“Ecclesiastes II:I” by Richard Wilbur

Although I have a few favorites when it comes to poetry, I refrain from sharing them here unless they are related to the site. This one is, religion-wise. I came across it recently, and it made me stop. Neither because of the craft and language (there was nothing particularly striking about it that made me swoon), nor because of the composure (no ardent feeling of reverie)… but because of the proposal it presented. A radical proposal. Or at the least, a gently endearing one; relieving, affectionate.

Ecclesiastes II:I
Richard Wilbur

We must cast our bread
Upon the waters
as the
Ancient preacher said,

Trusting that it may
Amply be restored to us
After many a day.

That old metaphor,
Drawn from rice faming on the
River’s flooded shore,

Helps us to believe
That it’s no great sin to give,
Hoping to receive.

Therefore I shall throw
Broken bread, this sullen day,
Out across the snow,

Betting crust and crumb
That birds will gather, and that
One more spring will come.

My heart must have faltered for a few seconds. I flipped to the back of the anthology for a note from the author regarding this particular poem, but found only commentary on the form: “A correspondent delighted me in saying that this is not only a poem but a midrash. The poem uses the haiku as a stanza, rhyming the first and third lines. It is a form that offers both fluency and emphasis.”

I flipped back to the page.

Helps us to believe
That it’s no great sin to give,
Hoping to receive.

…That it’s no great sin to give…

hoping to receive.


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