(Poem #40) The Book of Job
Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, When they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert? Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food? Do you know when the mountain goats bring forth? Do you observe the calving of the hinds? Can you number the months that they fulfil, and do you know the time when they bring forth, When they crouch, bring forth their offspring, and are delivered of their young? Their young ones become strong, they grow up in the open; They go forth, and do not return to them. Who has let the wild ass go free? Who has loosed the bonds of the swift ass, to whom I have given the steppe for his home, And the salt land for his dwelling place? He scorns the tumult of the city; he hears not the shouts of the driver. He ranges the mountains as his pasture, and he searches after every green thing. Is the wild ox willing to serve you? Will he spend the night at your crib? Can you bind him in the furrow with ropes, or will he harrow the valleys after you? Will you depend on him because his strength is great, and will you leave to him your labor? Do you have faith in him that he will return, and bring your grain to your threshing floor? The wings of the ostrich wave proudly; but are they the pinions and plumage of love? For she leaves her eggs to the earth, and lets them be warmed on the ground, Forgetting that a foot may crush them, and that the wild beast may trample them. She deals cruelly with her young, as if they were not hers; Though her labor be in vain, yet she has no fear; Because God has made her forget wisdom, and given her no share in understanding. When she rouses herself to flee, she laughs at the horse and his rider. Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with strength? Do you make him leap like the locust? His majestic snorting is terrible. He paws in the valley, and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons. He laughs at fear, and is not dismayed; He does not turn back from the sword. Upon him rattle the quiver, the flashing spear and the javelin. With fierceness and rage he swallows the ground; He cannot stand still at the sound of the trumpet. When the trumpet sounds, he says `Aha!' He smells the battle from afar, The thunder of the captains, and the shouting. Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars, And spreads his wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up And makes his nest on high? On the rock he dwells and makes his home In the fastness of the rocky crag. Thence he spies out the prey; His eyes behold it afar off. His young ones suck up blood; And where the slain are, there is he.
from the Bible, the Book of Job, chapter 39. The anonymous poets and psalmists of the Old Testament (and the equally obscure 17th century clerics who translated it into English) must surely rank among the greatest poets of all time - no other book has been the source of so many common turns of phrase and resonant images, and (with the exception of the New Testament) no other book has been the subject of so much analysis and commentary. What often gets lost amongst the religious and ideological issues, though, is the magic of the language, the sheer poetry, so to speak, of the verses - as this brief extract makes abundantly clear in its lyrical beauty. thomas. PS. A brief explanation of the context: the Book of Job is one of the more morally complex books of the OT. Summarized, the story of Job is as follows: Job is a prosperous and devout merchant who - for no reason at all - is brought low by divine power - his farm is burned to the ground, his family is killed, his fortune is lost, and so on. Through it all he steadfastly refuses to blame God for his travails, yet he cannot understand why he is being punished (as it seems to him). He is visited in his sorrow by four friends, and the group of them engage in a subtle and wide-ranging discussion of the relationship between God and Man. Finally, the Lord himself appears to Job in the form of a whirlwind and says, 'I am the Lord; you are just a puny human being; you have no right to question my deeds or my motives; I do not have to justify myself to you'. This statement is the central message of the book of Job. PPS. I'm sure that Tennyson's 'The Eagle' owes a lot to the last few verses above.