Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Royal "I": Lamentations 1 with a poem by Kenneth Rexroth, Wednesday of Holy Week, 1940

Daily Readings
Sirach 31, Jeremiah 39, Lamentations 1, Baruch 1

Daily Text: Lamentations 1

A Royal “I”
Lamentations is a series of five poems, the first four of which are acrostic, having 22 verses each as does the Hebrew alphabet. The fifth poem has 22 verses and thus fits the format without its being an acrostic poem. Within the four acrostic poems the patterns vary.

Lamentations 1 begins in the 2nd person singular, as if the poet is describing the city’s plight. In verse 11c the pronoun becomes1st person singular as if the poet is referring to himself. Most commentators suggest that it is Zion, the city or nation that suddenly takes over and speaks for itself at that point. This author would suggest a different image, that of the king who might well speak with a royal “I”, the king, that is one who represents the whole people. The poet then would be viewing this tragedy through the eyes of the leader, the one who is ultimately responsible for the welfare of the city, of the state and of the populace. The loss whether described corporately or personally is incredible. All security, all hope, all personal, economic, political, and religious referents are destroyed in the moment the city falls. But the poet does not describe this loss objectively; rather he paints it in terms of misery, sorrow, hunger, pain, depression, weakness, and fear. His descriptions are meant to wring the heart of the reader. And all of this loss could have been avoided if the people had only faithfully served their God.

Wednesday of Holy Week, 1940
Kenneth Rexroth

Out of the east window a storm
Blooms spasmodically across the moonrise;
In the west, in the haze, the planets
Pulsate like standing meteors.
We listen in the darkness to the service of Tenebrae,
Music older than the Resurrection,
The voice of the ruinous, disorderly Levant:
“Why doth the city sit solitary
That was full of people?”
The voices of the Benedictines are massive, impersonal;
They neither fear this agony nor are ashamed of it.
Think…six hours ago in Europe,
Thousands were singing these words,
Putting out the candles psalm by psalm…
Albi like a fort in the cold dark,
Aachen, the voices fluttering in the ancient vaulting,
The light of the last candle
In Munich on the gnarled carving.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
Return ye unto the Lord thy God.”
Thousands kneeling in the dark,
Saying, “Have mercy upon me O God.”
We listen appreciatively, smoking, talking quietly,
The voices are coming from three thousand miles.
On the white garden wall the shadows
Of the date palm thresh wildly;
The full moon of the spring is up,
And a gale with it.

Collect for the Day
Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still: though still I do deplore?
When thou has done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sin by which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year, or two; but wallowed in, a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I’ve spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
Swear by thyself that at my death thy Son
Shall shine—as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, thou hast done,
I fear no more.

[489:124:July 2 John Donne, 1573-1631]


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