Thursday, 19 September 2013

Sukkot today

I've spent a chunk of today on another poem.

That we might see the stars

You shall take the fruit of majestic trees [citron], branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees [myrtle], and willows of the brook... you shall live in booths... so that your generation may know that I made the people of Israel live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.               
                                                                                          Leviticus 23.40-43

Begin with richness in the mouth                             
like date-palm fruit, let sweetness speak,                
let each truth, each re-telling, make

guest-ready all our shelters, each                             
blest with fare citrus-sharp, with air                         
zest-laden, word and deed made one.

If flavour’s source is lost, still let                      
goodness be pressed, like myrtle crushed,
to anoint, to scent even those

who wander willow’s watercourse,
wild waste without wisdom’s whetting,
wilderness without what work wafts.

Sukkot (Feast of Booths) 2013

That we may see the stars.  Booths have to be built in such a way the stars can be seen through the roof.

Richness in the mouth like date-palm fruit; let sweetness speak.  The palm’s fruit tastes good (although it does not have fragrance), so it represents the sweetness of teaching of the Torah.

Make guest-ready all our shelters.  Those who live in booths during the feast welcome neighbours and biblical figures to eat with them there.

Fare citrus-sharp... air zest-laden; word and deed made one. The citron fruit tastes and smells good, so it represents both the sweetness of the teaching of the Torah and the attractive scent of the good works of those who follow this teaching.

Flavour... lost..., goodness... pressed, like myrtle crushed, to anoint, to scent.  The myrtle’s ‘fruit’ is a fragrant essential oil (although it has no taste), so it represents the attractive scent of good works on their own.

Willow’s... waste... wilderness... without wisdom... without... work.  The leaves of the willow neither taste good nor have fragrance, so it represents those without either Torah or good works who are nevertheless included among God’s people.  There is also here a hint of people returning to the desert, or at least to the habit of murmuring about things like its rare water sources, rather than celebrating their being led out of it.

The poem, of course, is written in a way which could be read beyond its Talmud and Sukkot terms of reference.  It could be an invitation to pay attention to the Christian Bible (or to another place of inspiration), from which appropriate living might emerge.  This appropriate living might survive in a culture which has begun to lose the original moorings and might still ‘bless’ those who neglect, abandon or even, perhaps, never had them.

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