Thursday, June 1, 2017

Median line lengths and standard deviations for Psalms, Proverbs, and Job

A recent interaction with Robert Holmstedt has given me some encouragement, and I found an essay by John Hobbins from 2007 on poetic structures (which it turns out I had read some years ago).

Hobbins's rule is alarmingly simple, a hierarchy of 2's and 3's
A prosodic hierarchy of twos and threes structures a poem. Two to three stress units form a verset, two to three versets a line, two to three lines a strophe, two to three strophes a stanza, and two to three stanzas a poem or section thereof. A poem, if it contains more than 10 lines, typically consists of 12, 18, 22, 28, or 36 lines, or combinations thereof. Among the Psalms, 14 lines is also a common length. 
My question is, does the music help us see poetic structures? I also hope to simplify the terminology to describe the impact of poetry. Maybe that's like trying to simplify the tax system or the immigration system.

The line lengths are by no means obvious. The Psalms vary greatly from a median line length of 7 to one as great as 16.

The distribution of median values is as follows:

For Proverbs, the results are quite different. The standard deviations vary from 0.78 to 5.06 but the median lengths are nearly constant: 22 chapters have a median line length of 8. 1 has a length of 8.5 and the remaining 8 have a median line length value of 9.

For Job, (the poetry parts only, i.e. excluding chapters 1, 2, and 42, and the verses of the narrator, where they do not use the te'amim of the 3 books), the standard deviations are similar in range to Proverbs and the chapter counts and median values are: 2 at 7, 1 at 7.5, 25 at 8, 3 at 8.5, 7 at 9 and 1 at 9.5

It can be observed that the Psalms are significantly more varied in form than either Job or Proverbs. But that a large number of poetic chapters have a median line length of 8 or 9.

It is easy to subdivide the lines further, but this is to go beyond the inferred major musical cadences. Quite possible, but exactly how? Which accents might indicate a third level of consistent phrasing?

Examples of two extremes:
Psalm 15 has a median line length of 7 syllables. And a standard deviation of 1.48. It is a thin curve.
Psalms 15 Fn Min Max Syll
מִזְמ֗וֹר לְדָ֫וִ֥ד
יְ֭הֹוָה מִי־יָג֣וּר בְּאָהֳלֶ֑ךָ
מִֽי־יִ֝שְׁכֹּ֗ן בְּהַ֣ר קָדְשֶֽׁךָ
1 A psalm of David.
Yahweh who will guest in your tent?
Who will dwell on your holy hill?
3e 4B 5
10
8
הוֹלֵ֣ךְ תָּ֭מִים וּפֹעֵ֥ל צֶ֑דֶק
וְדֹבֵ֥ר אֱ֝מֶ֗ת בִּלְבָבֽוֹ
2 One walking complete and working righteousness,
and speaking truth in his heart.
3e 4B 9
8
לֹֽא־רָגַ֨ל ׀ עַל־לְשֹׁנ֗וֹ
לֹא־עָשָׂ֣ה לְרֵעֵ֣הוּ רָעָ֑ה
וְ֝חֶרְפָּ֗ה לֹא־נָשָׂ֥א עַל־קְרֹֽבוֹ
3 He does not slander with his tongue.
He does not do evil to his friend,
and a reproach he does not lift up over those near him.
3e 4B 6
8
9
נִבְזֶ֤ה ׀ בְּֽעֵ֘ינָ֤יו נִמְאָ֗ס
וְאֶת־יִרְאֵ֣י יְהוָ֣ה יְכַבֵּ֑ד
נִשְׁבַּ֥ע לְ֝הָרַ֗ע וְלֹ֣א יָמִֽר
4 One despised in his eyes is refused,
and those who fear Yahweh he glorifies.
He swears in spite of injury and does not alter.
3e 4C 7
9
9
כַּסְפּ֤וֹ ׀ לֹא־נָתַ֣ן בְּנֶשֶׁךְ֮
וְשֹׁ֥חַד עַל־נָקִ֗י לֹ֥א לָ֫קָ֥ח
עֹֽשֵׂה־אֵ֑לֶּה
לֹ֖א יִמּ֣וֹט לְעוֹלָֽם
5 His money he does not give at interest,
and a bribe over the innocent he does not take.
Doing these things,
he will not be moved forever.
3e 4C 7
9
4
6

Psalm 125 has a median line length of 16 syllables. And a standard deviation of 6.65. It is a fat curve.
Psalms 125 Fn Min Max Syll
שִׁ֗יר הַֽמַּ֫עֲל֥וֹת
הַבֹּטְחִ֥ים בַּיהוָ֑ה
כְּֽהַר־צִיּ֥וֹן לֹא־יִ֝מּ֗וֹט לְעוֹלָ֥ם יֵשֵֽׁב
1 ~ A song of the ascents.
Those trusting in Yahweh,
are like mount Zion. It will not be moved. Forever it will persist.
3e 4A 5
5
11
יְֽרוּשָׁלִַ֗ם הָרִים֮ סָבִ֪יב לָ֥הּ וַ֭יהוָה סָבִ֣יב לְעַמּ֑וֹ
מֵ֝עַתָּ֗ה וְעַד־עוֹלָֽם
2 The mountains of Jerusalem surround her and Yahweh surrounds his people,
from now and unto everlasting.
3d 4B 16
7
כִּ֤י לֹ֪א יָנ֡וּחַ שֵׁ֤בֶט הָרֶ֗שַׁע עַל֮ גּוֹרַ֪ל הַֽצַּדִּ֫יקִ֥ים
לְמַ֡עַן לֹא־יִשְׁלְח֖וּ הַצַּדִּיקִ֨ים בְּעַוְלָ֬תָה יְדֵיהֶֽם
3 C For the sceptre of the wicked will not rest on the lot of the righteous,
so that the righteous will not set loose their hand to injustice.
3d 4C 17
18
הֵיטִ֣יבָה יְ֭הוָה לַטּוֹבִ֑ים
וְ֝לִֽישָׁרִ֗ים בְּלִבּוֹתָֽם
4 Do good Yahweh to the good,
and to the upright in their hearts.
3e 4B 8
8
וְהַמַּטִּ֤ים עַֽקַלְקַלּוֹתָ֗ם יוֹלִיכֵ֣ם יְ֭הוָה אֶת־פֹּעֲלֵ֣י הָאָ֑וֶן
שָׁ֝ל֗וֹם עַל־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל
5 And those bent to their crooked ways, Yahweh will walk them out with the workers of mischief.
Peace on Israel.
3e 4C 21
6