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.


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10 Responses

  1. Julian D. Woodruff

    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
  2. C.B. Anderson

    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
  3. Gregory Spicer

    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.

      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

        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

      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

      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
  4. Amy Foreman

    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

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