Minister's Blog

Did Hebrew poetry rhyme?

By Steve Jeffery, 20 Nov 2017

It's quite often said that Hebrew poetry doesn't rhyme - or, at least, that it's not characterised by rhyme in the same way as some modern western styles of poetry. Instead, we're told, Hebrew poetry relies on parallelism and rhythm and so on. Of course, people have seen spotted assonance and other sonic features here and there. But just last week I came across an extended set of rhyming lines in Habakkuk 2, which O. Palmer Robertson notes in his comentary. You've got successive lines ending with sounds like this (vv. 7-8):

keyka ... eyka
rabbim ... ammim
qirya ... ba

It's true that the endings of the first two pairs rhyme simply because they're the same suffix (a pair of 2nd plural possessives followed by a pair of plurals). And yet the word order seems to be chosen (deliberately?) to locate these words at the ends of the lines. I find myself wondering where rhyme began to be used self-consciously, and whether this is a kind of proto-rhyming style - the kind of thing that Habakkuk might have developed further if he'd not been living through quite such turbulent times. Who knows.
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