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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Wake (2)

A wake, like Qohelet, shouts:

Meaningless! Meaningless! Says the Teacher. 'Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.' Eccl 1.2

and makes us mindful to seize the day:

Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do... Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun – all your meaningless days.  For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun.  Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. Eccl 9.7-10

(just as Khayyam wrote:

Come, friend, let us lose tomorrow's grief/And seize this moment of life:/Tomorrow, this ancient inn abandoned,/We shall be equal with those born seven thousand years ago! [Quatrain 130]*)

while preparing for the end of day:

However many years anyone may live,/Let them enjoy them all./But let them remember the days of darkness,/For there will be many./Everything to come is meaningless. [Eccl. 11.8]


Wakes, like Khayyam's Rubaiyat, remind us of our ignorance amidst all the learning we have acquired, and of our insignificance amidst all our claims to greatness:

Heaven’s wheel gained nothing from my coming,/Nor did my going augment its dignity;/Nor did my ears hear from anyone/Why I had to come and why I went. [Q 3]

If the heart could grasp the meaning of life,/In death it would know the mystery of God;/Today when you are in possession of yourself, you know nothing./Tomorrow when you leave yourself behind, what will you know? [Q5]

Or of the futility of dwelling on the what-was and what-could have-been:

O Heart, do not grieve over this worn-out world,/You are not aimless, do not indulge in aimless sorrows;/Since it is not clear what has gone and what has not,/Be happy, don’t grieve over what was and what was not. [197]

* All quatrains from the translation of Peter Avery and John Heath-Stubbs -- The Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam. New York, Penguin Books, 1981.  For online texts of other translations by Edward Fitzgerald, Richard Brodie, Arthur Talbot, and Edward Whinfield, go to this site.

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