Is there metre in the Psalms? The Jews of the first century A.D. thought so. Flavius Josephus speaks of the hexameters of Moses (Antiq., II, xvi, 4; IV, viii, 44) and the trimeters and tetrameters and manifold meters of the odes and hymns of David (Antiq., VII, xii, 3). Philo says that Moses had learned the "theory of rhythm and harmony" (De vita Mosis, I, 5). Early Christian writers voice the same opinion. Origen (d. 254) says the Psalms are in trimeters and tetrameters (In Ps. cxviii; cf. Card. Pitra, "Analecta Sacra", II, 341); and Eusebius (d. 340), in his "De Praeparatione evangelica", XI, 5 (P.G., XXI, 852), speaks of the same metres of David. St. Jerome (420), in "Praef. ad Eusebii chronicon" (P.L., XXVII, 36), finds iambics, Alcaics, and Sapphics in the psalter; and, writing toPaula (P.L., XXII, 442), he explains that the acrostic Pss. cxi and cxii (cx and cxi) are made up of iambic trimeters, whereas the acrostic Pss. cxix and cxlv (cxviii and cxliv) are iambic tetrameters. Modern exegetes do not agree in this matter. For a time many would admit no metre at all in the Psalms. Davison (Hast., "Dict. of the Bible", s. v.) writes: "though metre is not discernible in the Psalms, it does not follow that rhythm is excluded". This rhythm, however, "defies analysis and systematization". Driver ("Introd. to Lit. of O. T.", New York, 1892, 339) admits in Hebrew poetry "no metre in the strict sense of the term". Exegetes who find metre in the Psalms are of four schools, according as they explain Hebrew metre by quantity, by the number of syllables, by accent, or by both quantity and accent.
(1) Defenders of the Latin and Greek metrical standard of quantity as applied to Hebrew poetry are Francis Gomarus, in "Davidis lyra", II (Lyons, 1637), 313; Mark Meibom, in "Davidis psalmi X" (Amsterdam, 1690) and in two other works, who claim to have learned his system of Hebrew metre by Divine revelation; William Jones, "Poeseos Asiaticae commentariorum" (Leipzig, 1777), who tried to force Hebrew words into Arabic metres.
(2) The number of syllables was taken as the standard of metre by Hare, "Psalmorum liber in versiculos metrice divisus" (London, 1736); he made all feet dissyllabic, the metre trochaic in a line of an even number of syllables, iambic in a line of an odd number of syllables. The Massoretic system was rejected, the Syriac put in its stead. The opinion found chief defence in the writings of the learned Innsbruck Professor Gustav; and in Bickell's "Metrices biblicae" (Innsbruck, 1879), "Suplementum ad Metr. Bibl." (Innsbruck), "Carimina veteris testamenti metrice" (1882), "Dichtungen der Hebraer" (1882-84). Gerard Gietmann, S.J., "De re mentrica Hebraeorum" (Freiburg im Br., 1880); A. Rohling, "Das Solomonische Spruchbuch" (Mainz, 1879); H. Lesetre, "Le livre des psaumes" (Paris, 1883); J. Knabenbauer, S.J., in "Job" (Paris, 1885), p. 18; F. Vigouroux, "Manuel biblique", II, 203, have all followed in Bickell's footsteps more or less closely. Against this system some patent facts. The quantity of a word is made to vary arbitrarily. Hebrew is treated as Syriac, a late dialect of Aramaic -- which it is not; in fact, even early Syriac poetry did not measure its lines by the number of syllables. Lastly the Massorah noted metrical structure by accents; at least soph pasuk and athnah indicate comlete lines or two hemistichs.
(3) Accent is the determining principle of Hebrew metre according to C. A. Anton, "Conjectura de metro Hebraeorum" (Leipzig, 1770), "Vindiciae disput. de metr. Hebr." (Leipzig, 1771), "Specimen editionis psalmorum" (Vitebsk, 1780); Leutwein, "Versuch einer richtigen Theorie von der biblischen Verkunst" (1775); Ernst Meier, "Die Form der hebraischen Poesie nachgewiesen" (Tübingen, 1853); Julius Ley, "Die Metrischen Formen der hebraischen Poesie" (Leipzig, 1886); "Ueber die Alliteration im Hebraischen" in "Zeitsch. d. Deutsch. Morgenlandisch. Ges.", XX, 180; J. K. Zenner, S.J., "Die Chorgesange im Buche der Psalmen" (Freiburg im Br., 1896), and in many contributions to "Zeitsch. fur kathol. Theol.", 1891, 690; 1895, 373; 1896, 168, 369, 378, 571, 754; Hontheim, S.J., in "Zeitsch. fur kathol. Theol.", 1897, 338, 560, 738; 1898, 172, 404, 749; 1899, 167; Dr. C. A. Briggs, in "The Book of Psalms", in "International Critical Commentary" (New York, 1906), p. xxxix, and in many other publications therein enumerated; Francis Brown, "Measures of Hebrew Poetry: in "Journal of Biblical Literature", IX, 91; C. H. Toy, "Proverbs" in "Internat. Crit. Comm." (1899); W. R. Harper, "Amos and Hosea" in "Internat. Crit. Comm." (1905); Cheyne, "Psalms" (New York), 1892; Duhm, "Die Psalmen" (Freiburg im Br., 1899), p. xxx. This theory is the best working hypothesis together with the all-essential principle of parallelism; it does far less violence to the Massoretic Text than either of the foregoing theories. It does not force the Massoretic syllables into grooves that are Latin, Greek, Arabic, or Aramaic. It is independent of the shifting of accent; and postulates just one thing, a fixed and harmonious number of accents to the line, regardless of the number of syllables therein. This theory of a tonic and not a syllabic metre has this, too, in its favour that accent is the determining principle in ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, and Assyrian poetry.
(4) Of recent years the pendulum of Hebrew metrical theories has swung back upon quantity; the syllabic must not be utterly neglected. Hubert Grimme, in "Grundzuge der Hebraischen Akzent und Volkallehre", Freiburg, 1896, and "Psalmenprobleme" (1902), builds up the metre chiefly upon the tonic principle, at the same time taking into account the morae or pauses due to quantity. Schlogl, "De re metrica veterum Hebraeorum" (Vienna, 1899), defends Grimme's theory. Sievers, "Metrische Studien" (1901), also takes in the unaccented syllables for metrical consideration; so does Baethgen, "Die Psalmen" (Gottingen, 1904), p. xxvii.