Saturday, 27 June 2009

Questions to ask a Biblical poem

As anyone who follows this blog will have noticed by now, I am working on an interpretation of Psalm 24, trying to take into account its textual, poetic, historical, literary, and theological dimensions (have I missed a dimension? For posts to date go here). One "means of entry" to the Psalm that I have been using is a list of questions that the Dutch Hebrew scholar Jan Fokkelman believes we ought to pose any example of Biblical poetry (I've got to question 11 so far; the most fruitful for Ps 24 was question 1). I thought I'd share them here and ask if anyone thinks an important question has been left out, or whether a question posed ought to be fine tuned:

1.Who is speaking, an “I” or a “we”? Can we picture this lyrical subject? Does it change in the course of the poem?

2.Whom is the lyrical subject addressing? Is the addressee visible in the text, or can we put a face to him/her? Does the addressee change? Do we encounter apostrophe?

3.How long are the sentences? Check every time whether the syntactic unit coincides with the colon, the verse, or even a strophe. In other words: does enjambment occur?

4.Which verb tenses are used? Are the various tenses (present, past, future) distributed over the strophes?

5.a.Which modes are used besides the indicative?1 Wishes, commands, exclamations?
b. Are there actions, or descriptions of qualities?

6.How do space and time function in the lyrical world?

7.Can a diagram be drawn of the relations between the lyrical characters—for instance, a triangle such as me-God-enemy?

8.How long are cola and verses, generally?

9.a. How much parallelism (both semantic and morphological) is there between half-verses? Ask yourself regularly if the “A, what's more, B” rule applies.
b. How much parallelism exists between the verses? And between the strophes?

10.Try to find the demarcation of strophes and stanzas. What devices does the poet use to create these units? Are there any boundary markers?

11.Is the cohesion of the strophe internal or external? Try to indicate the nature of the internal cohesion.

12.a. Does the poet use simile?
b. Metaphors?
c. Metonymy? Synechdoche? Symbols?

13.How are the verses related in regard to meaning?

14.And the strophes? Are they steps in a line of argument?

15.How does the theme develop? Is a specific line of thought followed?

16.What are the keywords?

17.Be sensitive to contrasts, oppositions, and transitions.

18.Try to make the most of various forms of repetition by listening for it and testing the function of variation-in-repetition.


Bob MacDonald said...

It sure is a good set of questions - more than I can keep in my head at once!

Phil Sumpter said...

It's an aweful lot of work working through them. It's also a lot of fun! I feel like I make a new discovery each day.