"Vanity of vanities; all is vanity" by Isaak AsknaziyEcclesiastes 2, Recast in Classical Poetry, by T.M. Moore The Society December 9, 2019 Beauty, Culture, Poetry 10 Comments Hating Life after Ecclesiastes 2 Within my heart I said, “Come now, and I will test your soul with mirth.” For surely, so I thought, the man who would be wise must try out every pleasure, so that he can know all sides of life. But this was vanity. I said of laughter: “Madness!” Mirth proved no path to the meaning that eluded me. Yet I persisted, blending finest wine with my pursuit of wisdom, just to see if by some alchemy I might combine debauchery with knowledge, and thus learn what satisfies men’s interests—at least mine. I reckoned I could do this and not spurn my prior commitment to learn everything as unto God, to give each thing a turn in my experience, have a little fling with this and that, and keep my footing on the righteous path. I said to myself, “Bring it on!” And so I did. “Laissez les bon temps rouler!” soon became my rallying cry. I made great works: built houses, each with lawn and garden garnished; planted orchards by the score; made pools by which to irrigate my groves. Both male and female servants my desires and whims fulfilled. I calculate my herds and flocks were greater than all those who ruled before me in this city’s gate. And I accumulated stuff! Like clothes, investments, money, real estate, and more. And music! Only heaven truly knows the bands that entertained within my door, and all the male and female singers who performed at my command, or danced before me. I and everyone around me knew that I was greater than, and I surpassed in every way, the kings and rulers who had gone before me. Yet with all my vast accomplishments and wealth, I held on to my wisdom. I knew it alone would last. Whatever I desired to have or do, I had and did. I held back from no pleasure, rejoicing in my work and adding to my holdings daily, basking in my treasure, enjoying life, and having lots of fun in all my many projects and my leisure. Then I took stock of all that I had done, and saw that it was merely vanity, and without profit underneath the sun. For who could ever best or outstrip me, and all that I had done? Who could do more, or who more wealth could ever hope to see? I saw that wisdom should be sought before indulgence, as the day exceeds the night, and light surpasses darkness. Fools are more at home in darkness, but the wise man’s sight is from his head, so that he makes his way in life more carefully, more in the right, and more by truth. Yet in my heart I say that neither fools nor wise men can prevail against the grave. They all will die some day. Then all our work and wealth will simply pale to nothingness against the darkness of the tomb. What did my work and wealth avail me, since my end will not find me above the fool in any way? It’s vanity, I thought, and not a way of life to love. The wise man and the fool alike will be forgotten in the days to come. And how does every wise man die? For certain, he will perish like the fool. No one will bow to him when he is in the grave. So then I hated life, because my work somehow distressed me, as I did it like all men— beneath the sun. I had been grasping for the wind, but it eluded me again and yet again. I hated all the more the work I’d done, since I must leave it to another. Would he be a wise man or a fool? Who knows! And just what would he do with all the labor I accomplished by my wisdom, underneath the sun? And who would care? It’s vanity! And therefore my heart sank, and I was plunged into despair for all my work and everything that I accomplished underneath the sun. For there a man is, working by his wisdom, skill, and knowledge, yet he has to leave his share of life’s achievements to a man who will not honor him, and has not labored for his wealth. I’ll cry out “Vanity!” until someone begins to listen. For what more than this has any man for all his toil and striving underneath the sun, before he perishes and loses all? The spoil of his achievement goes to someone he knows nothing of; he surely will recoil to think of this, and only misery and sorrow will he know through all his days. His work is wearisome by day, and he can’t sleep or rest at night. Perplexed, he says, “What else is there? I eat and drink and reap the fruit of all my labor. All my ways are filled with fun, and yet…” For in the deep recesses of his soul, a murmuring persists, a memory that wants to seep through all the wind and vanity and bring to light a buried knowledge: God is. He gives wisdom, knowledge, joy, and life. They cling to Him who hear this voice and seek to be where He is. But to sinners who deny Him, He allows the pain of vanity— their chosen path, the wages of the lie— to muffle their heart’s deepest, plaintive cry. Laissez les bon temps rouler: French for “let the good times roll.” 