DA of Poetry

Alviero Niccacci sbfnet at netvision.net.il
Thu Dec 21 04:28:38 EST 2000

At 2:07 PM -0600 12/19/00, David Stabnow wrote:

>Topic: Discourse Analysis, at its current state of development, seems to
>falter when applied to poetry.
>I have been encouraged by Longacre (*Joseph*) and Dawson (*Text-Linguistics
>and BH*) who proposed "clines" that explain how various syntactical
>structures are used in various genres of BH literature. It was helpful to
>see things laid out in a manner that could be grasped. I understand,
>however, that such charts are too simplistic to encompass a language.
>This inadequacy has become quite evident when approaching some poetry. Must
>the findings of DA for prose be thrown out? What can be salvaged? How must
>it evolve? Would Niccacci and Talstra argue that their systems handle
>As a test case, let's try to make sense of the use of verb tense and
>clause-initial syntax in the first 7 verses of Ps 77. I have wrestled with
>verses 2 (English v. 1) and 7 (English 6) a little.
>In v. 2, perhaps the first verb is habitual yiqtol ("I cry out; I am crying
>out; I have been crying out"), and the second is weqatal indicating
>intended result ("in order that He will hear me"). The verbless clauses may
>imply a habitual yiqtol verb ("I *raise* my voice").
>In v. 7 I wonder if the two yiqtols are again past habitual: "I used to
>remember my song in the night; I used to meditate with my heart." The
>wayyiqtol, then, is the next event (temporally or logically consequent) in
>the past: "Then my spirit inquired:"
>Would anybody else like to weigh in on DA in BH poetry? Is anybody doing
>serious work in this area?

Dear David Stabnow,

As far as I understand, discourse analysis is usefull for literary 
analysis of texts rather than for syntax of the verb forms as such. I 
adopted a different linguistic approach for the analysis of the BH 
verb system--that of Harald Weinrich, called text-linguistics. You 
can see differences with R.E. Longacre's approach in _Biblical Hebrew 
and Discourse Linguistics_ edited by Robert D. Bergen (1994). My 
detailed book review of D.A. Dawson's _Text-Linguistics and BH_ is 
found in _Liber Annuus_ 45 (1995) 543-580. Following Wolfgang 
Schneider, E. Talstra also adopted a text-linguistic model. You can 
see an exposition of his position and of mine in Schneider's 
Festschrift, _Narrative and Comment_ edited by Talstra himself (1995) 
and in _The Verbless Clause in Biblical Hebrew_ edited by Cynthia L. 
Miller (1999). -- I already have presented my view on BH poetry 
sometime earlier in this forum.

When I wrote the final chapter of my _Syntax of the Verb in CLassical 
Hebrew Prose_ on the use of tense in poetry (1990), and also when I 
published my paper *Analysing Biblical Hebrew Poetry* in JSOT 74 
(1997), I still thought that verb forms in BH poetry did not have 
precise functions and could practically be taken to mean everything 
the interpreter thought to be appropriate--as seems to be common 
opinion--although not openly declared--among scholars until today.

Since some years I changed my mind. I think now, first, that 
different verb forms need to have different functions in BH poetry as 
is the case in prose and, second, that the functions of the verb 
forms in poetry are the same as in prose--at least as a working 
hypothesis. With this approach, the analysis of poetry becomes more 
difficult but, as I think, more respectful of the text and more 
fruitful. A first attempt of mine in this direction was the short 
study  on the poetic section in the Book of Jonah (2:3-10) published 
in _Liber Annuus_ 46 (1996) 26-31. Another one is on Psalms 9-10 (in 
Italian), published in F. Vattioni's memorial volume, _Biblica et 
semitica_ edited by Luigi Cagni (1999). Also see my analysis of 
Proverbs 23:12-25 and 23:26-24:22 (in Italian) published in _Liber 
Annuus_ 47 (1997) and 48 (1998), respectively.

