Awake Our Hearts has recently published my poem “A Turn in the River:”
This poem is a chiastic mirror poem, where the lines of the first half of the poem repeat in the second half, but in reverse order. The name “chiasm” comes from the Greek letter chi, which looks like the English letter X. The chiastic form typically features universal topics such as love, war, and death, and is a common mnemonic device in oral literature. This mirroring technique often occurs in many forms of ancient literature, such as the Illiad, Odyssey, and portions of the Bible and the Qur’an. A contemporary example of chiasm is Natasha Trethewey’s 2007 poem “Myth,” whose title hints at its ancient form.
Chiasms saturate Scripture. One of many examples is Amos 5: 4-6a. I’ve added the capitalized letters in the left margin, and have also put the main ideas/words in bold, in order to highlight the chiastic structure:
For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel:
A Seek me and live;
B but do not seek Bethel,
C and do not enter into Gilgal
D or cross over to Beer-sheba;
C for Gilgal shall surely go into exile,
B and Bethel shall come to nothing.
A Seek the LORD and live.
One brief New Testament example comes from Matthew 23: 12, where I have again added the capitalized letters in the left margin to highlight the chiastic structure:
A All who exalt themselves
B will be humbled,
B and all who humble themselves
A will be exalted.
Do any other examples of chiasm come to mind, either from the Bible, and/or from other ancient sources? What are some other reasons why a poet may choose to use the chiastic structure? What impact does chiasm have on us as readers? I’d love to hear any/all thoughts you have!