Grace Theological Journal 11.2 (1990) 187-204.
1990 Grace Theological Seminary; cited with permission;
[Copyright © 1990 Grace Theological Seminary; cited with permission;
digitally prepared for use at
THE QUATRAIN IN
JOHN E. WORGUL
Isaiah was a master of Hebrew poetry as well as a grand theo-
logian. He was fond of integrating couplets into various four-lined
structures (i.e., quatrains) that fall into three basic categories. This
integration was often achieved by sophisticated interplay on the gram-
matical, semantic, and rhetorical levels. What is of deeper significance,
however, is that Isaiah used these poetic forms to enhance his theologi-
cal meaning. By activating all levels of language, the prophet was able
to impress God's word upon his hearers in compact, four-lined struc-
tures that would otherwise take many lines of prose to communicate.
* * *
ALTHOUGH the pairing of lines by means of grammatical, semantic
and rhetorical parallelism to form couplets is the basic feature of
Isaianic poetry, the pairing of couplets to form quatrains is also a
distinctive device used by Isaiah.1 In this article, we will differentiate
and categorize these structures, but will also see how Isaiah uses them
to communicate his message by artfully blending form with meaning.
Before we start with the analysis of the quatrains, some preliminary
considerations are in order. Basic to the goal stated above is the
position that a methodology of analyzing parallel lines must be able to
account for both grammatical and semantic parallelism, and the rhetor-
ical effect as well. It is our intention to avoid stressing one aspect of
parallelism over another.2 The method employed here, which was
*This article is based on the results of an analysis of 529 lines of Isaianic verse in my
unpublished dissertation Parallelism in the Poetry of Isaiah 1-18, written for the Dropsie
l Out of the 529 lines there were 208 units: 127 independent couplets, 42 quatrains,
29 triplets, 8 single lines and two possible hexastichs.
2 See S. Geller, ("Theory and Method in the study of Biblical Poetry," JQR LXXIII
No.1 ) 65-77. With regard to the debate over which aspect has primacy, A.
blood is helpful, for one is surely meaningless without the other. See A. Berlin, The
dynamics of Biblical Parallelism (Bloomington: Indiana University, 1985) 23-25, 64.
188 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
adapted from Stephen Geller's Parallelism in Early Biblical Poetry
(Missoula, Montana: Scholars Press, 1979) is an attempt to account
for parallelism on these levels.3 Central to the method is a device called
a "schema," which will be explained below.
The lines used in the analysis had to meet certain criteria.4 The
first is that the lines analyzed should be regarded as Isaianic by most
scholars.5 Secondly, the lines must be "highly parallelistic" as opposed
to prose without any parallelistic features (e.g., 7:1-6, 10-17 and 8:1-
4), or prose that contains parallelistic features, referred to here as
"parallelistic prose" (e.g., , 3:6-7, 7:18-25, 8:12A-D and -
12). What exactly constitutes "highly parallelistic" lines is a subject of
ongoing debate. For our purposes we have delimited this category to
lines that display a basic grammatical and semantic correspondence6
coupled with the limitation of line length,7 and the requirement that
the parallel lines are relatively equal in length. The vast majority of
Isaianic lines fall in this highly parallelistic category. Finally, the lines
used had to be textually sound in the opinion of a consensus of
Although the corpus was not subjected to a metrical analysis,9
certain patterns of line length emerged. The term "line pattern" denotes
the ratio of grammatical units in one line to another. "Grammatical
unit" is a term used to denote a word that is significant in the structure
of parallel verse (i.e., words that are objects of parallelism). Some
words, such as particles (e.g., yKi and Mxi) are not used as objects of
parallelism in the corpus and are therefore not awarded the status of
"grammatical unit."10 For example, a couplet with three grammatical
units in each line would be referred to as a "3:3" line pattern. An
example would be 17:10A-B:
3 My debt to Stephen Geller is evident throughout this article.
4 It was felt that a minimum of 500 lines would offer an adequate representation of
5 Our corpus is based upon what S. R. Driver, O. Eissfeldt, G. Foher, G. B. Gray and
J. Skinner, among others, unanimously considered to be Isaianic. This does not reflect
the present writer's opinion of Isaianic authorship.
6 This excludes, for example, , for although it can be divided into four fairly
equal lines, they are all grammatically enjambed and semantically non-parallel.
7 Or "terse,"
cf. J. Kugel, The
Idea of Biblical Poetry (
Press, 1981) 85.
8 The passages ultimately included were 1:2-27, 29-31, 2:7-8, 10-17, 19, 21, 3:1-5,
12C-26, 4:1, 5:1-28, 6:7B-D, 8B-C, 9-13B, 7:7B-9, 8:9-10, 13-15, 9:7-13, 15-17B,
19-20, 10:1-4,6-9, 13-15, 17:1, 2B-C, 3A-B, 4-6, 10-14, 18:1-2D, 3-6.
9 It is not denied that Isaianic poetry is "metrical" in some sense. Rather, an in-depth
metrical analysis would confront many uncertainties which would require a major study
of its own.
