Three Thousand Years of Hebrew Versification


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Essays in Comparative Prosody

Benjamin Harshav

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In this unparalleled study of the forms of Hebrew poetry, preeminent authority Benjamin Harshav examines Hebrew verse during three millennia of changing historical and cultural contexts. He takes us around the world of the Jewish Diaspora, comparing the changes in Hebrew verse as it came into contact with the Canaanite, Greek, Arabic, Italian, German, Russian, Yiddish, and English poetic forms.
Harshav explores the types and constraints of free rhythms, the meanings of sound patterns, the historical and linguistic frameworks that produced the first accentual iambs in English, German, Russian, and Hebrew, and the discovery of these iambs in a Yiddish romance written in Venice in 1508/09. In each chapter, the author presents an innovative analytical theory on a particular poetic domain, drawing on his close study of thousands of Hebrew poems.

Benjamin Harshav is professor emeritus of comparative literature and J. & H. Blaustein Professor of Hebrew Language and Literature, Yale University, and professor emeritus of literary theory, Tel Aviv University. He lives in North Haven, CT.
“An original work of powerful analysis that is likely to remain the definitive study of this subject for the foreseeable future. . . . It is a book that anyone even marginally involved in Hebrew poetry would want to have on his or her bookshelf.”—Robert Alter, University of California, Berkeley
“With immense learning and concise powers of summary, Harshav explores metrical constraint in verse. Hebrew and Yiddish poetry from the Bible to the present are his focus, but he also introduces the formal conventions of all the Western national poetries.”—Paul H. Fry, Yale University
“With the art of a master story-teller and the analytical precision of a reference manual, this consummate cultural theorist unfolds the comparative cultural history of Hebrew and Yiddish verse forms from the Bible to the twentieth century. An immediate classic!”—Jerold C. Frakes, editor of Early Yiddish Texts
"Benjamin Harshav’s extraordinary book is the best available study of verse form, poetic metrics, and poetic rhythm, admirably applied to the unique wealth of Hebrew poetry.  A rigorous and friendly masterpiece authored by one of the most important contemporary specialists in poetics."—Thomas G. Pavel, Gordon J. Laing Distinguished Service Professor, University of Chicago

“Harshav's analyses are painstaking and precise, and the import of his discussions of the relations of metrics and rhythm, syntax, and semantics in a wide range of verse forms is far-reaching.  The author's knowledge of his material, in many languages, is vast . . . this is a major study.”—CHOICE

“For more than six decades, Benjamin Harshav instructed readers in the operations of poetic technique, but he was always mindful of the subtle and  profound articulation of human experience it served. Three Thousand Years of Hebrew Versification is a vivid reminder of the precious legacy he has left us.”—Robert Alter, The Jewish Review of Books
ISBN: 9780300144871
Publication Date: November 25, 2014
376 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
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