Lamentations is just that: a collection of 5 carefully written lamentations. 3 of its 5 chapters are structured as funeral dirges (chapters 1, 2 and 4). Chapter 3 is an individual lamentation and chapter 5 is a communal one.
The book was written after the fall of Jerusalem and probably before Jehoiachin’s release (see my post on Jeremiah for scant details on this). It has traditionally been attributed to Jeremiah despite the author not having attached his name. The main reason to dispute this attribution is that its tone of despair doesn’t line up with Jeremiah’s prophecies of restoration.
The structure of Lamentations was carefully crafted. The first 4 chapters are alphabetic acrostics. The fifth isn’t, but it contains 22 verses, the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Chapters 1 & 2 contain 22 3-line verses; chapter 3, 66 1-line verses; chapter 4, 22 2-line verses. Some serious work went into this!
If we were to attempt to preserve the acrostic structure of the first verses of chapter 1 in English, it would be something like:
Alas the city that was full of people sits alone . . .
Bitterly she weeps in the night and her tears are on her cheeks . . .
Cast away under affliction and under harsh servitude, Judah has gone into exile . . .
Desolation marks her gates, no one travels to Zion . . .
Enemies prosper and have mastery over her . . .
The structure of chapter 2 is pretty much the same. Applying the same principle, chapter 3 would read:
Affliction I have seen because of His wrath.
Away from light into darkness He has driven me.
Against me He has turned His hand all the day.
Breaking my bones and wasting away my flesh.
Besieging me with bitterness and hardship.
Black and dark are the place in which I dwell.
Chapter 3 is undoubtedly the climax of the book, in which the author comes to the realisation of God’s mercy, right there in the midst of all the affliction and devastation. The author sees, as we should, that our deliverance ultimately depends on the Lord, and not on any people or human institution.
Sources: Bible.org, Covenant Theological Seminary.