10 See Geller, p. 8.
WORGUL: THE QUATRAIN.IN ISAIANIC POETRY 189
Text of 17:10A-D Translation
A. j`few;y; yhelox< T;HakawA yKi For you have forgotten the God of
B. T;r;KAzA xlo j`z.efumA rUcv; and the rock of your refuge you do
In this couplet we see that each of the three basic grammatical units in
the A line have a grammatical counterpart in the B line (verb: T;HakawA yKi
/ / T;r;kazA xlo and a direct object with a noun in construct: j`few;yi yhelox< / /
j`z.efumA rUcv;), which are semantically parallel as well (the verbs are
synonymous and the direct objects are epithets in that they give descrip-
tion one to another). Here we should note that aside from a very few
instances of grammatical rearrangement, often done for a rhetorical
effect (e.g., -20 and analyzed below) there is a basic grammati-
cal and semantic correspondence between units in the parallel line
structures in Isaiah.11
Isaianic quatrains, like the couplets,12 come in a variety of line
patterns. Some, like 5:27A -D below, consist predominantly of lines
with two grammatical units.13
Text of 5:27A-D Translation
A. JyefA Nyxe None is weary,
C. MUnyA xlo none slumbers,
D. NwAyyi xlov; none sleeps.
It may be objected, of course, that what we have here is really a 5:4
couplet rather than a 2:3:2:2 quatrain.14 Granted that it is not always
11 However, see the few examples of the "semantic" quatrains below, which display
semantic parallelism with little or no grammatical parallelism.
12 Among the couplets alone there were 10 different line patterns: the 2:2, 2:3, 3:2,
3:3, 3:4,4:3, 4:2, 4:4, 5:3 and the 5:2. Of these, the 3:3 and the 3:2 were the most common,
but there were a significant number of "short lined" couplets (There were 27 occurrences
of the 2:2. For example, see 1:23A-B, 2:l0A-B, 5:3C-D, 7:9C-D, and 8:9C-D).
13 Some other examples of quatrains with predominantly 2 unit lines are 1:18C-F,
1:19A-20B, 1:29A-D, 5:5C-F, 5:7E-H, 5:9B-E, 5:12D-G, 6:9B-E, 9:9A-D, 17:6C-G.
14 The negative existential particle Nyxe is considered a grammatical unit in the corpus
since it functions as the predicate of a noun sentence throughout. The A line therefore
consists of two grammatical units and the B line three units, for prepositions with
with the negative particle xlo which usually functions as a proclitic and forms a unit with
the following term (hence not an independent grammatical unit, cf. T;r;cAzA xlo, in 17:10B
above). In this instance, however, xlo, parallels Nyxe on the semantic level and occupies the
same emphatic position in the parallel line structure. It is therefore given a grammatical
unit status in lines C and D.
190 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
easy to determine a couplet from a quatrain, two facts tend to discount
understanding these lines as a couplet. First, long lines (i.e., lines with
four or more units) without a caesura are relatively uncommon in
Isaiah (see footnote 12 above). That is, Isaiah tends to use shorter three
or two unit lines.15 Secondly there are clear grammatical caesuras that
naturally break this text into four short, distinct phrases. Indeed, in
this instance the brief, hurried line structure enhances Isaiah's descrip-
tion of these swift, relentless destroyers. As we shall see, this is not the
only place where Isaiah uses form to enhance his meaning.
With this example we begin our study of the Isaianic quatrain. As
we mentioned at the outset, the quatrain is essentially two couplets
bound together. This "binding" is done in a variety of ways, and with
the help of a continuum we can see that three basic quatrain patterns
emerge. On one end of the continuum there is what we shall call the
"interlocked" quatrains in which the two sets of paired lines are inter-
twined (hence "interlocked") in such a way that the quatrain must be
viewed as one unit. This interlocking is the result of alternating or
chiastic patterns in which parallel lines are separated from each other
(ie., ABA'B', ABB'A').16 In the middle of the continuum there are the
"integrated" quatrains. Here the parallelism is usually between the A
and B lines and between the C and D lines, but it is obvious that all
four lines are parallel on the basis of grammatical, semantic and
usually rhetorical similarities (ie., [A//A']//[A"//A"']). These struc-
tures are not considered to be as tightly bound as the "interlocked"
types, for they can be analyzed as two couplets without obscuring the
overall structure of the quatrain. Finally, at the end of the continuum
we have the "semantic" quatrains in which, like the "integrated"
quatrains above, the primary parallelism is between the A and B lines,
and between the C and D lines, but the parallelism between the paired
couplets is basically semantic and/ or rhetorical, with no grammatical
parallelism.17 Let us consider the tightest quartrains on the one end of
the continuum, and proceed to the looser structures at the other end.
15 Isaiah's use of the short, 2 unit line in couplets, triplets, and quatrains (often in
association with 3 unit lines, e.g., a 3:2:2 triplet) is a characteristic that sets him apart
from early Hebrew poetry. See Geller, pp. 282-84.
16 That is, the A line parallels the C line and the B the D line in the alternating type,
and the A line parallels the D line and the B the C line in the chiastic type.
17 This is a small category, for as noted above, Isaiah tends to employ lines that are
parallel on both the grammatical and semantic levels. These quatrains are considered the
"loosest" of the quatrains on the continuum because of the lack of grammatical parallel-
ism. It should be emphasized again that grammar, although an important aspect of
parallelism, is but one aspect, and the more aspects implemented (i.e., grammar, seman-
tics, rhetorical devices), the "tighter" the parallelism. There are no examples of quatrains
grammatically parallel with no semantic parallelism.
