‘In a Milk and Honeyed Land’ and ancient poetry (3)

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The last two blog entries looked at examples of parallel coupleta, starting with:

Joe cooked the main course
    Mary made the sweet

This is called parallel because matching words are placed at the same place along each line – Joe and Mary, cooked and made, and main course and sweet. We made this more interesting last time with some variations, including chiasmus, in which parts of the second line – called the B-line – are crossed over, rather like the following example

Joe cooked the main course
    The sweet was made by Mary

What is there beyond the couplet? Well, the obvious next step is to add another line to form a triplet. This will be today’s subject, and the last in the present series about ancient poetry styles. The use of triplets allows several possibilities, depending on how the poet chose to integrate the new line. The simplest way is just to have the third line also parallel:

Joe cooked the main course
Mary made the sweet
Their parents brought the wine

This pattern is often called AAA, as all three follow the same basic shape as the first.

More inventive is a form where one of the lines is deliberately not set in parallel, but provides a way to either set the scene (ABB pattern) or sum the situation up (AAB). So we might have:

The day drew to its close –
    Joe cooked the main course
    Mary made the sweet.

This is ABB, and is an example of forked parallelism. Other ABB forms are called staircase and climactic parallelism, depending on the details of how the lines are developed.

Joe cooked the main course
Mary made the sweet
    And soon the meal was done.

This is an AAB example.

These patterns can quite easily be found in ancient near eastern poetry from different nations, and are often used at key points of the overall design. So we may well find them at the start or end of the whole work, or marking an internal division of ideas. At Ugarit, the ABB form was often used to introduce direct speech of a person or god.

There’s a lot more that could be said about this, which can wait for another day. Check out my online article Forked Parallelism in Egyptian, Ugaritic and Hebrew Poetry, which was published in the journal Tyndale Bulletin in 2011 and discusses the forked pattern in more detail.

In In a Milk and Honeyed Land, triplets make an appearance in several places. An AAB pattern example may be found in the closing lines Damariel speaks at the ceremony when his brothers Baruk and Bashur are buried:

So proclaimed most mighty El,
So spoke the lord of the earth:
    His judgement is true.

Much nearer the end of the book, at the point where the townspeople are deciding to confront the chief, we find:

Fourteen fathers in these hills begotten,
    fourteen fathers: all now overthrown
    and shattered lies the covenant of stone.

This shows how the ABB pattern can be used in a way that reverses the expectation of the starting line, and has been called climactic parallelism. This particular pattern was quite popular in Canaan and Israel in some parts of history, but was apparently not used in Egypt at all. Perhaps poets or their audiences in that country did not like unpleasant surprises!

In a Milk and Honeyed Land may be purchased online – see http://www.kephrath.com/WhereToBuy.aspx for a list of vendors.
Or ask your own local bookshop to obtain a copy – ask by title or else ISBN number:

Paperback: 978-1-4669-2166-5
Hardcover: 978-1-4669-2167-2
e-Book: 978-1-4669-2165-8

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