the New Testament reveal disagreement over which passages are rightly considered poetic. In a slightly different vein, Paul quoted "some of your (Greek) poets when he stated, "In him we live and move and have our being" ( Acts 17:28 ).
Conclusion . Finally, we should ask, "Why was the Bible written in poetic style?" Although no specific biblical answer is given to this query, a reasonable reply can be offered. Of paramount importance is the emotional quality inherent in poetry. Although one must recognize that prose is not devoid of emotional content, poetry conveys feelings with singular effect. In the prophetic oracle of judgment, the reader senses the fury of God's wrath, effectively communicating nuances of God's emotions ranging from cajolery to sarcasm. With love poetry such as the Song of Solomon, lovers express much of the deep emotions they hold for each other. Poetry serves the psalmist with equal dexterity as he expresses lament, praise, or thanksgiving. From complaints concerning the tardiness of God's salvation to hymns extolling the Lord's great Acts of salvation, poetry conveys the deepest emotions of the author.
A second reason for poetry is the memorable quality of verse. Poetry impresses itself more effectively upon the hearer's memory, allowing far easier recall than with a comparable prosaic text. It is no coincidence that the effectiveness of a great deal of poetic literature is contingent upon the audience's ability to remember specifically what the text said. For instance, the wisdom writer's message demanded that the proverb would be precisely recalled. The prophets' sermons also had to be remembered (and applied to life) by the recipients in order for the intended effect to occur.
Finally, one should note that poetry is inherently esthetic, particularly with its extensive utilization of figurative language. Again, this is not to say that prose is not esthetic. Indeed, current studies in narrative strategies, for example, well illustrate a concern with style. The convergence of manifold, sophisticated figures of speech, including parallelism, reveal that poetry was very concerned not only with what was communicated, but also how the message was disclosed.
The esthetic quality of poetry is particularly appropriate in God's Word, for the Lord is a God who is both creative and places great value upon beauty. The creation itself manifests God's creativity and esthetic nature. How appropriate that his word reveals the same qualities.
George L. Klein
Bibliography . R. Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry ; E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible ; G. B. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible ; G. L. Klein, ed., Reclaiming the Prophetic Mantle ; N. W. Lund, Chiasmus in the New Testament ; L. Ryken, Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible ; L. Ryken and T. Longman III, A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible .
Fausset's Bible Dictionary 
The peculiarity of the Hebrew poetical age is that it was always historical and true, never mythical, as the early age of national lays in all other nations, as Hindostan, Greece, and Rome. The oldest portions of Old Testament history, namely, the Pentateuch, have the least of the poetical and imaginative element. Elijah, the father of the prophets, was no poet; nor were the prophets poets strictly, except insofar as in their teachings they were lifted up to the poetic modes of thought and expression. The schools of the prophets diffused a religious spirit, lyric instruments were used to accompany their prophesyings; but David it was ( Amos 6:5) who molded lyric effusions of devotion into a permanent and more perfect style.
Poetry in other countries was the earliest form of composition, being most easily retained in the memory; and compositions in the early ages were diffused more by oral recitation than by reading, books being scarce and in many places unknown. But the earliest Hebrew Scriptures (the Pentateuch) have less of the poetic element than the later; so entirely has the divine Author guarded against the mythical admixture which is found in early heathen lays.
'''Hebrew Versification''' Oriental poetry embalmed its sentiments in terse, proverbial sentences, called mashal.
I. Acrosticism or alphabetical arrangement was adopted in combining sentiments, the mutual connection of which was loose (Lamentations 1). No traces of it exist before David, who doubtless originated it (Psalm 25; Psalm 34; Psalm 37; Psalm 145). In later alphabetical psalms there is more regularity than in David's, and less simplicity; as Psalm 111; 112, have every half verse marked by a letter, and Psalm 119 has a letter appropriated to every eight verses.
