Lamentations 1:13 NRSV

From on high he sent fire; it went deep into my bones; he spread a net for my feet; he turned me back; he has left me stunned, faint all day long.

The first and third couplets ("...fire/...bones") and "...stunned/...long") each has an internal consistency in most translations.

But in the middle couplet ("...feet/...back") the two halves don't seem to relate to each other.

I also see that whereas the first and third show quite a variety across translations (which at least allows the translator to help the two half-lines flow with each other), the second tends to be much more consistent across them. (See BibleHub's parallel verses for additional comparisons).

Yet despite that middle couplet of the three being most consistent across translations, it also seems to be the one with the least internal consistency within its two half-lines.

So, given that Lamentations is doing vivid picture-painting for its audience, how are we supposed to envisage it? The camouflaged net is spread on the ground to catch me unawares and then... well, what happens next? How would we reword (but faithfully translate) that second part?


1 Answer 1


To resolve the OP's problem, I would suggest to look at the quote not as three formal couplets but as three lines, each expressing one compound thought. The second line involves being stopped and then turning back. In that sense the two halves of the line do fit with each other: God halts the person by catching him in a figurative net and thus causes him to reverse course. Using Young's Literal Translation:

  • From above He hath sent fire into my bone, And it subdueth it,
  • He hath spread a net for my feet, He hath turned me backward,
  • He hath made me desolate -- all the day sick.

Or from the NABRE:

  • From on high he hurled fire down into my very bones;
  • He spread out a net for my feet, and turned me back.
  • He has left me desolate, in misery all day long.

There is no punctuation in the original Hebrew, and we are bound to lose much of the poetic sense in translation. However, once the three-line approach is adopted, any number of translations work well. I would envision it expressing three thoughts: 1. God hurls debilitating fire into my bones, 2. He has entrapped me in his net and turned me back, 3. He has left me desolate, in unrelenting misery.

Note: Couplets in biblical poetry are a different thing than couplets in English poetry. In English, a couplet is:

A literary device that features two successive rhyming lines in a verse and has the same meter to form a complete thought.

There are no rhymes in biblical poetry.

  • (Hmmm, my original formatting seems to have been changed. I've just tried to restore it.) Thanks for your reply, Dan. I was using the word couplet loosely, to refer to half-lines in longer overall lines. (In that sense, I'm seeing the verse as three "lines" of six pairs of half-lines, or three couplets.) Focussing on "he spread a net for my feet; he turned me back", I'm struggling to see its two components relate sequentially (by contrast with the other two long-lines in the verse).
    – David Lee
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 15:21
  • And I've also just spotted that slightly earlier in 1:8 there is "she herself groans and turns her face away" (NRSV). I'm not a Hebrew reader at all, but I think the same Hebrew words (or roots) are used at 1:8 "turns her face away" as at my original query for 1:13 "he turned me back". I see that Robert Alter reflects this similarity by using a basis of "fall back",
    – David Lee
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 15:22
  • I'm just not seeing a problem with it... seems to me this just the way biblical poetry is often constructed. Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 17:49

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