Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ba, Cha, Ka, A Guttural Alliteration in Psalm 147

Alliteration is an important tool of the poet, writer or prophet. Merely choosing similar words or letters to form one unique line transforms its meaning and adds value and aesthetics to the poem.

William Blake masters it in his famous poem Two Sunflowers Move in the Yellow Room.

Two Sunflowers
Move in the Yellow Room.

"Ah, William, we're weary of weather,"
said the sunflowers, shining with dew.
"Our traveling habits have tired us.
Can you give us a room with a view?"

They arranged themselves at the window
and counted the steps of the sun,
and they both took root in the carpet
where the topaz tortoises run.

William Blake

In the verse "Ah, William, we're weary of weather," the salient w and the forced sluggishness of the words "we're weary" compel us to slow down, consider the strange circumstance of sunflowers addressing William Blake and appreciate this moment of poetic preciousness. My student Eliana noted that Blake concludes with an alliteration that could be inverse to the start. "where the topaz tortoises run". As opposed to the languid w, the t's 'run' speed up the tempo quickening our pace on the way out.

That's poetry!

Psalms also uses this technique specifically in psalm 147.

יב. שַׁבְּחִי יְרוּשָׁלִַם, אֶת-ה'; הַלְלִי אֱלֹהַיִךְ צִיּוֹן.
יג. כִּי-חִזַּק, בְּרִיחֵי שְׁעָרָיִךְ; בֵּרַךְ בָּנַיִךְ בְּקִרְבֵּךְ.
יד. הַשָּׂם-גְּבוּלֵךְ שָׁלוֹם; חֵלֶב חִטִּים, יַשְׂבִּיעֵךְ.

12. O Jerusalem, praise the Lord; extol Your God, O Zion.
13. For He strengthened the bars of your gates; He blessed your children within you.
14. Within your borders He makes peace; with the best of the wheat He will sate you.

Engaging Jerusalem to join in on the praise of God, the Hebrew alliteration once again slows down the reader. But this time it is not a languid w, but a guttural het, chaf and forceful kuf and bet. It is quite appropriate since the message to Jerusalem (the gates and fortifications of Jerusalem) is to praise God for what He made unique to you. In this case her gift was her capacity to protect its citizens with impenetrable strength--ki chizzak.

Jerusalem can boast of her power, invincibility and fortification, or she can acknowledge God who provided that power, rendered her invincible, and fortified her gates and walls.

The reader slows his pace, considers that even the cement and concrete are engaging in praise of God for the inanimate gifts bestowed upon it, certainly draws the a fortiori and enhances his own praise, acknowledging all the gifts God bestows upon His animate creations every day of our lives.