The book is made up of five poems that exemplify a careful style and structure and a rich and elegant variety of metaphors. These poems, all except the last one, are constructed as acrostics, using the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Although the order of the consonants is maintained in the first poem, in the second, third, and fourth poems, the consonant ayin follows pe (a reversal of the usual order), which has resulted in a slight deviation from the strict pattern of acrostics. The first, second, and third poems are arranged in three-line stanzas, except for 1:7 and 2:19. In the third poem, each of the three lines of the stanza begins with the same consonant; thus the alphabet is repeated three times in this chapter. The fourth poem is made up of two-line stanzas. The fifth poem has twenty-two lines, equivalent to the number of the consonants in the Hebrew alphabet, but it is not an acrostic composition.
The first poem describes Jerusalem as a desolate city because of God's rejection of them brought on by the sins of the people. The theme of God's rejection of Jerusalem is continued in the second poem with emphasis given to his anger. The third poem stresses the greatness of God's love and the need for repentance and contrition for the restoration of the nation. The prophets and priests are blamed for the horrible experiences of the people in the fourth poem. The last poem is a prayer for the restoration of the suffering nation.
The Jewish tradition and the ancient versions ascribed the authorship of this book to Jeremiah. Many recent commentators have regarded Lamentations as the work of an anonymous writer of the late exilic period. Though it does not bear the name of Jeremiah, the content clearly suggests that it is the work of an eyewitness of the tragedy of 587 b.c. One of the reasons cited here for the execution of God's wrath upon his people is the sins of the prophets and priests, a theme also found in Jeremiah. The language of the coming devastation of Judah and Jerusalem in Jeremiah is closely similar to the descriptions of the desolation in Lamentations. In addition to this, there are several other internal similarities between these two books that compel us to agree with those who favor the traditional view (see a detailed discussion of the authorship question in Kaiser, 24-30).