F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp

Published On


Page Range

pp. 223–284


  • English

Print Length

61 pages

4. Parallelism

In the (Hebrew) Bible and in Whitman

  • F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp (author)
Galway Kinnell observes that Whitman is “the greatest virtuoso of parallel structure in English poetry.” G. W. Allen’s early essay, “Biblical Analogies,” successfully establishes the presence and significance of parallelism in Whitman, especially as it bears upon the poet’s underlying prosody, and the likelihood that the Bible is an important source of Whitman’s knowledge of parallelism. In that analysis, parallelism is understood primarily through Robert Lowth’s biblical paradigm. Unfortunately, that paradigm was already much belated in 1933, then a full 180 years after Lowth’s initial exposition of it. Moreover, Allen’s own explication of the paradigm—mediated at second- and third-hand—is flawed in various ways. And compounding these problems is the fact that the understanding of parallelism in Whitman scholarship more broadly appears to be essentially that of Allen (with a few exceptions), and thus is dated and shot through with problematic assumptions. The overriding ambition of this chapter, then, is to re-situate the study of parallelism in Whitman. The initial part of the chapter is dedicated to explicating Lowth’s paradigm and its critical reception in modern biblical scholarship. This is done because of the foundational role which the biblical paradigm has played in Whitman scholarship and because Hebrew Bible is one of the few disciplines of textual study where parallelism as a literary phenomenon has been robustly theorized. The analytics of parallelism, regardless of its originating textual source, is portable, as Allen rightly perceived. The main body of the chapter, building on the foregoing overview, seeks to discern more precisely what may have devolved from the Bible in Whitman’s understanding and use of parallelism. The final section of the chapter features exploratory observations about how Whitman moves beyond the biblical paradigm he inherits and molds parallelism to suit his own poetic ends.


F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp

James Lenox Librarian and Professor of Old Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary

F. W. “Chip” Dobbs-Allsopp is the James Lenox Librarian and professor of Old Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary. He holds a B.A. from Furman University (1984), an M.Div. from the Seminary (1987), and a Ph.D. from The Johns Hopkins University (1992). He joined the faculty of the Seminary in 1999 after spending five years teaching at Yale University (1994-99). He loves sailing and poetry and has been known to enjoy a glass of wine or a wee dram of whiskey. His research interests include the historical, philological, and literary study of biblical and ancient Near Eastern literature (with special focus on poetry and Northwest Semitic inscriptions). Dobbs-Allsopp’s most recent book is On Biblical Poetry (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). Current projects include a monograph-length study of the poetry of Walt Whitman, provisionally entitled, Divine Style: Walt Whitman and the King James Bible., a critical commentary on the book of Lamentations in the Hermeneia series (co-authored with J. Blake Couey), and The Digital Brooklyn Museum Aramaic Papyri: An Image-Based Electronic Edition & Archive.