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D. Poetry and the Interpretation of the Psalms

D. Poetry and the Interpretation of the Psalms

As a matter of fact, there is much more to be reckoned with here than mere power or beauty of expression, though that surely meets us in these sacred poems. Judging from the poetic form of major oracles in the classical prophets, poetry was considered in some sense the language of God. When prophets spoke for him, they often spoke poetically, not just in direct words from Yahweh but also in sermons and reflections of their own upon Yahweh's word. To find prayer and liturgical celebration couched in poetry, as the language of intercourse with God, does not surprise us. The very literary form calls the reader to reverent attention, to openness to the voice of God.

Paradoxically the interpretation of the Psalms and other poetry calls for both caution and creativity. On the one hand, the interpreter must take care not to overanalyze features of the works rising more from the artistry of the poet than the logic of precise reasoning. One thinks here of the demands of the acrostic progression or of the A-B words here, to say nothing of the susceptibility of symbol to overanalysis. On the other hand, little if any in these poems should simply be attributed to “poetic license.” The very ambiguity of symbols, for example, is not only their danger but their power. Symbols intentionally invite reflection. They are purposefully open to imaginative exploration that leads the listener-reader to a whole new world of insight, as the core image is stretched and turned in meditation upon it.