Full Lives, Empty Souls

after Ecclesiastes 6

There is an evil I have seen in those
who live beneath the sun: A man to whom
God gives both wealth and riches, and who knows

respect among his peers, whose every room
is filled with everything he might desire,
yet God does not allow him to consume

his bounty, because enemies conspire
against him: This is evil vanity.
A man might live for many years and sire

a hundred children, but his soul not be
content, or satisfied with goodness. Or
he may not have a decent burial. He,

I say, is much to be lamented, for
a stillborn child is better off than he.
It comes in death and vanity; what’s more,

the light of day the stillborn does not see,
and nothing does it know. Yet it has rest
that never is and shall not ever be

to him who lives long, but who fails the test
of goodness. For the same place waits for all –
the darkness of the grave. Men will invest

their energies and efforts in things small
and great to satisfy their bellies; but
their soul in turmoil lies, a knotted ball

of discontent and vanity. For what
does any wise man have more than the fool?
What does the poor man have, who has no glut

of goods, nor knows how he should live, what rule
of life should govern all his actions? He
is wise who knows contentment, whose eyes school

him more than his vain lusts. It’s vanity
and grasping for the wind to make of things
beyond your reach or ken your deity.

Would you contend with God, vain man, who brings
to Him your folly and your discontent?
Add more of fleeting fun and foolish things

unto your life. You’ll wonder where you went
wrong as your vanity increases. Will
compounding folly make you wise? You’ve spent

your years in vanity, but God will still
be God. For who knows what is good for man?
Do you? And will you think this way until

you die? Your life is but a shadowland,
filled with vain thoughts, hard labor, hours of fun,
frustrations, and defeats on every hand.

And look around you: Is there anyone
who can make sense of life beneath the sun?



T.M. and Susie Moore make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont. He is Principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, and the author of 8 books of poetry. He and Susie have collaborated on more than 30 books, which may be found, together with their many other writings and resources, including the daily teaching letter Scriptorium, at www.ailbe.org.

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6 Responses

  1. David O'Neil

    Ecclesiastes is my favorite book of the Bible, and this is lovely verse translation–natural idiom within a taut metrical scheme.

  2. Cynthia Erlandson

    I absolutely LOVE this! I have been obsessed with the book of Ecclesiastes since my teen years. And the terza rima (one form I’ve been too intimidated to try yet) is brilliant!

  3. James Sale

    A fine piece of writing; it’s extremely difficult to write effectively in terza rima and this is done superbly well. I think Ecclesiastes is an ideal book to versify in this way: there is a pithy directness in the original, but also a narrative drive, and this version captures both aspects extremely well. The final couplet is decisive and very powerful. This is classic poetry at its best and I hope this whole undertaking finally produces a volume of Ecclesiastes which will be great to read as an alternative version.


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