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The Wisdom of Poetry

One cannot do a study of Wisdom without including the theme of poetry. This is the language in which Lady Wisdom speaks best. With it the spiritual seeker is awakened, "like the call of a morning bird announcing dawn."

At Watershed, we have experienced poetry's power at different times over the years. Whether to bring a deeper voice to the beginning of a relationship (Bev's gift of a framed poem for Paul), to search out wisdom at a difficult time (Cal's poem "Forgiven"), or to simply evoke truth in our daily lives, Lady Wisdom stirs our hearts with the voice of poetry.

The five biblical wisdom books (Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes or Qoheleth, the Wisdom of Ben Sira, and the Wisdom of Solomon) are largely written in the form of poetry. One characteristic of Hebrew poetry was called parallelism, where the lines were divided into two, sometimes three segments. For example, Psalm 103:10 states,

"He does not deal with us according to our sins,
Nor repay us according to our iniquities."

In this example, the second line echoes the thought of the first line. This is known as synonymous parallelism. Parallelism can also restate the first line through contrast (antithetic), or simply complete the thought of the first line.

Hooked on Fear

Maybe I am too hooked on my definition of fear and its negative associations to discern its wisdom. Fear, like love, needs to be parsed out. After all, if I had a limited view of love I could make the case that love does not cast out fear but encourages us to fawn on or indulge one another, drawing us into deeper bondage.

Poetry in the Old Testament also took on many literary forms, such as the riddle, the fable or the hymn. Sometimes the writer composed a confession or autobiographical narrative in order to give advice or make an observation. Proverbs are a very common poetic form. For example:

"The lazy person buries a hand in the dish,
and will not even bring it back to the mouth."
(Proverbs 19:24)

What is Poetry?

What is poetry? Poetry prepares us for a new vision by using especially concentrated and connotative language, suggestive allusion and word play. The words "mean more than the words mean". Everyday happenings are deepened and seen through a magnifying glass. Poetry lets us see the world differently and prepares us for a new vision. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins knew not simply to say "God's world is grand", for example. Instead, he takes our breath away with these words, taken from the poem "God's Grandeur":

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.

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