"Vanity of vanities; all is vanity" by Isaak Asknaziy‘Meditations on Ecclesiastes’ by Cynthia Erlandson The Society January 3, 2022 Beauty, Culture, Poetry 12 Comments . Meditations on Ecclesiastes . Inquiry “What profit has a man for all his labor…?” —Ecclesiastes 1: 3 None knows what all his work accomplishes; What one begins, another finishes A different way. Or, fools may come in after He dies, waste life in lust and drunken laughter, Abandoning the place he built. None will Recall his arduous efforts or his skill. This inescapable absurdity Asserts the depth of earthly vanity. . Perplexity “And this also is a severe evil, that just exactly as he came, so shall he go. And what profit has he who has labored for the wind?” —Ecclesiastes 5: 16-17 We cheer each birth—yet, as man comes, he’ll go— Naked, as he arrived. The womb is narrow From whence he comes—as is the grave, where sorrow Pervades the winds of vanity that blow About the burial ground, where neither sparrow Nor man can fall whose Maker doesn’t know. Of all the things he’s worked for, none will follow Him to another world. This world seems hollow To those who mourn his loss; the here and now Cries out, “Futility! This life is shallow!” The place of grief surpasses that of mirth; Therefore a death seems better than a birth. . Irony “There is a vanity which occurs on earth, that there are just men to whom it happens according to the work of the wicked; again, there are wicked men to whom it happens according to the work of the righteous.” —Ecclesiastes 8: 14 Whoever humbly works beneath the skies With perseverance, thrift, and industry, Should be rewarded. Why do some, then, rise By evil? Even worse: the irony Of those who fall by virtue, is a cause For philosophical perplexity. It seems to work against all prudent laws To give to those who’ve done no good the prize That should have been bestowed upon the wise And diligent, however many days he Labored for posterity. How crazy To keep back payment from the just! Absurd Among the things that we have seen and heard, This system certainly appears insane, And magnifies a world that seems in vain. . Insanity “… Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.” —Ecclesiastes 9: 3 We’re made in God’s own image; nonetheless, Life is full of madness; then we die. Has evil led to madness, or has madness Led to evil? What made us insane? Why didn’t all-but-one-tree satisfy? If we had been content, would we have had less Than all we need? Does soul make war with brain To warp us? Or, are both demented? Why Are we conceived and born in craziness? Our senses can’t make sense of constant pain That stalks us while, incessantly, we try Again and yet again, with no success (The definition of insanity) To be as God – resulting in the mess That warped creation’s first and flawless beauty And carries on this permanent Anomaly. . Folly “And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.” —Ecclesiastes 1: 17 (KJV) We’re born dissatisfied. Excess vexation Appears to be our destiny. Like winds That turn, and blow, and turn about again, Things change, yet stay the same. Each generation Repeats the past; wherever one thing ends, One starts. There’s nothing new beneath the sun. Our portion in this life—to drink, to eat, To find some merriment, before defeat Has overwhelmed us and it is too late To take delight on earth—this is our fate While we’re alive. Unfailingly we follow Our forebears to the always-hungry belly Of death. Then, what’s the meaning of this folly We act out on life’s stage beneath a shadow Of clouds that emphasize our own unknowing? We chase the wind; it turns, and keeps on blowing Dust into our eyes, till we can’t see, Reminding us about the certainty That we are made of dust, and will return To it. This paralyzing vanity Accentuates the Fall’s insanity. We stumble, wisdom-less, till life is done, And end in ignorance, as we’d begun. . . Cynthia Erlandson is a poet and fitness professional living in Michigan. Her second collection of poems, Notes on Time, has recently been published by AuthorHouse, as was her first (2005) collection, These Holy Mysteries. Her poems have also appeared in First Things, Modern Age, The North American Anglican, The Orchards Poetry Review, The Book of Common Praise hymnal, and elsewhere. NOTE TO READERS: If you enjoyed this poem or other content, please consider making a donation to the Society of Classical Poets. NOTE