WORGUL: THE QUATRAIN IN ISAIANIC POETRY 191
ALTERNATING AND CHIASTIC STRUCTURES
Judging from the abundance of examples, the alternating quatrain
must be considered a favorite Isaianic device.18 In half of the examples
analyzed,19 the grammatical and semantic correspondence is complete
between the alternating lines in that each unit, or group of units (i.e.,
word compounds) is grammatically and semantically parallel to its
corresponding unit. To gain a clear and convenient view of the paral-
lelism between these units, we employ what we term a "schema." This
is a purely heuristic device intended to display syntagmatic and para-
digmatic structures.20 It merely arranges the syntax (syntagmatic/
horizontal level) of the lines so that the parallel units can be placed
vertically (paradigmatic level). By means of this device, one may ob-
serve at a glance the grammatical and semantic parallelism between the
parallel lines. 1:10A-D will allow us to illustrate the use of the schema
as well as offer an example of "complete" parallelism.
Text of 1:10A-D Translation
A. hvAhy;-rbad; Ufm;wi Hear the word of YHWH
yneyciq; you rulers of
C. Unyhelox< traOt UnyzixEha Listen to the teaching of our God,
hrAmofE Mfa you people of
Schema of 1:10A-D
A. hvAhy; rbad; Ufmawi
B. Mdos; yneyciq;
C. Unyhelox< traOt UnyzixEha
D. hrAmofE Mfa
The imperatives and the direct objects of the A and C lines correspond
grammatically and semantically (Ufm;wi / / UnyzixEha: synonyms, rbad; / /
traOt: synonyms, hvAhy; / / Unyhelox<: epithet), as do the subjects in the B and
18 See 1:10A-D, 1:15A-D, 1:18C-F, 1:19A-20B, 1:29A-D, 2:7A-D (a pentastich?),
5:5C-F, 5:7E-H, 5:9B-E, 5:10A-D, 5:11A-D, 5:12D-G, 6:9B-E, 9:9A-D, 17:6C-G,
19 Cf. 1:10A-D, 1:19A-20B, 1:29A-D, 2:7A-D (a pentastich?), 5:5C-F, 5:12D-G,
20 Cf. S. Geller's "reconstructed sentence," pp. 15-21.
192 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
D lines (yneyciq; / / Mfa: part-whole,21 Mdos; / / hrAmofE: paradigmatic ).22 The
parallelism is therefore complete, and the quatrain, by virtue of the
alternation (ABA'B'), must be considered as one unit of four lines, and
cannot be analyzed as two couplets or as four single lines.23 It is
therefore a very tight quatrain.
In the other half of the examples of alternating quatrains, one
finds that a word that is in one line (usually the A line) is deleted in its
parallel line (C line), but is nevertheless understood in that line to
complete its meaning. On a deeper level of linguistic analysis, however,
this parallelism does not really differ from the complete parallelism in
the example above, for the deleted word is necessary to the meaning of
the line. This phenomenon of word deletion, referred to here as "ellip-
sis”24 is illustrated by the quatrain in 5:7E-H.
Text of 5:7E-H Translation
A. FPAw;mil; vqay;va and He looked for justice,
B. HPAW;mi hn.ehiv; but behold, bloodshed;
C. hqAdAc;li for righteousness,
D. hqAfAc; hn.ehifv but behold, a cry!25
Shema of 5:7 E-H
A. FPAw;mil; vqay;va
B. HPAW;mi hne.hiv;
D. hqAfAc; hn.ehiv;
21 The yneyciq; may be considered a part of the whole (Mfa), or the relationship between
the two words may be described as a merism (i.e., establishing the two extremes "rulers"
and "common people," and implying everyone in between).
22 Words related paradigmatically belong to the same semantic field in that they
denote a common concept, or in other words, are related by an understood common
denominator. In this example, the stock word pair Mdos; and hrAmofE belong to the same
paradigm of "wicked cities."
23 The phenomenon of line parallelism, whether involving 2, 3,4 or more lines, must
be considered normative for Isaianic verse structure. This is so because the independent,
single line is rare and its very existence is debatable (e.g., 1:15E; see footnote 1).
24 This phenomenon has also been referred to as "gapping." See E. L. Greenstein
("Two variations of Grammatical Parallelism in Canaanite Poetry and their Psycho-
linguistic Background," JANES of Columbia University, 6) 94.
25 This quatrain is primarily an alternating quatrain in that the A and C lines, and
the B and D lines are grammatically identical and semantically parallel (even semantically
identical in the repetition of hne.hiv; in the Band D lines). It is however, "integrated" as well
in that the A and B lines, and the C and D lines are semantically and rhetorically parallel
WORGUL: THE QUATRAIN IN ISAIANIC POETRY 193
It is obvious that vqay;va is understood with the prepositional phrase in the
C line, for the C line would be incomplete without it. For all practical
purposes, therefore, we must conclude that there is very little difference
between the alternating quatrains with ellipsis and alternating quatrains
that are "completely" parallel, for the grammatical and semantic paral-
lelism is complete in both, even though one line may have an additional
grammatical unit that its parallel line does not have.26
Rarely, Isaiah may vary the grammar of one line to achieve a
certain poetic effect. The quatrain in illustrates this.
