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<< Return to SBL Forum Archive April is Your Favorite Poem Month

T.S. Elliot wrote, "April is the cruellestmonth..." (The Waste Land) while Shakespeare found that "Menare April when they woo" (As You Like It). How fitting that themonth that inspired poets is now National Poetry Month and poets, both past andpresent, can receive their due in the month-long celebration of their craft.

Sponsored by the Academy of AmericanPoets, April launches the much-neglected realm of the poet into the public mindat least for one "well-apparel'd April" (Romeo and Juliet).Their website, http://www.poets.orgprovides free resources for poets, teachers, and librarians and includes ideason how to teach poetry in the classroom.

Laurance Wieder, the editor of ThePoets' Book of Psalms cites a poem by Christopher Smart (1722—71) on theBible "Taste," which could serve as this month's poetic mascot forthe Society of Biblical Literature:

O take the book from off the shelf,

And con it meekly on thy knees;

Best panegyric on itself,

And self-avouched to teach and please.

In honor of poets and poetry RSN: SBL Editionasked biblical scholars and people interested in the Bible to send us a favoritepoem, either fragment or full text. We hope you will enjoy the followingselections, and send us your comments. Responses will be posted in the May RSN:SBL Edition.

Song of Songs 4:12-15

Enclosed and hidden, you are a garden,

A still pool, a fountain.

Stretching your limbs, you open—

A field of pomegranates blooms,

Treasured fruit among the blossoms,

Henna, sweet cane, bark, and saffron,

Fragrant woods and succulents,

The finest spices and perfumes.

Living water, you are a fountain,

A well, a river flowing from the mountains.

—submitted by Marcia Falk

From Marcia Falk's The Song of Songs: A New Translation and Interpretation (Harper).

Psalm 90:1-2

Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place

in all generations.

Before the mountains were brought forth,

or ever thou hast formed the earth and the world,

from everlasting to everlasting

Thou art God.

—submitted by James Luther Mays from the RevisedStandard Version.

Isaiah 35:8

A highway shall be there, a way

It shall be called the Holy Way;

the unclean shall not pass it by,

it shall be for them (as well).

No travelers, not even the simple ones,

shall lose their way.

—submitted by Walter Harrelson

Translator note:The traditional translation is wrong, I believe, and have sought

to show that it is. How sad that the Hebrew verb 'abr, which of course means"pass along," hasn't been recognized to have the other meaning here,"pass by." Revelation 21:8 shows the consequence of the ancientmistranslation of Isaiah 35:8.

The above translation is Walter Harrelson's.See Language, Theology and the Bible, ed. by Samuel E. Balentine and JohnBarton (Oxford: Clarendon, 1994), p. 248.

Psalm 85:11

Truth and kindness

have embraced,

peace and justice have kissed

and are one.

—submitted by Marcia Falk

Translator note: This Hebrew verse and itstranslation appear in my own re-creation of the "Sh'ma" ("Hear, OIsrael") prayer. See The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for DailyLife, the Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival, by Marcia Falk (BeaconPress).

Lady of Largest Heart

fish dragged from the deep in her stretched-outnet

never will slip through

birds trapped in her nimble cast

thrash in the fine-eyed mesh

what she has crushed to powder never will rise up

the scent of fear stains her robe

she wears the carved-out ground plan of heaven and earth

* * * * * * **

those warrior women like a single thread

come forth from beyond the river

do common work in devotion to you

whose hands sear them with purifying fire

your many devoted who will be burnt

like sun-scorched firebricks

pass before your eyes

—submitted by Betty De Shong Meador, a Jungiananalyst in private practice in Berkeley, California. For several years Meadorworked with Daniel Foxvog, instructor in Sumerian language and literature at theUniversity of California Berkeley to render into English the poetry of theSumerian high priestess Enheduanna.

Translator's note:Enheduanna was the high priestess to the moon god Nanna in the city of Ur foralmost forty years around 2300 BCE. She developed the role of high priestess tobe the most important religious office in the land, and her model was followedby high priestesses at Ur for 500 years. Her poetry is listed in literarycatalogues from the Old Babylonian period some 700 years after her death. Thesefragments are from the poem "Lady of Largest Heart" written to herpersonal goddess Inanna.

From Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart: Poems of theSumerian High Priestess Enheduanna by

Betty De Shong Meador, Copyright (c) 2001. Courtesy of the author and theUniversity of Texas Press.

And finally, Job (in the fine hand of translatorEdwin M. Good) gets the last word:

Job 28:12—22

Wisdom—where can she be found?

Where is understanding's place?

No human knows her dwelling,

nor is she found in the land of the living.

The Abyss says, "She's not in me,"

and Sea says, "Not with me."

Bullion cannot be given for her

nor silver weighed as her price.

She cannot be bought with Ophirian gold,

precious onyx, or sapphire.

Gold and glass cannot match her,

nor vessels of fine gold be bartered for her.

Coral and crystal deserve no mention,

wisdom's value exceeds that of rubies.

Ethiopian topaz cannot match her,

nor can she be bought with pure gold.

Wisdom—whence does she come?

where is understanding's place?

She is concealed from all living eyes,

hidden from the birds of the sky.

Abaddon and Death say,

"A rumor of her has reached our ears."

—submitted by Kent H. Richards from In Turnsof Tempest: A Reading of Job by Edwin M. Good (Stanford Univ. Press).

Citation: Kent H. Richards, " April is Your Favorite Poem Month," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited April 2004]. Online:


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