II. The same verse in some cases was repeated at regular intervals (Psalm 42; Psalm 107).
III. Parallelism is the characteristic form of Hebrew poetry. Its peculiar excellence is that, whereas poetry of other nations suffers much by translation, (For The Versification Depends On The Recurrence Of Certain Sounds At Regular Intervals) , Hebrew poetry suffers but little, for its principle is the parallel correspondence of thoughts, not sounds, thought/rhythm Ewald designates it; a remarkable proof that from the first the Spirit designed Holy Scripture for nations of every tongue. Rabbi Azariah anticipated Bishop Lowth in the theory of parallelism. Parallelism affords a clue to the meaning of many passages, the sense of a word being explained by the corresponding word in the parallel clause. The Masoretic punctuation marks the metrical arrangement by distinctive accents; the thought in the inspired volume is more prominent than the form. The earliest instance of parallelism is in Enoch's prophecy ( Judges 1:14) and Lamech's parody of it ( Genesis 4:23-24). (See Lamech .) The kinds distinguished are:
(1) the synonymous parallelism, in which the second repeats the first with or without increase of force ( Psalms 22:27; Isaiah 15:1), sometimes with double parallelism ( Isaiah 1:15);
(2) the antithetic, in which the idea of the second clause is the converse of that in the first ( Proverbs 10:1);
(3) the synthetic or competing, where there is a correspondence between different sentences, noun answering to noun, verb to verb, member to member, the sentiment in each being enforced by accessory ideas ( Isaiah 55:6-7). Also alternate ( Isaiah 51:19), "desolation and destruction, and the famine and the sword," desolation by famine and destruction by the sword, introverted, where the fourth answers to the first and the third to the second ( Matthew 7:6). Epic poetry, as having its proper sphere in a mythical, heroic age, is not found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Nor is the drama; though dramatic elements occur in Job, the Song of Solomon, and some psalms, as Psalm 32, where occur transitions, without introduction, from speaking of God to speaking to God; Psalms 132:8-10; Psalms 132:14, where the psalmist's prayer and God's answer beautifully correspond. The whole period before David furnished no psalm to the psalter, except Psalm 90, by Moses, and possibly Psalm 91. The book of the wars of the Lord ( Numbers 21:14; Numbers 21:17; Numbers 21:27) and the book of Jasher (The Upright) or the worthies of Israel (Jeshurun: Deuteronomy 32:15, compare 2 Samuel 1:18; 1 Samuel 18:7) were secular.
David's spiritual songs gained such a hold of the nation that worldly songs thenceforth held a low place ( Isaiah 5:12; Amos 6:5). Israel's song at the Red Sea (Exodus 15), the priests' benediction ( Numbers 5:22-26), Moses' chant at the moving and resting of the ark Numbers 9:35-36), Deborah's song (Judges 5), and Hannah's song (1 Samuel 2) laid the foundation for the full outburst of psalmody in David's days; and are in part appropriated in some of the psalms. The national religious awakening under Samuel, with which are connected the schools of the prophets ( 1 Samuel 10:5-11; 1 Samuel 19:19-24) having a lyrical character, immediately prepared the way. David, combining creative poetical genius with a special gift of the Spirit, produced the psalms which form the chief part of the psalter, and on which the subsequent writers of psalms mainly lean. Persecution in part fitted him for his work; as was well said, "where would have been David's psalms if he had not been persecuted?"
'''Sacred Singers''' When David became king be gave psalmody a leading place in the public liturgy. A sacred choir was formed, himself at its head; then followed the three chief musicians, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun; then Asaph's four sons, Jeduthun's six, and Heman's 14. Each of these sons had 12 singers under him, 288 in all. Besides, there were 4,000 Levite singers (1 Chronicles 25); Asaph with his company was with the ark on Zion; Heman and Jeduthun with the tabernacle at Gibeon ( 1 Chronicles 16:37-42).
'''Musical Instruments''' . Stringed instruments predominated in the sacred music, psalteries and harps; cymbals were only for occasions of special joy ( Psalms 150:5). Trumpets with loud hoarse note accompanied the bringing in of the ark ( 1 Chronicles 15:24); also at the temple's consecration ( 2 Chronicles 5:12); also at the restoration of temple worship under Hezekiah ( 2 Chronicles 29:26-27); also at the founding of the second temple ( Ezra 3:10). David invented, or improved, some of the instruments ( 1 Chronicles 23:5; 2 Chronicles 7:6; Nehemiah 12:36). The poetical books are Job, Psalms. Proverbs, and the Song of Solomon. Simplicity and freshness are combined with sublimity. "The Spirit of the Lord spoke by" the Hebrew poet, "and His word was upon his tongue" ( 2 Samuel 23:2). Even the music was put in charge of spiritually gifted men, and Heman was "the king's seer in the words of God" ( 1 Chronicles 25:1; 1 Chronicles 25:5). The sacred poet represents the personal experiences of the children of God and of the whole church.