Coming to Ps 77, we should note, first, that in prose 
first-place-in-the-sentence yiqtol is jussive, or volitive, as is its 
continuation form weyiqtol. These two verb forms contrast indicative, 
non-volitive first-place-in-the-sentence yiqtol and its continuation 
form weqatal, respectively. According to this data, I suggest the 
following analysis:

Ps 77:2 *With my voice to the Lord, I WANT TO CRY [volitive 
weyiqtol], / with my voice to the Lord, AND [I hope] HE WILL LISTEN 
[non-volitive weqatal] to me.

Ps 77:4 *I WANT TO REMEMBER [volitive first-place-in-the-sentence 
yiqtol] God AND I WANT TO MOAN (or, EVEN UNTIL MOANING) [volitive 
weyiqtol], / I WANT TO MEDITATE [volitive yiqtol] AND MY SOUL WANTS 
TO FAIL (or, EVEN UNTIL MY SOUL FAINTS) [volitive weyiqtol]. -- See 
Ps 55:18 for a similar phrase.

Ps 77:12 *I WANT TO LET (people) REMEMBER (ketiv; or, I WANT TO 
REMEMBER, qere) [voltive yiqtol] the deeds of the Lord, / yea, I WANT 
TO REMEMBER [volitive yitol = cohortative] from old your wonders.
Ps 77:13 *Thus I WILL REFLECT [non-volitive yiqtol] on all your work, 
/ and on your deeds WILL I  MEDITATE [non volitive x-yiqtol, despite 
the cohortative form].

Poetry actually employs the verb forms of direct speech (as opposed 
to historical narrative). As such, and even more easily than prose, 
poetry is able to switch from one temporal axis to the other, i.e., 
poetry abruptly shifts from verb forms of the present to the those of 
the past and/or to those of the future, and other ways around. If we 
wish to take the verb forms seriously, we should not translate 
DIFFERENT verb forms with the SAME tenses of the target language-- in 
order not to level down the dynamics of the text. Here, e.g.,

Ps 77: 6 *I RECOUNTED [qatal = past] the days of old, / the years long past.
Ps 77: 7 *I WANT TO REMEMBER [volitive yiqtol = future] my song in 
the night, / with my heart WANT I TO MEDITATE [x-yiqtol = future] AND 
my soul SEARCHED [wayyiqtol = past]:
Ps 77:8 *WILL the Lord REJECT [x-yiqtol = future] forever / AND WILL 
HE NEVER AGAIN [lo' + yiqtol = future] be favorable?
Ps 77:9 *HAS his steadfast love CEASED [interrogative qatal = past] 
for ever, / HAS (His) promise ENDED [qatal = past] for all time?*

Past verb forms continue in Ps 77:10-11. Present constructions, i.e. 
non-verbal sentences, are found in verse 14. The participle in verse 
15a *`o&eh* has a past reference because it is connected  with past 
verb forms qatal in verses 15b and 16a.

These qatal forms introduce a celebration of a past liberation in 
verses 17-21--the crossing of the sea from the servitude in Egypt to 
freedom. The past is expressed with qatal forms, in one case with 
continuation wayyiqtol (verse 19b). Three yiqtol forms are found in 
this connection, i.e., with past reference--two in verse 17, one in 
verse 18b. In a past context yiqtol (actually x-yiqtol, i.e. 
second-place-in-the-sentence, non-volitive yiqtol) indicates 
repetition, custom, description. In languages that make a clear 
difference between simple past (i.e., the narrative, mainline verb 
form) and imperfect (i.e., the narrative, offline verb form) such as 
the Neo-Latin languages, these qatal forms are correctly translated 
with the simple past and the x-yiqtol forms with the imperfect. -- As 
has been pointed out, among the first scholars, by U. Cassuto, M. 
Held and S. Gevirtz, the parallel pair qatal // yiqtol is 
characteristic of early Canaanite style. See, e.g., Ps 77:17, where 
we also find an instance of repetitive style, a further 
characteristic of early Canaanite poetry:

Ps 77:17 *The waters saw [qatal] you, o God, / the waters saw [qatal] 
you--(while they) were convulsed [yiqtol], / even the deep was 
trembling,* etc.

Finally the non-verbal sentences in verses 19 and 20 in a past 
context also are correctly translated in the imperfect.

Best wishes for the coming festivities. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
Alviero Niccacci

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