The Best Bible Poetry
by Michael R. Burch
The following passages are, in my opinion, among the most poetic in the King
James Bible, which is in turn the most poetic English version of the Bible, if not
always the most
accurate. Probably the most glaring error in the King James Version is the
translation of the Hebrew word Sheol and the Greek word Hades
as "hell," when both clearly mean "the grave." If it interests you that there is
No Hell in the Bible, you can
click the link to examine the evidence, which I believe is very convincing. And
even conservative Bible scholars who devote their lives to studying and
translating the ancient texts seem to agree, because the word "hell" has either
entirely or almost entirely vanished from modern Bibles, including those
published by the famously literal Southern Baptist Convention and the Roman
Catholic Church. It's ironic that the two best-known Christian poets, Dante
Alighieri and John Milton, wrote epic poems about a "hell" that the Hebrew
prophets and scribes never mentioned in Biblical chronologies covering thousands
of years. But the Bible has influenced other poets in more positive ways,
including Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, John Donne, George Herbert,
Anne Bradstreet, Emily Bronte, Christina Rossetti, William Blake, Walt Whitman,
Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, W. H. Auden and T. S. Eliot, to name
just a few.
Psalm 137: The Mourning of the Exiles in Babylon
By the rivers of Babylon,
there we sat down, yea, we wept,
when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song;
and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying,
Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
But how shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee,
let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth;
if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
Song of Solomon: The Bride and the Bridegroom (I)
I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.
As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.
As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons.
I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.
Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.
His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me.
I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes,
and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor wake my love, till he please.
The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.
My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall,
he looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice.
My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come,
and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;
The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance,
let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.
Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.
My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies.
Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved,
and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether.
To every thing there is a season
To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to reap . . .
Saint Paul's Epiphany on Love (1 Corinthians 13)
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not love,
I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all
and though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains, and have not love,
I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor,
and though I give up my body to be burned and have not love,
it profiteth me nothing.
Love suffereth long and is kind.
Love envieth not.
Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doeth not behave itself unseemly.
Seeketh not her own.
Is not easily provoked.
Thinketh no evil.
Rejoiceth not in inequity, but rejoiceth in the truth.
Beareth all things.
Believeth all things.
Hopeth all things.
Endureth all things.
Love never fails.
But where there be prophecies they shall fail,
whether there be tongues, they shall cease,
whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part,
but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done
When I was a child I spake as a child,
I understood as a child, I thought as a child,
but when I became a man I put away childish things.
For now we see though a glass darkly, but then face to face.
Now I know in part, but then shall I know even also as I am known.
And now abideth faith, hope, love: these three, but the greatest of these is
Song of Solomon: The Bride and the Bridegroom (II)
I have compared thee, O my love,
to a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariots.
Thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels,
thy neck with chains of gold.
We will make thee borders of gold
with studs of silver.
While the King sitteth at his table,
my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof.
A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me;
he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.
My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire
in the vineyards of Enge'di.
Behold, thou art fair, my love;
behold, thou art fair;
thou hast doves' eyes.
Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant:
also our bed is green.
The beams of our house are cedar,
and our rafters of fir.
In the beginning (Genesis 1:1–3)
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without
form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of
God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and
there was light.
The heavens declare the glory of God (Psalms 19:1-6)
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork.
Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is
no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out
through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he
set a tabernacle for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his
chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from
the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing
hid from the heat thereof.
Common English Phrases Found in the King James Bible:
A drop in the bucket (Isaiah 40:15)
A house divided against itself cannot stand (Matthew 12:25)
A man after his own heart (Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22)
A wolf in sheep's clothing (Matthew 7:15)
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20;
Deuteronomy 19:21; Matthew 5:38)
Apple of your eye (Deuteronomy 32:10, Zechariah 2:8)
At their wits' end (Psalms 107:27)
Baptism of fire (Matthew 3:11)
Bite the dust (adapted from Psalms 72)
Broken heart (Psalms 34:18)
By the skin of your teeth (Job 19:20)
By the sweat of your brow (Genesis 3:19)
Can a leopard change its spots? (Jeremiah 13:23)
Cast the first stone (John 8:7)
Chariots of Fire (2 Kings 6:17)
Cross to bear (Luke 14:27)
Don't cast your pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6)
Eat drink and be merry (Ecclesiastes 8:15)
Fall by the wayside (Matthew 13:4)
Fall from grace (Galatians 5:4)
Fat of the land (Genesis 45:18)
Feet of clay (Daniel 2:31-33)
Fight the good fight (1 Timothy 6:12)
Fire and brimstone (Genesis 19:24-26)
Flesh and blood (Matthew 16:17)
Fly in the ointment (adapted from Ecclesiastes 10:1)
Forbidden fruit (Genesis 2:9)
From strength to strength (Psalms 84:7)
Give up the ghost (Mark 15:37)
Heart's desire (Psalms 21:2)
He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword (Matthew 26:52)
Holier than thou (Isaiah 65:5)
How the mighty are fallen (Samuel 1:19)
In the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:52)
It's better to give than receive (Acts 20:35)
Labour of love (Hebrews 6:10)
Lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7)
Land of Nod (Genesis 4:16)
Law unto themselves (Romans 2:14)
Letter of the law (2 Corinthians 3:6)
Living off the fat of the land (Genesis 45:18)
Love of money is the root of all evil (Timothy 6:10)
Manna from heaven (Exodus 16:15)
Many are called but few are chosen (Matthew 22:14)
My cup runneth over (Psalms 23:5)
No rest for the wicked (adapted from Isaiah 57:20)
Nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
O ye of little faith (Luke 12:28)
Out of the mouths of babes (Psalms 8:2, Matthew 21:16)
Peace offering (Leviticus 3:6)
Pride goes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18)
Put words in her mouth (2 Samuel 14:3)
Put your house in order (2 Kings 20:1)
Reap what you sow (adapted from Galatians 6:7)
See eye to eye (Isaiah 52:8)
Set your teeth on edge (Jeremiah 31:30)
Sign of the times (Matthew 16:3)
Sour grapes (Jeremiah 31:30)
Sweat of your brow (Genesis 3:19)
Tender mercies (Psalms 25:6)
The blind leading the blind (Matthew 15:14)
The ends of the earth (Zechariah 9:10)
The root of the matter (Job 19:28)
The powers that be (Romans 13:1)
The salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13)
The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41)
The Straight and narrow (Matthew 7:13/14)
There's nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
Two edged sword (Proverbs 5:4)
Voice crying in the wilderness (John 1:23)
Wages of sin (Romans 6:23)
Wash your hands of the matter (Matthew 27:24)
White as snow (Daniel 7:9)
Woe is me (Job 10:15)
Writing on the wall (Daniel 5: 5/6)