The Prayers of the Psalter
Dom Henry Wansbrough
'Metre of the Psalms'
The metre of Hebrew poetry is extremely difficult to judge. It is determined neither by number of syllables (like the classical Alexandrines or Hendekasyllabics) nor by length of syllable (like Greek or Latin metres), but by stressed syllables separated by varying numbers of unstressed syllables, like Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Binsey Poplars:
My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
All felled, felled, are all felled;
Of a fresh and following folded rank
Not spared, not one
That dandled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow and river and wind-wandering weed-winding bank.
But there are further difficulties in the corrupt state of the Hebrew text, which in innumerable examples makes it impossible to be sure exactly what was the original wording. Still further difficulties spring from our ignorance:
Despite such obscurities we can discern that the most common rhythms are
Two Plus Two Rhythm
To you, O Lord, • I call,
my rock, • hear me.
If you do not heed • I shall become
like those • in the grave.
Hear the voice • of my pleading
as I call • for help,
as I lift up my hands • in prayer
to your • holy place ...
Three Plus Three Rhythm
Praise God • in his • holy place,
praise him • in his • mighty heavens.
Praise him • for his • powerful deeds,
praise his • surpassing • greatness.
O praise him • with sound • of trumpet,
praise him • with lute • and harp.
Praise him • with timbrel • and dance,
praise him • with strings • and pipes.
Four Plus Four Rhythm
My heart • overflows • with noble • words.
To the king • I must speak • the song • I have made,
my tongue • as nimble • as the pen • of a scribe.
You • are the fairest • of the children • of men
and • graciousness • is poured • upon your lips:
because • God• has blessed you • for evermore ...
Three Plus Two Rhythm
The Lord • is my light • and my help; • whom shall • I fear?
The Lord • is the stronghold • of my life; • before whom • shall I shrink?
When • evil-doers • draw near • to devour • my flesh,
it is they, • my enemies • and foes, • who stumble • and fall ...