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.” Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window) 10 Responses Julian D. Woodruff December 9, 2019 I cinish with Proverbs tomorrow and then start again on Eccl. Your resourceful parody well shows the door I’m about to enter. Yet there’s a little irony here: for all the time and skill you’ve applied, wouldn’t Eccl. have responded, “And your point is …?” Reply T.M. December 9, 2019 The point doesn’t come through until Ecclesiastes 12. Stay tuned. I hope your reading of Ecclesiastes will deepen your commitment to living all of life “under heaven”. For a deeper, daily study of Ecclesiastes, you may be helped by my daily Scriptorium column (https://www.ailbe.org/resources/item/14143-vanity-of-vanities-ecclesiastes for Ecclesiastes 1-6. These are the first 6 chapters set up for weekly study. I just started chapter 7 this week). Blessings. Reply C.B. Anderson December 9, 2019 T.M., for the most part you upheld the terza rima form, though there were many inexact rhymes, which, for me, undermines the pleasure I take in “third rhyme” poetry. Also, there were quite a few lines that strayed from pure iambic, which forced me to put stresses where they did not naturally belong, for example (in stanza 13): I held on to/ my wisdom. I knew it alone would last. An easy fix: my wisdom, knowing it alone would last. You might not give a damn about pure meter; many persons don’t, but I prefer poems that scan in inevitable lucid rhythms. Reply Gregory Spicer December 10, 2019 Nothing will convert a poem into a powerful sleep aid more efficiently than “pure meter”. Confirmation of this will be had by the examination of that turkey that Kip dropped on Thanksgiving day. Mr. Moore has a good 80% of a decent poetic effort going on here, and the remaining issues could be mostly remedied were he to read up on Caesura. Ask yourself, Mr. Moore, why you are bothering with separate stanzas if they only serve to break apart your sentences in such a visually distracting manner. It is as if your poem is at war with itself. Perhaps try switching to a solid text block or otherwise reevaluate the line endings and beginnings. You do have some rhyme issues to contend with but they are a small percentage of your work which as written is a read devoid of natural flow but I can imagine it, even as written, being performed to good effect by a decent speaker. Reply T.M. December 10, 2019 Thanks. I think that if you will read it out loud, you’ll see that is indeed the case. I’m trying in these to stay as close to the original text as possible, because what I want is not so much a commentary as a midrash in verse that might appeal to folks who otherwise would never read Ecclesiastes. Reply Gregory Spicer December 10, 2019 Then Mr. Moore, you are a success. I am intrigued enough to compare your poem to Ecclesiastes and read up on Hebraisms just for laughs. Joseph S. Salemi December 10, 2019 Moore divided his poem into brief three-line sections because THAT’S WHAT TERZA RIMA IS. That’s why it’s called “terza.” Got that? Asking him to print the poem as a solid block of text, or to “reevaluate the line endings and beginnings,” is just a coy way of asking him to turn it into a another boring exercise in free verse. That’s not the purpose of the SCP website. Reply C.B. Anderson December 10, 2019 Nothing? So why don’t you tell us exactly how many metrical flaws (and where they are placed) are required to keep you awake? And then we can all apply ourselves to a new standard of good writing. Perhaps the cause of your drowsiness is the tryptophan in the “turkey” I dropped. C’mon, Spicy, give us a clue. Reply Amy Foreman December 10, 2019 Fabulous, T.M.! You are weaving the Preacher’s original words into a formal structure without losing the meaning . . . and you are gently inserting the “sense” of the passage as you go, as Ezra and the Levites did in the 8th chapter of Nehemiah: ” So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.” I can’t wait to read the next installment. Your poetry, as I’ve mentioned before, just gets better with successive readings. Top notch! Reply T.M. December 11, 2019 Thanks, Amy. Very kind and encouraging. 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