A Psalm of Lament

So says the Lord: A voice is heard on high,
lamentation, bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for
her children, she refuses to be comforted for her
children for they are not. —Jeramiah 31

In Israel a voice was heard,
Lament and bitter weeping.
For Rachel’s heart was cruelly stirred,
For death had come a-sweeping.
A plague of locusts, Baal’s flies;
No lintel blood could spare her child.
For how could she restrain her cries
When terror laughed and evil smiled.

O God, King of the Universe,
Your Word is Law, your arm is strong,
You promised blessing, but a curse
Has traded righteousness for wrong.
How shall we sing a psalm of praise?
Your Holy Name with joy adore?
In grief we grieve these grievous days,
For Rachel’s children are no more.



James A. Tweedie is a retired pastor living in Long Beach, Washington. He has written and published six novels, one collection of short stories, and three collections of poetry including Mostly Sonnets, all with Dunecrest Press. His poems have been published nationally and internationally in The Lyric, Poetry Salzburg (Austria) Review, California Quarterly, Asses of Parnassus, Lighten Up Online, Better than Starbucks, Dwell Time, Light, Deronda Review, The Road Not Taken, Fevers of the Mind, Sparks of Calliope, Dancing Poetry, WestWard Quarterly, Society of Classical Poets, and The Chained Muse. He was honored with being chosen as the winner of the 2021 SCP International Poetry Competition.

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13 Responses

  1. Margaret Coats

    Good ending with the full statement of what is twice suggested but not spelled out in the first stanza. And how many times has this needed to be said? The evangelist Matthew made it a classic repetend.

    But there are psalm-of-lament features too. I sense “waters of Babylon” behind “How shall we sing a song of praise.” And “In grief we grieve these grievous days” is very much a Hebrew poetic technique. Nice work, James. Despite all the metrical psalms in English, there is still very much room for better ones, such as this.

  2. James A. Tweedie

    Margaret, I am not, of course, surprised that you spotted the intentional reference to Psalm 137. Themes of Hebrew suffering, including plague, child sacrifice, slavery, Passover, exile, massacre of innocents, Holocaust, along with repetitive lines echoing Hebrew poetry, biblical parallel themes of righteousness/sin (“wrong”), life/death, Word/Law, blessing/curse and the phrase, “King of the Universe,” (found in traditional Jewish prayers and blessings, particularly those associated with the Passover Seder) were indeed woven into this short lament.

    The biblical psalms, even the most grim and pessimistic among them, end with an affirmation of, praise and thanks for, or hope in God’s love and salvation. My lament excludes this so as to intensify the sense of suffering and grief in a way similar to the words of Jesus from the cross as he recited the opening words of Psalm 22: “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”

    My psalm was written this afternoon after receiving a request from the editors of the Deronda Review (a Jewish-focused journal co-based in both the USA and Israel) for their contributors to submit poetry reflecting on the current travails in Israel. It is likely that the poem will be posted on their site as well as here.

    I highly commend Psalm 60 as one that is particularly congruous with Israel’s present situation–a psalm that begins with despair over staggering losses inflicted by enemies, but ends with the words, “With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies.”

  3. Roy Eugene Peterson

    I remember a sermon by my uncle, who was a pastor, from a long time ago, preaching on Revelation suggesting that locusts could represent helicopters. I look at what is happening and locusts could be rockets and Baal’s flies could be bullets. This is a beautiful if supremely sad lamentation harkening back to Rachel crying for the lost children of Israel.

  4. Cynthia Erlandson

    “No lintel blood could spare her child.
    For how could she restrain her cries
    When terror laughed and evil smiled.”

    So well said, James. Thank you for this Psalm of Lament, when it seems that there is nothing else that can be said.

  5. Paddy Raghunathan

    I don’t follow the Biblical references but I certainly hear your lament.


  6. Brian A. Yapko

    James, this is a beautiful poem on a most devastating subject. Rachel’s original lament says her children shall be no more. She was wrong then and, God willing, she will be wrong this time as well. I choose to take her grief as a mother’s warning of a possible future. But either way, the weeping is a certainty.

    By the way, Rachel’s Tomb, on the road between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, is considered the third holiest site in Judaism. I have heard it said that even in modern times visitors can occasionally hear weeping from her tomb.

  7. Shamik Banerjee

    You have portrayed her grief so beautifully, Mr. Tweedie. Although I’m not so familiar with many of the biblical stories, I certainly understood and deeply felt this event. Also, thank you so much for the quote above.

  8. Patricia Allred

    A peaceful poem,reminding us to trust HaShem , not man.
    Thank you, James!

  9. Gershon Wolf

    A lovely poem, giving renewed voice to a heroic matriarch’s heartfelt tears, a mother’s tears, for her exiled people. A tribute to the essential humanity of Pastor Tweedie, as well as to the scope and breadth of his knowledge.
    I would like to suggest, if I may, that Rachel’s grief and our grief today be tempered by the knowledge that God has always and will continue to ensure the survival of the Jewish People in spite of the many pogroms and horrors inflicted upon them, and that with God’s help, the Jewish Nation will build back stronger than ever. That the Jewish People continue(s) to exist today among a sea of hostile nations is a miracle in and of itself. Thank you, Gershon Wolf

  10. David Whippman

    Thanks for this well written take on the current tragedy in Israel. Appreciated.

  11. C.B. Anderson

    In your old age, James, you have become very good at outdoing yourself. You are as resilient as Israel herself. Sadly, even the Leftists get to fluff their feathers over this one, even though it was they who manufactured these horrific events. You, at all times and as best you are able, are a truth-speaker.

  12. Joshua C. Frank

    I love all the Biblical references… it’s beautifully done. I find that I can’t stay on it too long, though, because the thought of the grief of the people over the deaths of their children makes me want to cry. Otherwise it’s great.


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