Scripture poetry supplies a want not provided for by the law, inspired and sanctioned devotional forms to express in public worship and in private the feelings of pious Israelites. The Psalms draw forth front beneath the legal types their hidden essence and spirit, adapting them to the various spiritual exigencies of individual and congregational life. Nature's testimony to the unseen, God's glory and goodness, is also embodied in the inspired poetry of the Psalms. The psalter is the Israelite's book of devotion. enabling him to enter into the spirit of the services of the sanctuary, and so to feel his need of Messiah, whose coming the Psalms announce. Christ in His inner life as the Godman, and in His past, present, and future relations to the church and the world, is the ultimate theme throughout. It furnishes to us also divinely sanctioned language to express prayer and thanksgiving to God and communion with our fellow saints. Besides parallelism, poetic expressions distinguish Hebrew poetry from prose.
David's lament over Jonathan is a beautiful specimen of another feature of Hebrew poetry, the strophe; three strophes being marked by the thrice recurrence of the dirge, sung by the chorus; the first dirge sung by the whole body of singers representing Israel; the second by a chorus of damsels; the third by a chorus of youths ( 2 Samuel 1:17; 2 Samuel 1:27). The predominant style of lyrical poetry is apparently derived front an earlier terse and sententious kind, resembling that of Proverbs. The Eastern mind embodies thought in pithy maxims; hence Maashal , "proverb," is used for poetry in general.
Solomon probably embodied in Proverbs preexisting popular wise sayings, under the Spirit's guidance. Finally, Hebrew poetry is essentially national, yet universal and speaking to the heart and spiritual sensibilities of universal man. The Hebrew poet sought not self or fame, as the pagan poets, but was inspired by God's Spirit to meet the want which his own and his nation's aspirations after God created The selection for the psalter was made not with reference to the beauty of the pieces, but to their adaptation for public worship. Hence several odes of the highest order are not included: Moses' songs (Exodus 15; 30), Deborah's (Judges 5), Hannah's (1 Samuel 2), Hezekiah's ( Isaiah 38:9-20), Habakkuk's (Habakkuk 3), and even David's dirge over Saul and Jonathan.
Morrish Bible Dictionary 
The Books of Job, the Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and various parts of the Prophets are poetical. It is not easy to define Hebrew poetry. It appears clear that the lines did not end with corresponding sounds , and it cannot be discovered in what the rhythm consists, the ancient pronunciation of the language being lost. Ewald concluded that in the Hebrew poetry there was a thought rhythm, and not one of sound.
One of their most marked styles is an alphabetical poem. These consist of twenty-two lines or stanzas, or systems of lines, and the lines or stanzas begin with letters which follow in alphabetical order: the first A, the second B, and so on. There is doubtless a spiritual significance in these arrangements: such as intense human exercises, emotions, etc., under the working of the Spirit. And they may have assisted the memory, at least in the Psalms when they were sung. Such may be found in Psalm 25; Psalm 34; Psalm 37; Psalm 111; Psalm 112; Psalm 119; Psalm 145; Proverbs 31:10-31; Lamentations 1; Lamentations 2; Lamentations 3; Lamentations 4 .
In some stanzas, called 'synthetical,' one half corresponds to the other, either in expressing the same sentiment or explaining it: thus -
"But ye said, No; for we will flee upon horses;
Therefore shall ye flee:
And, We will ride upon the swift;
Therefore shall they that pursue you be swift." Isaiah 30:16 ,
Other stanzas are called 'antithetical,' in which the second half is the reverse of the first: as
"The memory of the just is blessed:
But the name of the wicked shall rot." Proverbs 10:7
From these simple examples the form of the stanzas varies in many ways. The first example we meet with is what Lamech said to his wives. It will be seen that it is in parallelism, or correspondence.
"Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
Ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech:
For I have slain a man to my wounding,
And a young man to my hurt.
If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold,
Truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold." Genesis 4:23,24 .
Towards the end of the O.T., Habakkuk ( Habakkuk 3:18,19 ), when all earthly blessings were failing, sang
"Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength,
And he will make my feet like hinds' feet,
And he will make me to walk upon mine high places."
Bridgeway Bible Dictionary 
Much of the Old Testament is written in poetry. This applies especially to the Psalms, the wisdom books and the prophetical books, though poems and songs are scattered throughout the prose narratives of other book (see Singing ).
Unlike English poetry, Hebrew poetry has no rhyme or metre. It relies for its expression and style upon a rhythm of sound and thought produced by a careful arrangement of words and sentences. The form that is most common in the Bible is called parallelism. This form can be varied and developed in many ways, but basically it consists of sentences arranged so as to balance each other.