Text of 5:11A-D Translation
A. rq,Boba ymeyKiw;ma yOh Woe!27 those who rise early in the
B. UpDor;yi rkAwe that they may run after beer,28
C. Jw,n.,ba yreHExam; who tarry late in the evening,
D. Mqeylid;ya Nyiya till wine inflames them.
Schema of 5:11A-D
A. rq,Boba ymeyKiw;ma yOh
B. UpDor;yi rkAwe
C. Jw,n.,ba yreHExam;
D. Mqeylid;ya Nyiya
Apart from the interjection yOh, the A and C lines are grammatically
identical (both having participles and prepositional phrases) and
semantically parallel (merism). The yOh may be regarded as extrametri-
cal and applying to the quatrain as a whole, or as a grammatical unit in
the A line that is understood elliptically (i.e., "gapped ") in the C line.
by means of the paranomasia between HPAW;mi and FPAw;mi, and hqAdAc; and hqAfAc; (similar
sound but opposite meaning).
26 Ellipsis can occur in any line structure whether they are couplets, triplets, or
quatrains with other types of parallel line patterns.
27 The yOh (as opposed to yOx, which almost always occurs with prepositions l, lfa, or
lx,) is understood by this writer to be a pure interjection, most probably a cry of funerary
lamentation (the nuance being "woe!" or "alas!" rather than "woe unto. . ."). Cf. H. W.
A Commentary on the Prophets Joel and
28 It is not evident how rkAwe differs from Nyiya, rkAwe almost always occurs paired with Nyiya
and all but once precedes it. It probably is not liquor (usually translated "strong drink"),
for there is no evidence of distillation in ancient times. Here it is understood to be a
beer-perhaps a grain beer as opposed to wine. Cf. R. L. Harris, Ed., Theological
Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980).
194 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
But what is of immediate interest is that the grammar of the D line is
not what one would expect after having read the B line. The reader,
having encountered a direct object and a transitive verb in the B line, is
now surprised to find the noun as a subject in the D line. This probably
was not done just for variation, but rather to set up a pun on the verb
jld. This root has a double meaning: that of "burn" or "inflame" (cf.
Ezek 24:10) and "hotly pursue" (cf. Gen 31:36). In this context, the
primary meaning is no doubt "inflame," but it must not be overlooked
that jld (in the Qal) is a synonym of Jdr in the B line, having the latter
nuance of "pursuing.”29 The pun is that the drinkers, making a fresh
start in the morning and in full control (they are the subjects of UpDor;yi in
the B line), are pursuing beer in the first couplet. However, by evening
the situation is reversed. Wine is now in control (it is the subject of the
D line) and is the pursuer in the second couplet. We see that the poet is
actually combining grammar and line structure with the meaning
(semantic nuances jld and the morning-evening merism) to impress
an image upon his hearers of these ambitious fellows; they set out at
the first light of dawn to make bold conquests of beer, but by evening
they are stumbling their way back home with wine, the real victor in
the contest, hard at their heels. By such synthesis, Isaiah is able to
communicate a profoundly effective caricature in four short lines that
would take many more lines of prose to describe.
The chiastic quatrain is not so well represented as the alternating
quatrain and must therefore be considered less characteristic of Isaianic
quatrain devices. Out of the four possible examples (1:11C-F, 5:6A-
D, 5:7 A-D and 6:11B-C), there are no line structures as clear as the
alternating line structures mentioned above. Be this as it may, the
prophet will use chiasm as a device to tighten other types of quatrains.
Perhaps the tightest quatrain in Isaiah is the famous one in 1:18:
Text of 1:18C-F Translation
A. Myniw.AKa Mk,yxeFAHE Uyh;yi-Mxi If your sins are like scarlet,
B. UnyBil;ya gl,w.,Ka shall they be white as snow?
C. flAOTka UmyDix;ya-Mxi If they are red like crimson,
D. Uyh;yi rm,c,.Ka shall they become like wool?
29 On a deep level an underlying grammatical parallelism is evident if one rewrites
the Hiph singular imperfect Mqeylid;ya to the Qal plural imperfect Uql;d;yi (dropping the 3 m pl
suffix), with the second meaning of the verb's root "pursue" understood. Both the B and
D lines would then have nouns functioning as subjects of plural imperfect verbs. For
such grammatical "transformations," see Geller, pp. 21-29.
WORGUL: THE QUATRAIN IN ISAIANIC POETRY 195
Schema of 1:18C-F
A. Myniw.AKa Mk,yxeFAHE Uyh;yi-Mxi
B. UnyBil;ya gl,w.,Ka
C. flAOTka UmyDix;ya-Mxi
D. Uyh;yi rm,c.,Ka
This quatrain has a primarily alternating structure (note the ellipsis of
Mk,yxeFAHE, in the C line). However, chiasm can be observed on two levels.
First, there is the chiastic verb, prepositional phrase, prepositional
phrase, verb structure within both the AB couplet and the CD couplet.
