Poetic movement in Isaiah 26. A linguistic and semantic cascade.

In Isaiah 26 there is a beautiful and powerful repetition of verbal and semantic expressions throughout the chapter. It is not regimented or structured in a way that demonstrates a consistent pattern. Rather, it is like a cascade that eddies and flows, having different levels at uneven intervals but creating a compelling and eloquent impression of connection and movement. This appears at times as specific verbal repetitions (e.g., the verb בטח at the end of verse 3 and the beginning of verse 4) and at times the repetition is from the same semantic field. This latter can have different relationships between the repeated units, including: movement between parts of speech (e.g., noun to verb, as in תאוה in verse 8 and אוה in verse 9); antithesis (the dead not living in verse 14 – the dead living in verse 19); associative connections (dust in verse 5 – trampling feet in verse 6). Bernhard Duhm noted Is. 26:1-19 as a very artfully contrived poem and others have pointed to certain sections or features (Hans Wildberger and also Marvin Sweeney, for example, pointed to verses 7-10 as tied together by repeated progressive use of vocabulary). I intend to look at the whole chapter and examine the poetic movement of language and thought throughout.
This paper will contribute to a better understanding of both prophetic poetry and also Biblical poetry in general. It will discuss a poetic device which it is well to be aware of and can add both to our appreciation of its use in a short section within a poem and to our sensitivity to the way that larger poetic units could be connected and driven forward semantically on a poetic level.

4 thoughts on “Poetic movement in Isaiah 26. A linguistic and semantic cascade.”

  1. Proposal needs more focus
    I myself am predisposed to poetic readings, but this seems to touch on a number of features in Isaiah 26 without landing on anything in particular.

    On a related note, this proposal points up the broad purview of our section as we cover both Psalms and Hebrew Poetry. Perhaps we need to think of focusing on one or the other. For example, we could be exclusively for Psalms studies, and a proposal like this would be handled by OT prophets. Just a thought for future discussion.

  2. Has potential but vague
    Is “semantic cascade” a recognized “poetic device”? The proposal seems more aspirational.
    Agreed, might be best to stick with Psalms studies, unless we decide for a session to have a broader poetry focus, something definitely worthwhile.


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