If the first part of a verse contains the main thought, the following part (or parts) may add weight to this thought by repeating it in a slightly different form ( Psalms 27:1; Psalms 104:7; Isaiah 2:7; Isaiah 5:20-22). In some cases the two parts of a verse may be arranged to contrast with each other by stating two opposite truths ( Psalms 37:9; Proverbs 19:4; Proverbs 19:12). Alternatively, the second part may add to the first for the purpose of giving an application or leading to a climax ( Psalms 56:4; Psalms 68:18; Jeremiah 31:20).
Poetry was sometimes written in the form of an acrostic based on the 22-letter Hebrew alphabet. In the simple acrostic, the first word of each verse began with a different letter, the sequence following the order of the Hebrew alphabet from the first letter to the last (e.g. Psalms 25; Psalms 34; Lamentations Chapters 1, 2 and 4). Other acrostics were divided into twenty-two sections of a number of verses each, with all the verses in each section beginning with the same letter. Psalms 119 has twenty-two sections of eight verses each; Lamentations Chapter 3 has twenty-two sections of three verses each.
The New Testament, though written in Greek and mainly in prose, contains quotations from Old Testament poems. It also records poems from its own era that the writers composed in the Hebrew style discussed above ( Luke 1:46-55; Luke 1:68-79; Luke 2:29-32). In addition there are quotations from what appear to be early Christian hymns ( Ephesians 5:14; 1 Timothy 3:16) and occasional quotations from Greek poetry ( Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12).
People's Dictionary of the Bible 
Poetry, Hebrew. Poetry was the delight of orientals. About one-third of the Old Testament is poetry, the oldest, the purest, and the most sublime in the world. Strictly there is neither epic nor dramatic poetry in Hebrew. The reason is obvious. Epic poetry springs from an effort to glorify human greatness—the heroic in man; the Hebrew was taught to glorify God. Hebrew poetry is almost wholly lyric and didactic, and some add also gnomic. There are no lyrics in the world comparable with the Psalms of David, no gnomic poetry equal to the Proverbs, and no didactic poem so perfect in form, so profound and majestic in thought or so exalted and spiritual in conception as the book of Job. Rhyme and metre, common in modern poetry, are seldom found in Hebrew. Hebrew poetry consists chiefly of parallelisms and a certain swing and balance in the sentences which give an indescribable charm to their poetic compositions. The parallelisms in Hebrew have been roughly divided into three kinds: 1, Synonymous, that is, where each line of the distich or tristich has the same thought, but in varied expression; 2, Antithetic, where the thought of the second member of the parallelism is in contrast with that of the first; and 3, Synthetic, where the thought is cumulative upon the same topic. There are five so-called poetical books in the Old Testament: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. But beside these, large portions of other books are in poetic language. The prophetical books except Daniel are largely in poetry. See Rice: "Our Sixty-six Sacred Books."
Easton's Bible Dictionary 
Several odes of great poetical beauty are found in the historical books of the Old Testament, such as the song of Moses ( Exodus 15 ), the song of Deborah ( Judges 5 ), of Hannah ( 1 Samuel 2 ), of Hezekiah ( Isaiah 38:9-20 ), of Habakkuk ( Habakkuk 3 ), and David's "song of the bow" ( 2 Samuel 1:19-27 ).
Bibliography Information Easton, Matthew George. Entry for 'Poetry'. Easton's Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/ebd/p/poetry.html. 1897.
Webster's Dictionary 
(1): ( n.) The art of apprehending and interpreting ideas by the faculty of imagination; the art of idealizing in thought and in expression.
(2): ( n.) Imaginative language or composition, whether expressed rhythmically or in prose. Specifically: Metrical composition; verse; rhyme; poems collectively; as, heroic poetry; dramatic poetry; lyric or Pindaric poetry.
The Nuttall Encyclopedia 
The gift of penetrating into the inner soul or secret of a thing, and bodying it forth rhythmically so as to captivate the imagination and the heart.
- Poetry from Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible
- Poetry from Holman Bible Dictionary
- Poetry from Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology
- Poetry from Fausset's Bible Dictionary
- Poetry from Morrish Bible Dictionary
- Poetry from Bridgeway Bible Dictionary
- Poetry from People's Dictionary of the Bible
- Poetry from Easton's Bible Dictionary
- Poetry from Webster's Dictionary
- Poetry from The Nuttall Encyclopedia