The result is that the prepositional phrases take the central, or inside,
position in the overall structure of the quatrain, while the verbs are at
the extremities. Secondly, a further chiasm can be observed between
the verb Uyh;yi in the A and D lines, and the Hiph imperfects of the B and
C lines. The inclusio of Uyh;yi further tightens the quatrain. What must
be determined at this point is whether or not this structure is in fact a
vehicle to further the meaning of this quatrain. To begin with, we
understand that the poet's intention is to offer a well-reasoned, or
"tight" argument to the people (verse 18A: hHAk;UAniv; xnA-Ukl;). Certainly the
skill in which he blends alternation with chiasm to produce such a tight
structure enhances the meaning he wished to convey; that YHWH's
terms are so tightly logical and reasonable that there is no room for
objection. But can we go further and suggest that the form may even be
valuable in the actual interpretation of this quatrain? It is well-known
that the B and D lines can be understood either as statements (i.e.,
"they shall be white as snow/wool") or as questions, as in the above
translation. The difficulty with the former interpretation is that it is not
evident how or why red sins (sins of bloodshed, cf. verse 5) should
become "white sins." Such an ambiguity in what one would expect to
be a well-reasoned argument is out of place. Rather, it is more fitting in
this context of tight logic to understand the B and D lines as rhetorical
questions, expecting negative answers (cf. Jer ).30 Therefore, in
presenting His argument, YHWH is backing the people into a corner
by reminding them of their bloody guilt in crimes that cannot be left
unpunished by law. Tightness of form mirrors inexorability of logical
By itself therefore, this quatrain would leave the people with little
comfort. However, this quatrain was never meant to be read by itself as
30 It is admissible that these lines be regarded as questions without interrogative
pronouns or adverbs (see G-K 150 a).
196 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
is evident by its close similarities of structure with the next lines, which
also form an alternating quatrain.
Text of 1:19A-B-20A-B Translation
B. UlkexTo Cr,xAhA bUF you will eat of the good of the land.
D. UlK;xuT; br,H, you will be devoured by the sword.
Schema of 1:19A-B--20A-B
B. Ulkexto Cr,xAhA bUF
D. UlK;xuT; br,H,
The continuation of the particle Mxi and the similar "outside" position
of the imperfect verbs with the alliterative t / x combination (rhetor-
ical considerations) forces the reader to connect the two quatrains on
the semantic level (i.e., meaning) as well. Indeed, this quatrain brings
us into the second phase of YHWH's argument. In spite of their guilt,
if they are willing and obey, then they shall eat the good of the land.
The alliteration and assonance between UbxTo and bUF further strength-
ens the reasonableness and attractiveness of a willing heart toward
God. However, if they refuse and rebel, then they shall be "the eaten"
rather than "the eaters." With this pun between UlkexTo and UlK;xuT;,32
which occupies the final position in this two quatrain unit, we reach the
31 Note that two grammatical units are parallel within the same line (i.e., "internal
parallelism") and are placed in the same column of the schema.
32 The UlK;xuT; of the D line is most probably a Qal passive (see G-K 52 e). Usually,
br,H, is understood prepositionally either by reading brHB (cf. lQIsa) or by considering it
as an accusative functioning prepositionally in a passive construction (for details see
G-K 121 c). Some prefer to emend the verb to UlkexTo (you shall eat the sword), but this
has no versional support and is not idiomatic to Hebrew which would prefer the br,H, as
the subject (cf. 2 Kgdms , 18:8 and Jer ). Others emend br,H, to bUrHa which means
"carob" (a poor man's food) in late Hebrew and Aramaic, but this word is not used
elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible and such a reading involves the emendation of the passive
verb as well as br,H,. However, it is possible that Isaiah was making a pun on br,H, and
WORGUL: THE QUATRAIN IN ISAIANIC POETRY 197
Isaiah altered the grammar of the D line to achieve this pun. One
would expect UlkexoT rather than the passive UlK;xuT; to parallel the UlkexTo
of the B line, with br,H,, a direct object, paralleling Cr,xAhA bUF. By
reversing the expected grammar (i.e., active to passive) the alternative
of eating rather than being eaten is underscored. The tightness of the
two quatrain unit is further enhanced by the inclusio of the hvAhy; rmaxyo
and the rBeDi hvAhy; of the 20C line.
The "interlocked" quatrain is an important Isaianic poetic device.
Most characteristic of it is the alternating quatrain (ABA'B'; 16 clear
examples in the corpus), although there is evidence of chiastic structures
(4 possible examples), and at times a mixture of both. Also there is a
basic grammatical and semantic correspondence between word units of
the parallel lines in spite of ellipsis and an occasional grammatical
rearrangement. Often, Isaiah will use this "interlocked" structure, along
with grammatical and rhetorical forms, to enhance the meaning of his
II. THE "INTEGRATED" QUATRAIN
The combination of couplets whose parallel lines are not actually
intertwined but are associated by virtue of grammatical, semantic and
often rhetorical parallelism is common in Isaiah.33 Usually, all four
lines are grammatically and semantically parallel, although in a few
instances one line, either the A line or the D line, is non-parallel (A
line: 1:18A-D, 1:14A-D, 10:8A-9C; D line: 17:5A-D). These quatrains
occupy the center of the continuum, for they are somewhat less bound
than the "interlocked" type in that the primary parallelism is often
between the A and B lines, and between the C and D lines. (They
therefore could be analyzed as two couplets without blurring the
overall structure, unlike the alternating quatrains.) The oft analyzed
quatrain in 1:3 illustrates this type.34
Text of 1 :3A -D Translation
A. Uhneqo rOw fdayA The ox knows its owner,
B. vylAfAB; sUbxe rOmHEva and the ass its master's crib,
D. NnAOBt;hi xlo ym.ifa my people do not understand.
33 There are at least 15 clear examples of this in my corpus: 1:3A-D, 1:4A-D,
1:7A-D, l:8A-D, 1:14A-D, 3:3A-D (list), 3:16C-F, 3:24A-D, 5:27A-D, 7:8, 7:9,
8:9:A-D, 8:13A-D, 10:3A-D, 10:8A-9C, 10:14A-D, 10:15A-D?, 17:5A-D, 17:10A-D?
