Accentual Rhythm in a Modern Hebrew Poem

John Hobbins wrote up a translation and some commentary on a Hebrew poem by Shimshon Meltzer. When I tried to comment, TypePad declined to accept my data. Presumably, I had too darned many tags in my comment, what with my endless italicizing of stressed syllables. So, I am posting my comment here and linking to it over at John’s.

John, thanks for including the notes on rhythm. The default 4-3 line is like half of a ballad stanza (“There are strange things done in the midnight sun / by the men who moil for gold”). Those first four lines use it consistently to “get things rolling.” The occasional 3-4 lines first create a sense of suspense by failing to deliver the fourth beat in a half-line (your translation preserves this well: “Adam and his wife, sinners—”) then compensate and close with the four-beat finale (“Nahash the deceiver, piercing curse”).

Wonderful that the poet first makes that rhythmic break at the narrative point where the young students (just freshened in their naivete by the exercise: line three) first read for themselves of Adam and Eve’s sin.

It would be fun to experiment in English accentual poetry using this scheme.

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2 Responses

  1. Brooke,

    Thanks for this. I’m impressed that you are not afraid of and obviously enjoy post-biblical poetry.

    I have half a mind to put together a book proposal which would amount to a chrestomathy of post-biblical Hebrew poetry for students of ancient Hebrew. Some Qumran, Ben Sira, piyyut, medieval, and modern. A lot of the texts I have in mind are already posted on my blog, scattered in un-indexed archives.

    If you want, we might co-author it. You know better than I do what might be helpful in terms of helps for students at an intermediate level.

    Meltzer’s poem is a ballad. It would be fun to translate it such that it could be sung as a ballad in English. What translation I offer is not far off from that goal.

    • John, we should talk about it. I’d be interested, and it would help me accomplish some stuff down the line that I mean to get done. I’ll send you an email after the weekend.

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