Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hebrew Poetry

Looking at the Book of Psalms through the lens of literary analysis with one of our formators. By way of introduction to these foundational prayers of the Jewish and Christian people, we breezed through two thousand years of ancient Israelite history; examined the narrative of the wilderness travels in the books of Exodus and Numbers (with a little help from Walter Brueggemann); and unraveled the sources of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, the Pentateuch (with considerable help from Julius Wellhausen). A more concise introduction to Jewish history and biblical scholarship you could not find.

I skip the details of our foray into the form and function of the Book of Psalms, and its place in both Jewish and Christian worship, to tell you about the most interesting homework assignment I have had in a long time. The postulant brothers were asked to write their own psalms as a memorial of their stay in Kansas. We can rhyme them if we want; we can even put them into a musical setting and sing them if we are feeling so inspired. But we are to employ, as best we can, the elements of Hebrew poetry as we know them through the biblical psalms.

My heart beat faster when the formator announced this assignment. This is the kind of challenge I warm to most.

Since last evening I've been honing some lines. I knew the melody I was going to use right from the start. I have had to transpose it down to a key suitable for my voice. The lyrics scan and fit the tune well enough. I can sing this song without embarrassment, but I'm going to raise the risk and accompany myself on a keyboard in our classroom. At the least, I think I can plonk a few chords to put a floor under this air of mine.

Have I caught the spirit of the Book of Psalms? More like the Song of Songs, I suspect, but that's all right. We're reaching for Hebrew poetry in general. My work leans as much on Dylan as it does on the Bible, but that's all right, too -- Dylan is as close as we get to the Hebrew prophets.

I'll post the lyrics to my song, my love letter to Victoria, tomorrow, after class. No leaks or bootlegs here!

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