Wind and Vanity

after Ecclesiastes 1

My name is Solomon, and you may know
me as the king of Israel, David’s son,
a man of wisdom unsurpassed. And so

I was. And yet I write to you as one
emerging from some near-insanity
and folly. I have seen, beneath the sun—

where all is only matter, time, and free
will—that the best of man’s intentions and
exertions are but pride and vanity.

What profit from his labors has a man
when all is said and done? What difference does
he make? What does he leave behind? How can

he hope to be remembered, though he was
intent on carving out a legacy?
The generations come and go, because

death comes to all; the hungry grave will be
our common fate. And yet, the earth abides.
The sun comes up each day perpetually;

and then it sets, returning like the tides,
to where it rises once again. The wind
blows to the south, then turns and harshly rides

up to the north. It travels without end
upon its moaning circuit. Likewise, all
the rivers flow down to the sea, and lend

their issue to its vast, dark depths. Withal,
the sea is never full; the rivers cease
not flowing, whether great or small,

but hasten to the sea again, release
their substance, and return. And what of man?
Do all his pondering and work increase

his understanding of this life? Or can
they show the meaning of existence? Do
they save us from this vanity we stand

in? Everything is full of labor. Who
can understand it? We can never see
enough, or hear enough, or ever do

enough to make sense of this life. Thus we
are never satisfied, and happiness
eludes us. What has been is what will be;

and what was done—though it confound, oppress,
deceive, or disappoint us—will be done
again, to our enjoyment or distress.

For there is nothing new beneath the sun,
within that wall constructed by the mind
of man apart from God. Can anyone

insist that anything is new? Or find
out something not already done or shown?
Since ancient times it has been there, behind

the veil of history, waiting to be known.
No one remembers former things; nor will
the future thank you for the seeds you’ve sown

beneath the sun. You may obsess until
you die about your legacy, but who
will care? Or who for you a tear will spill?

As king, and young, I knew not what to do
to rule my people well. And so I set
my heart to seek out matters wise and true,

to learn by wisdom all I could, and let
God’s Word illuminate my way—to guide
my thinking and my plans. That is, I set

my mind to seek the truth of God, and side
with Him no matter what, to live under
the heavens, not the sun, and to abide

there in God’s presence, filled with awe and wonder.
Indeed, this is a difficult affair.
But God has set us to it, lest we blunder

in all our folly, turn aside, and dare
the heavens to challenge our presumptive ways.
Now I have seen the works done everywhere

beneath the sun, the heights of pride, the maze
of self-deceit, and all the vanity
and lies by which men prosecute their days.

It is all folly. But we cannot see
the crooked path we walk, because it seems
straight to us. Straight, though, it will never be

while crookedness and lies define our schemes
and set our course. Beneath the sun, we feed
on wind, and all our fondest hopes and dreams

elude our grasp, and disappoint, and breed
despair and anger. What we lack, we can
not find; we fail to meet life’s deepest need.

So I communed within my heart: “Can man
know wisdom, knowing folly? I have gained
much wisdom—knowledge, too—more wisdom than

all kings who in Jerusalem have reigned
before me. I have understood all learning!”
Along with this, then, I sought to be trained

in folly and in madness. For there were, burning
in me, strong desires and lusts, which proved to be
my ruin, nearly. All the while, my yearning

to gain more wisdom grew. I came to see
that this was merely grasping for relief
from folly, groping vainly to be free.

For in much wisdom, there is much of grief.
With knowledge, sorrows break in like a thief.

 

 

T.M. Moore’s poetry has appeared in numerous journals, and he has published five volumes of verse through his ministry’s imprint, Waxed Tablet Publications. He is Principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, he and his wife, Susie, reside in Essex Junction, VT.


Views expressed by individual poets and writers on this website and by commenters do not represent the views of the entire Society. The comments section on regular posts is meant to be a place for civil and fruitful discussion. Pseudonyms are discouraged. The individual poet or writer featured in a post has the ability to remove any or all comments by emailing submissions@ classicalpoets.org with the details and under the subject title “Remove Comment.”

15 Responses

  1. Peter Hartley

    Very long, consistent with the sorrowful and melancholy tenor of the original, consistently cleverly constructed tercet stanzas in a poem that is consistently brilliant throughout. Very well done indeed!

    Reply
  2. Amy Foreman

    Another T.M. Moore poem in my inbox! What a delight to read these carefully-crafted phrases fashioned into masterful, meaningful, and sublime poetry by the man I’ve come to regard as the George Herbert of our time.

    “. . . within that wall constructed by the mind/of man apart from God.” –This is beyond good poetry. This is truth.

    Reply
  3. James Tweedie

    T.M. This is, perhaps, more of a paraphrase than a translation, but, like any good paraphrase, it interprets and draws out the truth of the original in new, creative and compelling ways.

    The original was written as poetry, but in a form that does not translate well into English verse. You have turned the words back into a readily accessible poetic form that is every bit as lovely as the original Hebrew must have sounded to the author’s contemporaries when it was first written.

    And not only have you re-framed it into verse, but you have done so with a masterful eloquence that is vividly descriptive. For example:

    The sun comes up each day perpetually;
    and then it sets, returning like the tides,
    to where it rises once again.

    There is beauty here, but, as Amy points out, there is also truth in your words. This combination of truth and beauty not only makes this poetic translation/paraphrase shine, but illuminate as well.

    Reply
  4. C.B. Anderson

    If terza rima was good enough for Dante, then it should be good enough for you, and in this execution of that venerable form you have not come close to shaming yourself. Here:

    The rivers cease/
    not flowing, whether great or small,
    but hasten to the sea again, release
    their substance, and return.

    is brilliant, and I expect much more from you in the future. You are one of the reasons I attentively await every posting here at SCP.

    Reply
    • T.M.

      Thanks for catching that, C. B. I’ve fixed it:

      “not flowing, whether they be great or small,”

      Blessings.

      Reply
  5. T.M.

    All y’all:

    Thanks for the kind words. I think Ecclesiastes is one of the most important Biblical books for our times. But because it is a difficult book, recasting it in various ways could help to unlock its message to our increasingly secular generation. That, at least, is my hope in this project. Thanks again.

    Reply
  6. David Watt

    Although this is a lengthy poem, the crafting of phrases and well-stated truths held my attention throughout. The concluding couplet could not have been better.

    Reply
  7. James Sale

    Hi TM, this is a fabulous poem and there are so many beauties in it. Just to mention one, I love your use of enjambement, which you cleverly deploy to catch us and force us to read on: e.g. Do / they save us from this vanity we stand / in?
    Of course as you may know, I am a big advocate of terza rima and have had three English Cantos published on these pages (and a fourth at The Lowestoft Chronicle: http://lowestoftchronicle.com/issues/issue37/jamessale/). But I am also creating a Dante tribute website that includes poetry, readings, art and music for an event in 2021 (his 700th anniversary). I would love, therefore, to republish this poem on this site: https://englishcantos.home.blog. Obviously, one would credit SCP with first publication. Would you be up for this? It would be helpful to have your email address so I could contact you directly. Thanks.

    Reply
    • T.M.

      Thanks, James. Of course, I’m a Dante fan, and I’d love to help any way I can. This poem is the first installment of 12 – all of Ecclesiastes. I’ll be giving them to Evan first (to accept or decline), but you can feel free to use any of them you like, without having to ask me each time. I appreciate your encouragement and your contributions to this community.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.