34 Cf. J. Kugel's treatment of this quatrain in Idea, 9.
198 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Schema of 1:3A-D
A. Uhneqo rOW fdayA
B. vylAfAB; sUbxe rOmHEva
C. lxerAW;yi fdayA xlo
D. ymi.fa NnAOBt;hi xlo
On the surface, the primary grammatical and semantic parallelism is
between the A and B lines, and between the C and D lines. In the AB
couplet, both lines have direct objects (rOw and rOmHE) that are seman-
tically parallel (both are farm animals). In the CD couplet, both lines
have negatives with verbs (fdayA xlo and NnAOBt;Hi xlo) that are semantically
parallel (both express
grammatically parallel in spite of the fact that not all elements (i.e.,
verb, subject, direct object) are in each of the four lines except the A
line. However, below the surface, we see that grammar, semantics and
rhetorical devices all contribute to give a deeper
condition. What Isaiah has done was to make use of the simple form of
a quatrain to create a rather complex message that unfolds when one
examines the similarities and contrasts between the grammatical units
of the parallel lines. To begin with, it will be noticed that all four lines
have a subject which associates senseless beasts (the subjects of the AB
level. The similarity between the beasts and
ened on the phonetic level by the alliteration of the sibilants w / W and
the r in rOw and lxerAW;yi, and the gutturals H / f with the m in rOmHE and
ym.ifa. However, one is encouraged not to stop at this unflattering asso-
ciation, for one is invited to contemplate the contrasts as well as the
similarities. But what is the basic contrast between these beasts and
as opposed to
range that includes knowledge on the emotional and volitional levels
(and therefore associated with obedience and piety) as well as on the
intellectual level, its parallel is with NnAOBt;hi, which clearly implies actual
knowledge or perception derived from examination. Moreover, the
intelligence, rather than faithfulness, is the issue, for oxen, as far as we
can tell, were known for their fidelity, loyalty and obedience.36 Since
oxen are relatively uncommon to the experience of many western
35 J. Skinner, The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Chapters I-XXXIX (
36 In contrast to the Myre (wild ox) that is not dependable like the domesticated ox (see
WORGUL: THE QUATRAIN IN ISAIANIC POETRY 199
urbanites, perhaps Lassie would offer us a more vivid image. One
would not say: "even Lassie is faithful to his master, he knows his
doggie dish." The comparison with Lassie implies that the real issue is
not Lassie's fidelity, but intelligence. The point in our passage is that
even dumb (although faithful) beasts are intelligent enough to know
cannot be ignorance of God's raising them and that
warded Him by rebelling (verse 2), for the prophets
was aware of their special status with YHWH and their responsibility
to Him. Rather, a moral ignorance is implied, not of their crimes, but
of the consequences of their crimes, that is, punishment. This is not
explicit in the text, but is implicit in the dynamics of the parallelism.37
The beasts possess a certain cunning with regard to their welfare that
because they are fed. What they know is the price of disobedience. The
negatives of the D and C lines add a new dimension
of their fate. They do not know what the animals know because they
will not know it. Their ignorance is a willful ignorance. The stupidity
of such an ignorance is grammatically and structurally enhanced by the
conspicuously missing direct objects in the CD couplet. The animals
are fed for their simple logic, for their knowledge has an object (their
master and his food trough).
object of knowledge and will soon starve (i.e., suffer punishment). That
prophetic argument (cf. Deut 32:6 "MkAHA xlov; lbAnA Mfa”).
Another example of this type of quatrain is found in , where
is scathing in his description of the daughters of
Text of 3:16C-F Translation
A. NOrGA tOUFn; hnAk;laTeva and they walk with outstretched necks,
B. MynAyfe tOrq.;Wam;U and ogle with their eyes,
C. hnAk;laTe JpoFAv; j`OlhA mincing along as they go,
D. 38hnAs;KafaT; Mh,yleg;rab;U tinkling with their feet.
37 The fact that the overall context of Isaiah 1 is that of a byri (pronounced "rev"; it is
the term given for a legal law suit) intensifies the expectation of judgement in this
38 In spite of the fact that there are three instances of hapax legomena in this
quatrain, the precise definitions of which may not be known, our analysis is not
adversely affected, for the context of these attention getting actions helps to provide
close enough definitions. The Pi of the root rqW. refers to some bawdy, wanton look,
unless with Jastrow we understand it to mean "paint" (cf. rqW. II, Pi). The infinitive of
JpF may be onomatopoeic, related to the little steps taken by children (i.e., "tap," cf.
Gray). The Pi of skf denotes something done with the feet which must be related to
some sort of article which makes noise or draws attention (cf. v. 18 for the noun form).
