Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Rik George writes

A Caveat to New Converts

Beware the Tiger hidden in the Lamb,
his wool-sheathed claws and sheep’s eyes veiling fire.
Hosea married Gomer, a common whore,
and got three children in her well-worn womb
under the Tiger. Jeremiah came
to Jerusalem a poet, and wore
away his poetry and died a bore
in Egypt. Lamb-beguiled, the saintly dream
of fleece and limpid eyes. The Tiger waits,
crouching in the wool, to strip and break their bones.
Dream on, oh would-be saints, of God, of sweets
in Paradise, rewards for repented sins.
Sleep with the Lamb between the silken sheets.
You’ll wake to find the Tiger always wins.



  1. Two of William Blake’s poems, “The Lamb” (from “Songs of Innocence,”1789) and “The Tyger” (from “Songs of Experience,” the second part of “Songs of Innocence and of Experience,”1794) are often paired, as Rik does here (at least thematically, though Rik, a disillusioned former minister, contrasts two kinds of religiosity).

    The Lamb
    Little Lamb who made thee
    Dost thou know who made thee
    Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
    By the stream & o'er the mead;
    Gave thee clothing of delight,
    Softest clothing wooly bright;
    Gave thee such a tender voice,
    Making all the vales rejoice:
    Little Lamb who made thee
    Dost thou know who made thee

    Little Lamb I'll tell thee,
    Little Lamb I'll tell thee:
    He is called by thy name,
    For he calls himself a Lamb:
    He is meek & he is mild,
    He became a little child:
    I a child & thou a lamb,
    We are called by his name.
    Little Lamb God bless thee.
    Little Lamb God bless thee.

    The Tyger

    Tyger Tyger. burning bright,
    In the forests of the night:
    What immortal hand or eye,
    Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

    In what distant deeps or skies.
    Burnt the fire of thine eyes!
    On what wings dare he aspire!
    What the hand, dare sieze the fire?

    And what shoulder, & what art,
    Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
    And when thy heart began to beat,
    What dread hand? & what dread feet?
    What the hammer? what the chain,
    In what furnace was thy brain?
    What the anvil? what dread grasp,
    Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

    When the stars threw down their spears
    And water'd heaven with their tears:
    Did he smile his work to see?
    Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
    Tyger, Tyger burning bright,
    In the forests of the night:
    What immortal hand or eye,
    Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

  2. Rik makes two direct references to Biblical prophets. Gomer was the wife of the prophet Hosea. Depending on the translation of Hosea 1:2, she was either a "promiscuous woman" (New International Version), a "harlot" (New American Standard Bible), or a "whore" (King James Version). In 3:1 she is "loved by another man and is an adulteress" (NIV), but God orders Hosea to buy her back. They have three children with symbolic names, a son named after the Jezreel valley, a daughter Lo-Ruhamah denoting the ruined condition of the kingdom of Israel, and another son Lo-Ammi, named in token of God's rejection of his people. Their marital relationship has often been posited as parallel to that between God and Israel: Even though Gomer has been unfaithful to Hosea, he forgave her in the same way that God continued to love the people of Israel even though they worshiped other gods.

    Jeremiah ("Yah Exalts") “wrote” the books of “Jeremiah,” “Kings,” and “Lamentations.” (I used the quotation marks because quite a bit seems to have been added much later; Jeremiah 36 clearly states that the prophet dictated to his scribe, Baruch ben Neriah, the messages of his ministry dating back 21 years, which Baruch read at the temple and the court before king Jehoiakim ordered its destruction, and that Baruch rewrote and augmented the account, from dictation or memory; sometimes Baruch himself is regarded as the author, and he almost certainly wrote some third-person sections. The Greek translation of the Bible, the Septuagent, was done from the 3rd to the 2nd centuries BCE, while the Masoretic, the oldest Hebrew, text only dates from the 7th to 10th centuries CE; the Greek version contains words and phrases not found in the Hebrew one, even though it is only about 7/8 as long. Baruch is also usually credited with three other books, including the “Book of Baruch.”) “The Book of Jeremiah” is the longest book in the Bible (though the original version dictated to Baruch was short enough to be read three times in a single day); a number of chapters were written mainly in prose, but most sections are predominantly poetic in form, and four of the five chapters of “Lamentations” are acrostics, with the verses beginning with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. As Jeremiah said of his own poetic/prophetic voice:

