Poem of the Week / Did King Solomon Get It Wrong?

Lea Goldberg calls out Ecclesiastes on a big mistake.

Poems of the Journey’s End

Lea Goldberg

1
The path is so lovely – said the boy.
The path is so hard – said the lad.
The path is so long – said the man.
The grandfather sat on the side of the path to rest.

Sunset paints his grey head gold and red,
the grass glows at his feet in the evening dew,
above him the day’s last bird sings
—Will you remember how lovely, how hard, how long was the path?

2
You said: Day chases day and night – night.
In your heart you said: Now the time has come.
You see evenings and mornings visit your window,
and you say: There is nothing new under the sun.

Now with the days, you have whitened and aged
your days numbered and tenfold dearer,
and you know: Every day is the last under the sun,
and you know: Every day is new under the sun.

3.
Teach me, my God, to bless and to pray
over the withered leaf’s secret, the ready fruit’s grace,
over this freedom: to see, to feel, to breath,
to know, to hope, to fail.

Teach my lips blessing and song of praise
when your days are renewed morning and night,
lest my day be today like all the yesterdays,
lest my day be for me an unthinking haze.

–1955

Translated from Hebrew by Rachel Tzvia Back, in Lea Goldberg's “Selected Poetry and Drama,” Toby Press, 2005; reprinted by permission of the translator.

***

Lea Goldberg (1911- 1970) grew up mostly in Kovno, Lithuania, where she attended the Hebrew Gymnasium. After completing advanced Semitic studies in Berlin and Bonn, she came to Tel Aviv in 1935 and in 1952 she moved to Jerusalem, where she established the department of comparative literature at Hebrew University.

Goldberg also wrote stories and children’s books and was a visual artist. This three-part poem was published in her 1955 volume “Light in the Morning”; it’s worth noting here that in Hebrew the word for poems and the word for songs are the same. Each part or song looks at the aging process from a different perspective. In the first stanza, the speaker considers third persons – the boy, the lad, the man and the grandfather, and how they view the trajectory of life. In the second stanza she paints in color a “last” bird that sings to a masculine “you,” an elderly person at the end of his path, questioning whether he will remember the changes in his perceptions.

In the third stanza the speaker quotes what this person has said and thought in the past – “Nothing new under the sun” is of course from Ecclesiastes 1:9. And in the fourth she has the temerity to talk back to Ecclesiastes, traditionally believed to have been King Solomon though scholars have questioned this. She asserts as an incontrovertible truth (“you know”): “Every day is new under the sun.”

The third part is in the first person – I. The speaker is in the middle of her path, like Dante Alighieri at the beginning of “The Inferno” (to which Goldberg wrote an introduction in 1953): “Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark” – (as translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow), and on her list of desires are appreciation of withering and freedom to feel, breathe and even fail. In the final stanza the speaker yearns for what old man knows: that every day is new under the sun, for if not, every day will be meaningless, unthinking habit.

In 1987, on his album with composer Miki Gavrielov "Al Gvul Haor" (On the Boundary of Light), Arik Einstein recorded “Poems of the Journey’s End.”

Musings:
*Einstein sings only parts 1 and 2 of “Poems of the Journey’s End.” Why? 

Gnazim
Stephane Chaumet