200 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Schema of 3:16C-F
A. NOrGA tOUFn; hnAk;laTeva
B. MynAyfe tOrq.;Wam;U
C. JpoFAv; j`OlhA hnAk;laTe
D. hnAs;KafaT; Mh,yleg;rab;U
All four lines are grammatically and semantically parallel. The im-
perfects of jlh, although actually occurring in the A and C lines, are
"gapped" in the B and D lines as well. Each line contains a "com-
pound," or a unit consisting of two inseparable words, that modify the
jlh imperfects: the A and B lines have participles in construct, the C
line has a compound of two infinitive absolutes, and the D line contains
a preposition with a verb. These compound modifiers, which describe
actions while walking, are basically interchangeable grammatically and
semantically. What is unique about this quatrain of four parallel lines,
however, is the way in which Isaiah blends alternation and chiasm into
his overall structure.
Text of 3:16C-F with Couplets Placed on Same line
NOrGA tOUFn; hnAk;laTeva / MyinAyfe tOrq.;Wam;U
hnAk;laTe JpoFAv; j`OlhA / hnAs;KafaT; Mh,yleg;rabaU
We see that there is a special relationship between the A and C lines
and between the Band D lines (alternation), and this relationship is
chiastic in nature. The imperfects of jlh are obviously parallel, as are
The indivisible compounds NOrGA tOUFn; (extended necks) and JpoFAv; j`OlhA
(mincing along), which are parallel adverbially on a higher level. (Note
the assonance of the long O vowels that further associates these com-
pounds.) Likewise, the participle tOrq.;Wam;U and the verb hnAsKafaT; ("ogling"
and "tinkling") describe similar actions, and the attention getting MyinAyfe
(eyes) and Mh,yleg;rab;U (feet) are also parallel. This complex structure
which consists of parallel body parts and simultaneous actions helps to
enhance our mental picture of these women skilled in the art of
seduction. It should be noted that the use of alternation and chiasm
within a quatrain of four parallel lines places this "integrated" quatrain
very close to the "interlocked" quatrains on the continuum.
An example of an "integrated" quatrain that is positioned toward
the other end of the continuum (i.e., the "loose" end where there is no
grammatical parallelism) is the structure found in .
WORGUL: THE QUATRAIN IN ISAIANIC POETRY 201
Text of 10:15A-D
B. Opynim; lfa 39rOWm.aha lDeGat;yi Mxe
C. 40< Omyrim;> tx,v; tb,we JynihAK;
D. Cfe-xlo hF.,ma MyrihAK;
A. Shall the axe boast itself over him who hews with it?
B. Shall the saw exalt itself over him who wields it?
C. As if a rod should wield him who lifts it,
D. as if a staff should lift him who is not wood.
Semantic Diagram of 10:15A-D
A. a b c
B. a' b' c'
C. a" b" c"
D. a'" b'" c'"
The grammatical parallelism is very exact within the AB couplet in
that both lines have an interrogative particle, a Hitpa’el intransitive
verb, a subject and a prepositional phrase. The grammatical parallelism
within the CD couplet is also exact in that both lines are prepositional
phrases containing an infinitive construct, a subject and a direct object.
Although there is a certain compatibility between these two couplets
(i.e., the verbal element in the infinite constructs of the CD couplet
with the intransitive verbs of the AB couplet: the parallel subjects), it is
evident that the grammatical parallelism is weak. Rather, the emphasis
of this quatrain is on the semantic parallelism, for every word on each
line is semantically parallel, as the semantic diagram shows (using the
standard a b c / / a' b' c' method).
The "integrated" quatrains are better thought of as two couplets
that are connected grammatically, semantically and usually rhetorically.
39 rOW.ma is a hapax, the root of which is rW.n which has the meaning "saw" in various
40 If the v; on the direct object marker (tx,v;) is original, it may be explained as a waw
explicativum (see G-K 154 a N 1b). It is believed by many that the plural vymAyrim; was
subsequently added to make the reference to YHWH more clear (i.e., the "plural of
majesty," cf. Gray, p. 202; G-K 124 k; note also the singular in the versions).
202 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Some, like the quatrain analyzed above, are structurally and
grammatically "tighter" than others of its class (e.g., above) and
are therefore closer to the "interlocked" end of the continuum. We now
consider the "semantic" quatrains at the "loose" end of the continuum.
III. THE "SEMANTIC" QUATRAIN
There are fewer instances in which the connection between the two
couplets is completely semantic and/ or rhetorical, resulting in corre-
spondingly looser relationships.41 18:6A-D provides an example.
Text of 18:6A -D
A. MyrihA Fyfel; vDAH;ya Ubz;fAye
B. Cr,xAhA tmah<g,l;U
C. FyifahA vylAfA CqAv;
D. JrAH<T, vylAfA Cr,xAhA tmah<B,-lkAv;
A. They shall all be left to the birds of prey of the mountains,
B. and to the beasts of the earth;
C. and the birds of prey will spend the winter on them,
D. and the beasts of the earth will spend the harvest on them.42
There is no grammatical parallelism between the AB couplet and the
CD couplet. The result is that the attention of the reader is auto-
matically drawn away from the comparison of lines and repetitive
grammatical units between couplets, which sets this quatrain apart
from the interlocked and integrated types. Rather, the reader is drawn
to a more general comparison of the two couplets on the semantic
level, and upon examination, it is evident that the CD couplet explains
in more detail the meaning of the AB couplet (general-specific relation-
ship). The repetition of "birds of the mountains" and "beasts of the
earth" is purely semantic (i.e., they are prepositions in the AB couplet,
but subjects in the CD couplet). The quatrain is therefore categorized
as "semantic." It should be noted that rhetorical features such as
alternation (A and C lines-birds; Band D lines-beasts; note also the
41 There are four examples in the corpus: 1:6C-F, 1:13A-D, 1:31A-D, and 18:6A-D.
42 The verbal denominatives CqA and JrAH<T, occur only here. To remain consistent with
the vine metaphor in the preceding verses 4 and 5, it is understood here that the ruined
vines (i.e., the Ethiopians) will become a barren haunt of wild birds and beasts year
around, rather than become carrion for these creatures.
