Poet Judith Kunst brings us this beautiful poem in response to Lamentations 2:13.
13 What thing shall I take to witness for thee? What thing shall I liken to thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? What shall I equal to thee, that I may comfort thee, O virgin daughter of Zion? For thy breach is great like the sea: who can heal thee?
What entry point could a 21st century Midwestern poet find in an ancient poem attempting to grieve the desecration and dissolution of an entire nation? I wondered if I could find it in the 13th verse of chapter two, where the writer declares his own linguistic lack: loss of metaphor. “To what can I liken you,” he says, “that I may comfort you?” Why is the act of setting two unlike things side by side and placing an equal sign between them a comforting act? Without being able to explain why, we instinctively know and practice the comfort of expressing exactly what we feel: Her smile is a boat that can carry me to safety. His look of scorn pierces me like a dagger. I wondered if a poem that used an apophatic structure—the rhetorical strategy of describing a thing by describing what it is NOT—could help me come closer to apprehending a sorrow so devastating that the quintessentially human act of metaphor-making has been rendered impossible.
Judith Kunst is the author of The Burning Word: A Christian Encounter with Jewish Midrash (Paraclete). Her poetry can be found in The Atlantic, Poetry, Image, Able Muse, Measure, Southern Poetry Review, and other publications. She leads workshops that seek out the intersections of language, scripture, and culture, and she lives with her family at La Lumiere School in northwest Indiana.