TO POETS: The Society considers this page, where your poetry resides, to be your residence as well, where you may invite family, friends, and others to visit. Feel free to treat this page as your home and remove anyone here who disrespects you. Simply send an email to email@example.com. Put “Remove Comment” in the subject line and list which comments you would like removed. The Society does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or comments and reserves the right to remove any comments to maintain the decorum of this website and the integrity of the Society. Please see our Comments Policy here. CODEC News: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) 12 Responses Julian D. Woodruff January 3, 2022 Elegant poetic echoes of Ecclesiastes, Cynthia, and obvious statements to be making and questions to be posing as we take in breath to face 2022. “Irony” could have been composed as a response to Susan’s marvelous skewering of Blair yesterday. Reply Cynthia Erlandson January 3, 2022 Thank you so much, Julian! You are absolutely right: the “character” in Susan’s excellent poem about the “Knight” matches the one here who should not have gotten the prize. Reply James Sale January 3, 2022 Some very powerful – and skilful – poetry here: well done. I love these Biblically related poems, since the source adds a deeper grandeur to the thematic exploration. Reply Cynthia Erlandson January 3, 2022 Thank you, James! Reply Sally Cook January 3, 2022 Cynthia, you are a truly unusual poet. I am happy to see your lines on anything, as I am sure that what you write will be well thought out, clear, yet subtle. Thanks ! Reply Cynthia Erlandson January 3, 2022 Thank you very much, Sally! I have been musing on Ecclesiastes for most of my life. Reply Margaret Coats January 3, 2022 Cynthia, after seeing the line “clouds that emphasize our own unknowing,” I wonder whether you know the medieval English work entitled “The Cloud of Unknowing.” To paraphrase very roughly, the unknown author says that in order to love God, we must set aside our knowledge and enter into the cloud of unknowing where we will find Him. His anticipation seems exactly the opposite of the frustration with experiential knowledge expressed by Ecclesiastes! Your own poems seem to enter into and modernize the Preacher’s mindset, while your titles reveal what you find in it. Reply Cynthia Erlandson January 5, 2022 Thank you for your comments, Margaret. I actually have not read that work (though I know of the title). I’m glad you mentioned it; I will have to look it up. Reply Yael January 3, 2022 These are superb Meditations on Ecclesiastes, I really enjoyed reading them. The way you sometimes end a sentence in the middle of a line as opposed to ending them at the end of a line only, adds an interesting amount of suspense and surprise, while lessening the boredom of being able to anticipate words and phrases. Well done, thank you! Reply Cynthia Erlandson January 5, 2022 Thank you so much, Yael! Reply Brian Yapko January 3, 2022 Cynthia, these are all marvelous meditations on the wisdom of Ecclesiastes with spotlights on vanity, sanity, birth and death. I enjoyed reading them — especially “Perplexity” which used “o” rhymes for 10 out of 12 lines ending with a true couplet. The “o” sounds seem to echo and amplify the “labor for the wind” quote. In contrast, “Insanity” and “Folly” have somewhat unsteady rhyme schemes — emblematic, perhaps, of a certain lack of societal discipline. Sometimes there are assonances, sometimes slant rhymes. There are a few sets of couplets, but just as often not. “Folly’s rhyme-schemes resolves in the last four lines — not exactly hopefully but with sad wisdom and closure. The effect of carefully-crafted randomness is quite thought-provoking. With respect to all five, thank you for a very enjoyable read. Reply Cynthia Erlandson January 5, 2022 I’m so glad you found so much in these, Brian; thank you for your very thoughtful analysis. I was not always aware of doing some of the things you mentioned, particularly the “o” rhymes echoing laboring for the wind. I’ve had experiences over the years (I imagine you have, too) of being surprised at how some things work out subconsciously during the writing process. Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYour email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. Δ This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.