Alas! The gold, now dulled
finest gold tarnished!
the holy stones lie littered
on every street corner.
Belovèd sons of Zion
of gold-weight worth,
now counted as jugs of clay;
work of any potter.
Cubs even of jackals
are breast-fed nursed,
but my people's daughter is cruel
as the desert ostrich.
Dry-thirsted, the infant's tongue
glues to the palate;
babies beg for bread
but none is proffered.
Embraced now on dung heaps are those
once robed in purple;
Those once feasting on sweetmeats
lie destitute in alleys.
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.
Glistening as snow, once, her princes,
whiter than milk;
their limbs more ruddy than coral,
their beauty as sapphire.
How black, though, their faces are now,
unrecognised in streets;
their skin has shrunk on their bones,
as dessicated wood.
Impaling on sword? Far better
than piercing by famine.
Better to bleed from our wounds
than be starved of all food. See—
Large-hearted women's own hands
cook their own children!
Their children their food when my People's
Daughter was shattered.
Meted out in full is the Lord's anger,
his smoldering wrath;
He has kindled a blaze in Zion
that consumed her foundations.
Not the kings of the earth nor
its people believed
that an enemy or foe could pass through
the gates of Jerusalem.
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.
Polluted with blood, through the streets
they grope blindly;
so defiled with that blood, that none dare
touch the hem of their garments.
"Repulsive! Away!" is the cry;
"Unclean! Do not touch!"
They fled; they drifted; the news rang:
"they've no place to rest".
Scattered by the Lord himself:
no longer he faces them.
The priests are shown no honour;
the elders, no mercy.
Teared eyes still pine; looking
for help, but in vain;
From our watchtowers we watched for a nation;
but no rescue came.
Unceasing, they stalked all our steps,
our streets no more ours.
Our end drew near, our days gone;
our end had come.
Vicious and swifter than sky-hawks
came our pursuers:
Hot on our trail through the hills;
ambushers of the desert.
Wedged in their traps was our life-breath,
the Lord's own anointed—
He in whose shade we had thought
to dwell among nations.
You might rejoice now, Edom's Daughter,
gloating in Uz;
but to you, too, the chalice shall pass,
exposing you, drunk-shamed.
Zion's Daughter, your punishment ended,
your exile is lifted;
but you, Edom's Daughter, found guilty,
the Lord shall condemn.
"Alas!": Hebrew 'Ekah, meaning "how", the name of the book itself, and beginning with the Hebrew letter 'aleph' equivalent to our 'A'.
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".
A folk tradition, then familiar but now forgotten, about ostriches abandoning their hatchlings. Contrast the first half of this verse. (See also Job 39.)
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.