The Linnet's Wings :Take All My Loves, My Love - Page 43

The Linnet´s Wings ‘Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; do not hold your peace at my tears. For I am your passing guest, an alien, like all my forebears. 13 Turn your gaze away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more.’ (New Standard Revised Version) 12 As with most poems, psalms require us to ascertain the setting and situation that make the poet’s voice so urgent. The narrative of Psalm 39 is peculiar and unsettling. Until well into it, we cannot understand the speaker’s in- tensity. Until verse 10, we do not know that the speaker has suffered a stroke, a scourge, a plague; a blow so disabling that he thinks now only upon his mortality and the emptiness of life. From the dizzying ledge of death, life has no meaning: the wealth we gather so feverishly goes to others; our beauty is blasted by illness; we are poor sojourners groping our way as aliens to an inscrutable God, like strangers in a foreign land. From his sickbed, the speaker condemns the injustice of his suffering. He has been honorable towards God, keeping quiet his misery, silencing his doubts, both in the presence of the wicked, who enjoy boasting a victory for their cynicism, and among the good, who might lose heart. A valiant soldier, he has held his peace; accepting that his affliction is God’s doing and makes sense only in some way he cannot grasp. We are mist, a breath, mere vanity; we pass like phantoms, chasing empty desires. Robert Alter’s translation captures the spare energy of the speaker’s grim fears: Hear my prayer, O Lord, To my cry hearken, To my tears be not deaf. For I am a sojourner with You, A new settler like all my fathers. Look away from me, that I may catch my breath Before I depart and am not. In his distress, the speaker begs God to hear him. If God will not justify this suffering, then the stricken man asks that He look away and dispel the sufferer’s feeling sinful for complaining … at least allow him to breathe easy, find a way to smile, relieve his anxieties before he vanishes. Relief comes only with his evaporation into nothingness, a torment better endured without God’s disapproving gaze. [ Conquering Judeo-Muslim-Christian armies carry the spirit of Psalm 46 into the bloody hor- ror of war.] 43