WORGUL: THE QUATRAIN IN ISAIANIC POETRY 203
chiasm in the CD couplet--summer, birds, beasts, winter), and allitera-
tion (the profusion of gutturals throughout all four lines) serve to
strengthen the connection between these two couplets.
Finally, at the end of the continuum is an interesting example in
which two couplets form a somewhat loose quatrain primarily on the
Text of 1:6 C- F Translation
A. hrAUBHav; fcaP, (but) bruises and blows,
B 43hy.AriF; hKAmaU and raw wounds;
C. UwBAHu xlov;44 Urzo xlo they are not pressed out, nor bound up,
D. Nm,w.ABa hkAK;ru xlov; nor softened with oil.
Schema of 1:6 C- F (so as to show the rhetorical structure)
A. hrAUBHav; fcaP,
B. hy.AriF; hKAmaU
C. UwBAHu xlov; Urzo xlo
D. Nm,w.ABa hkAK;ru xlov;
The AB couplet and the CD couplet are essentially two lists placed
together. Each list contains three elements, two of which are internal in
the first lines of their respective couplets (i.e., internal parallelism in the
A and C lines). The two lists are not grammatically parallel to each
other in that the first consists of nouns while the second consists of
verbal phrases. Only secondarily are the two couplets semantically
parallel (i.e., general-specific relationship: the CD couplet gives more
information on the AB couplet). Rather, the primary parallelism is
structural and phonetic. Structurally, as already noted, these two
couplets are lists, and these lists are of increasing length. That is, the
first unit of both couplets is the shortest (fcaP, and Urzo xlo). The second is
a bit larger (hrAUBHav; and UwBHu xlov;). The third is the largest and most
grammatically involved (hY.AriF; hKAmaU and Nm,w.AB hkAK;ru xlov;). Corresponding
to this increasing unit length is a semantic progression, most evident in
the last line of each couplet where the picture is made more vivid by the
adjective and adverb (i.e., raw, open, hardening wounds). Phonology
also serves to connect the corresponding units of these two couplets
(the c of fcaP, and the z of Urzo are both sibilants; the H, b sequence in
43 The attributive is used elsewhere only in Judg , where it modifies "jawbone"
(i.e., a fresh jawbone rather than an old, brittle one). Here the idea is "newly opened" or
"raw." Note the use of collective singulars in the AB couplet.
204 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
hrAUBHav; and UwBAHu; the doubled K in hKAma and hkAK;ru together with the hkA
endings). These obvious rhetorical features are not only the main ingre-
dients that hold this quatrain together structurally, but also intensify
blows that are not bound up, and raw wounds that are not softened
with oil. The increasing unit length underscores the semantic progres-
sion that describes an infection that is progressing beyond a cure.
Although this study is not based on a complete analysis of all of
Isaiah's material, we can nevertheless observe certain features of the
Isaianic quatrain emerging. First of all, we may ascertain the different
types of couplet combinations he employs, and gain a general idea of
the frequency of these types. Making use of the continuum, we noticed
that at one end the "interlocked" quatrain, most usually of the alternat-
ing type rather than the chiastic, was the most highly represented in the
corpus with 20 examples. The parallel lines of these quatrains are so
structurally intertwined that they cannot be analyzed in smaller units
(i.e., couplets). Toward the middle of the continuum there are the
"integrated" quatrains in which the primary parallelism is between the
A and B lines, and between the C and D lines, but both couplets are
nevertheless tightly joined on the basis of grammar, semantic, and
rhetorical parallelism. This group is also well represented with 15
examples. Finally, there are only a few examples where the grammatical
parallelism breaks down completely, producing "semantic" quatrains
that are connected only by semantic and/ or rhetorical parallelism, at
the very end of the continuum.
Secondly, and perhaps more important than the categorization of
these structures, is the fact that Isaiah frequently uses these structures,
along with grammar, semantics, and rhetorical devices to enhance his
meaning. Isaiah's genius as a poet and theologian lies in the sophisti-
cated interplay of all these aspects. By means of such art he is able to
impress upon the mind of his hearers in a few short parallel lines (in
our case, the four lines that make up the quatrain) concepts and images
that would take paragraphs of ordinary prose to express. Ultimately,
this compactness is the result of parallelism that activates all levels of
language, melding together form and meaning.45
44 Urzo (note the long O vowel) is best explained as a Qal passive of rrz, a hapax with
the meaning of "pressing out" (i.e., a wound, cf. G-K 67 m).
45 R. Jakobson, "Grammatical Parallelism and its Russian Facet," Language 42
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Grace Theological Seminary
Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: firstname.lastname@example.org