Translated by Len Krisak
Bone-weary from his labour, Boaz slept;
The threshing floor was where he’d worked all day.
Then, in his customary place, he lay
Where bushel baskets full of wheat were kept.
The old man’s barley throve; his wheat grew higher.
Though rich, this just man meant no poor man ill:
No mire fouled the water through his mill;
His forge was free of any hellish fire.
His silver beard flowed like an April stream;
His sheaves were free from any greed at all.
Watching poor gleaners pass, he’d let spikes fall
As if by chance … or so he’d have it seem.
This pure man walked straight paths and never strayed,
Robed in white linen and bright probity.
And for the poor, his grain sacks, pouring free,
Were fountains where no needy person paid
This master-father, good and kind, whose gold
Flowed generously (though he was thrifty, too).
Women knew young men could be handsome – true –
But they esteemed the greatness of the old.
For an old man draws near his primal place,
Between this life and his eternal lot;
Ruth saw the flame in young men’s eyes burn hot,
But true light shone in Boaz’ old man’s face.
So Boaz slept at night among his own,
Beside the ricks (each stack was like some ruin);
In darkness, reapers dozed like jackstraws strewn.
And all this happened back in times long gone,
When Israel’s tribes had for their chief a judge.
Tenting in their nomadic land, they worried,
Seeing the giant footprints in the slurried
And mud-soft earth left by the flood’s deluge.
As Jacob slept; as Judith slept: the same
With Boaz. Under sheaves, he shut his eyes,
Until a dream door opened in the skies,
And in a vision, down to Boaz came
This image: from his loins an oak tree grew –
An oak that almost touched the sky’s blue face.
A chain of people climbed there. At its base
There sat a king; high up, the God men slew.
And Boaz’ soul said, ‘How shall this be done?
How could there be a race that springs from me?
The years of all my life are eighty-three,
And I’m without a wife. I have no son.
Oh, long ago, the one I made my bed
With left it for your house, O Lord! But we
Are still one soul, two mixed in parity –
She half alive in me in her half dead.
A people born of me? How can this be
Believed? How could I have a child? When I
Was young, triumphant dawns lit up the sky,
And day rose out of night like victory.
Old now, and like a winter birch, I shake; Or like a lonely widower on whom
Night falls. My God, my soul bends toward its tomb,
An ox turned stream-ward with a thirst to slake.’
Thus Boaz dreamt entranced amidst the wheat,
Turning toward God drowned eyes that sleep had shut.
The cedar feels no rose down by its root;
He could not sense the woman at his feet.
For while he slumbered, Ruth, a Moabite,
Lay down at Boaz’ feet; her breast was bare,
Waiting some unimaginable flare
To come – dawn’s reveille of sudden light.
He didn’t even know that she was there,
And Ruth was unaware of God’s command.
Fresh tufts of asphodel perfumed the land.
Over Gilgal: night’s drifting breath of air.
The dark was nuptial, solemn and august.
Surely an angel flew, unseen by men;
For in the night she sensed, oh, now and then,
A blue wing passing overhead … but just.
And Boaz’ breathing lost itself in rills
That ran across the moss in murmured hush.
It was the month when nature’s sweet and lush,
And lilies bless the summits of the hills.
Ruth dreamt; he slept. The grass was black as ink;
The sheep bells trembled, wavering – not tense.
The welkin wore a goodness made immense.
It was that tranquil hour when lions drink.
The world slept, from Jerimadeth to Ur,
While stars enamelled all the deep black sky.
A fine, clear crescent shone to westward, high
Amid the flowered dark. Ruth did not stir,
But asked, half-opening her sleep-veiled eyes,
‘What god who reaps all summer, on and on,
Has in his leaving negligently thrown
That field this golden sickle where it lies?’