Psalm 23: a Musical Exegesis
The connection to the lament tradition becomes even more apparent in Hebrew. In a study on the book of Lamentations, Karl Budde identified a metrical pattern of three stressed syllables followed by two stressed syllables in alternating lines, a pattern he called “lament-like meter.”8 It is theorized that this meter was especially suited to the genre because of its asymmetry: “the lack of a third matching accent in the second line brought out a sense of unfulfilled hopes.”9 Lament-like meter is used in all but one line of the 23rd Psalm (verse 4 is written in 2:2 rather than in 3:2.)
The dynamic contrast between the form of the psalm (lament) and the content of the psalm (confidence) is an artistic choice of the psalmist. It reminds me of the “holy sonnets” of John Donne, who began his career writing erotic poetry but later shifted the content of his poems to piety while continuing to use the sonnet, a typically romantic form.
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