Study Guide

The Poet in Lamentations

The Poet

He likes holding hands, walking in the rain, and writing über depressing poems about death and destruction. Just who is our author and why does he love crying so much?

The Unknown Author

Let's start with the most important question: just who is this guy? No one really knows. Like lots of Bible books, Lamentations was written anonymously. We've given the author the nickname the Poet just to simplify things, but he never refers to himself this way. Whoa, he was a poet and he didn't even know it.

For hundreds of years, scholars agreed that this book was written by the Prophet Jeremiah. It makes sense, because Jeremiah did live through the destruction of Jerusalem and was exiled to Babylon along with others. He's also sometimes called "the weeping prophet" because he likes to cry a lot. To be fair, he was going through some tough stuff. Flip over to the Book of Jeremiah to enjoy even more sad times after Lamentations.

Today, there aren't many biblical scholars who believe Jeremiah wrote this book. It's more likely that Lamentations is the work of several authors. Since it's broken into five poems, it's possible a different person wrote each one. Or maybe multiple people changed and adapted each of these throughout the years. Eventually, an editor came along and put them all together. (Source HarperCollins Bible Commentary. New York: HarperCollins. 2000. p. 578.) This was good because now no one had to go around asking, "Hey, what was that really sad poem about the fall of Zion? No… the other one." All the misery was in one place.

One last thing we'll point out: Shmoop refers to the Poet as a guy throughout this guide. Obviously, we don't know if the original author was male, but we're taking a pretty good guess. The Bible was written mainly by men for men. (Sorry, ladies. It was a man's world.) A woman poet could have written one of these sad, sad songs or at least contributed to one of them. We sure hope she did because Shmoop is all about equal opportunity. But because most, if not all, of the Bible was written by men, we're just sticking with that for now.

Poet of Mystery

So we can't really nail down the author (or authors) of this book. Does he give us any clues in the poems? Not really. In fact, in each of the poems, the Poet takes on different persona. Here's a breakdown:

  • Chapter 1: The city of Jerusalem, personified as a woman, is talking about her trials.
  • Chapter 2: A citizen of the city is speaking about what he sees around him.
  • Chapter 3: The Poet himself is speaking about what he's personally suffered.
  • Chapter 4: A citizen talks about what he and others are going through.
  • Chapter 5: A citizen is describing what the people as a group have suffered together.

Clearly, the Poet (or poets) lived in Jerusalem during the fall of the city. It's not really clear whether or not he's part of the group of exiles. The Poet talks about people being forced to leave Zion, but he seems to be hanging around to witness the aftermath of the battle. So, maybe he was one of the less important folks who got to stay behind and starve to death.

It's All Right to Cry

The Poet is also in major distress. We're talking unbearable weep fests every day:

  • My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns. (2:11)
  • Those whom I bore and reared my enemy has destroyed. (2:22)
  • My eyes flow with rivers of tears because of the destruction of my people. (3:48)
  • With a yoke on our necks we are hard driven; we are weary, we are given no rest. (5:5)

And, of course, there's this gem:

I am one who has seen affliction under the rod of God's wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; against me alone he turns his hand, again and again, all day long. He has made my flesh and my skin waste away, and broken my bones; he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; he has made me sit in darkness like the dead of long ago. He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has put heavy chains on me; though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; he has blocked my ways with hewn stones, he has made my paths crooked. He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding; he led me off my way and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate. (3:2-11)

Poor guy.

So, what's a depressed poet to do? Write about it. The Poet composes these pieces to deal with and process his grief. It's the same reason that painting a picture or journaling can be a relaxing way to organize your mind and heal after trauma. Sometimes, it just helps to get out all the sads. And that's exactly what the Poet is doing here. This is art therapy, BCE version.

But seriously, feel better, man.

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