    The LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: Herewith I put My words into your mouth.
    See, I appoint you this day
    Over nations and kingdoms;
    To uproot and to pull down,
    To destroy and to overthrow,
    To build and to plant.
    -- Jewish Publication Society of America Tanakh

    And later, after undergoing betrayals, imprisonment, and assassination attempts, he lamented, “if I say I'll never mention the LORD or speak in his name, his word burns in my heart like a fire. It's like a fire in my bones! I am worn out trying to hold it in! I can't do it!”
    -- Jeremiah 20:9 (New Living Translation).

  3. From his seminal literary contributions, the word “jeremiad” is used to describe a long literary work that bitterly lambasts society’s moral decay and predicts its imminent downfall; in our permissive contemporary culture, though not traditionally, the term usually suggests that the tone is overwrought and excessively pessimistic. But even in traditional works, Jeremiah was generally referred to as the “weeping prophet," even though he extolled an ultimate restoration of hope and divine favor. As an example of this mixed mesaage, here are the first 33 verses of “Lamentations 3” (New International Version):

    I am the man who has seen affliction
    by the rod of the LORD’s wrath.
    He has driven me away and made me walk
    in darkness rather than light;
    indeed, he has turned his hand against me
    again and again, all day long.
    He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
    and has broken my bones.
    He has besieged me and surrounded me
    with bitterness and hardship.
    He has made me dwell in darkness
    like those long dead.
    He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
    he has weighed me down with chains.
    Even when I call out or cry for help,
    he shuts out my prayer.
    He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
    he has made my paths crooked.
    Like a bear lying in wait,
    like a lion in hiding,
    he dragged me from the path and mangled me
    and left me without help.
    He drew his bow
    and made me the target for his arrows.
    He pierced my heart
    with arrows from his quiver.
    I became the laughingstock of all my people;
    they mock me in song all day long.
    He has filled me with bitter herbs
    and given me gall to drink.
    He has broken my teeth with gravel;
    he has trampled me in the dust.
    I have been deprived of peace;
    I have forgotten what prosperity is.
    So I say, “My splendor is gone
    and all that I had hoped from the LORD.”
    I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
    I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
    Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
    Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
    They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
    I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”
    The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
    it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the LORD.
    It is good for a man to bear the yoke
    while he is young.
    Let him sit alone in silence,
    for the LORD has laid it on him.
    Let him bury his face in the dust—
    there may yet be hope.
    Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
    and let him be filled with disgrace.
    For no one is cast off
    by the Lord forever.
    Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
    so great is his unfailing love.
    For he does not willingly bring affliction
    or grief to anyone.

  4. Jeremiah and Baruch were both descendants of Rahab (“broad"), a Canaanite prostitute who aided Joshua in his capture of Jericho (and later married him) and was rewarded by having her clan incorporated among the Jewish people. Joshua and Rahab were regarded as the ancestors of several prophets, including Hilkiah, Seraiah, and Mahseiah, the prophetess Hulda, and (in the Gospel of Matthew) of Jesus (whose name was actually Yehoshua, the same as Joshua’s). Jeremiah and Baruch lived through the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem (587–586 BCE) and resided together in Mizpah with the remnants of the Jews who were not carried off into captivity. They were, however, subsequently carried off to Egypt, where they both died (though some accounts have Baruch being taken to Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar II’s conquest of Egypt, where he became Ezra’s tutor). According to later tradition, when Baruch questioned why, unlike Joshua, who had been the disciple of Moses, or Elisha, who had been the disciple of Elijah, he had not been granted the gift of prophecy that had belonged to Jeremiah, God responded, "Baruch, of what avail is a hedge where there is no vineyard, or a shepherd where there are no sheep?”


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