Lamentations 4

Lamentations 4, like other chapters, has the same number of stanzas, 22, as the Hebrew alphabet and is acrostic.

1

Alas![1] The gold, now dulled
 finest gold tarnished!
the holy stones[2] lie littered
 on every street corner.


2

Belovèd sons of Zion
 of gold-weight worth,
now counted as jugs of clay;
 work of any potter.


3

Cubs even of jackals
 are breast-fed nursed,
but my people's daughter is cruel
 as the desert ostrich.[3]


4

Dry-thirsted, the infant's tongue
 glues to the palate;
babies beg for bread
 but none is proffered.


5

Embraced now on dung heaps are those
 once robed in purple;[4]
Those once feasting on sweetmeats
 lie destitute in alleys.


6

Far more the deserts of my people
 than the penalty of Sodom,
which had been in an instant erased
 with no hand on her laid.


7

Glistening as snow, once, her princes,
 whiter than milk;
their limbs more ruddy than coral,
 their beauty as sapphire.


8

How black, though, their faces are now,
 unrecognised in streets;
their skin has shrunk on their bones,
 as dessicated wood.


9

Impaling on sword? Far better
 than piercing by famine.
Better to bleed from our wounds
 than be starved of all food. See—


10

Large-hearted women's own hands
 cook their own children!
Their children their food when my People's
 Daughter was shattered.


11

Meted out in full is the Lord's anger,
 his smoldering wrath;
He has kindled a blaze in Zion
 that consumed her foundations.


12

Not the kings of the earth nor
 its people believed
that an enemy or foe could pass through
 the gates of Jerusalem.


13

Offences of prophets, the cause,
 and the crimes of her priests,
who had shed in the midst of the city
 the blood of the just.


14

Polluted with blood, through the streets
 they grope blindly;
so defiled with that blood, that none dare
 touch the hem of their garments.


15

"Repulsive! Away!" is the cry;
 "Unclean! Do not touch!"
They fled; they drifted; the news rang:
 "they've no place to rest".


16

Scattered by the Lord himself:
 no longer he faces them.
The priests are shown no honour;
 the elders, no mercy.


17

Teared eyes still pine; looking
 for help, but in vain;
From our watchtowers we watched for a nation;
 but no rescue came.


18

Unceasing, they stalked all our steps,
 our streets no more ours.
Our end drew near, our days gone;
 our end had come.


19

Vicious and swifter than sky-hawks
 came our pursuers:
Hot on our trail through the hills;
 ambushers of the desert.


20

Wedged in their traps was our life-breath,
 the Lord's own anointed—
He in whose shade we had thought
 to dwell among nations.


21

You might rejoice now, Edom's Daughter,
 gloating in Uz;
but to you, too, the chalice shall pass,
 exposing you, drunk-shamed.


22

Zion's Daughter, your punishment ended,
 your exile is lifted;
but you, Edom's Daughter, found guilty,
 the Lord shall condemn.


[1]"Alas!": Hebrew 'Ekah, meaning "how", the name of the book itself, and beginning with the Hebrew letter 'aleph' equivalent to our 'A'.

[2]Often translated "jewels", "holy stones" is not only more literal but also allows the metaphor for the stones of the destroyed Temple. Taken in conjunction with following verse, this metaphor links an increasingly human sequence: "gold" "holy stones", "beloved sons & people's daughter".

[3]A folk tradition, then familiar but now forgotten, about ostriches abandoning their hatchlings. Contrast the first half of this verse. (See also Job 39.)

[4]The purple of luxury. If this Hebrew poem is then overlayed with the Christian gospels there is a resonance with the trial, mocking and crucifixion of Jesus.