Poetry – Kathleen Scott Goldingay

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The Lamps of the Virgins
from Bearers of the Broken Vessel

At dawn, weaving through hills,
go Daughters of Jerusalem in white,
faces illumed by the flames
of their lamps.
They sing a song about lovers,
become a string of dancing lights.

At dawn, before babes awakened
and bawled to take suckle,
their mothers lit fires
and filled the girl’s lamps.
“Where are you going?”
asks a sister too young for a lamp.
“To remember, to remember,
the daughter of Jep-thah.”

“Why are you crying?”
“The daughter of Jep-thah
ran dancing,
shaking her tambourine.
She was the first
to greet her father,
returning victorious in battle.”

“But why are you weeping?”
“We go to the hills like she did,
with our friends.
We go for one who is soon
to kiss her father goodbye
and leave to be married.”

Jep-thah, whose mother
was without blessing,
had not trusted Yahweh
to hand to him his victory.
He had sworn an oath:
in return for winning my battle,
I will give Yahweh a gift-
the first soul
who runs out from my house-
as a burnt offering, whole.

The daughter of Jep-thah
ran dancing,
shaking her tambourine.
She was the first
to greet her father,
returning victorious in battle.

Jep-thah tore his cloak
and fell to the ground.
“I love you, my daughter.”
She knelt,
put a kiss on his forehead,
“I love you, my Abba.”

On hearing what Yahweh
was promised,
Jep-thah’s daughter did not flee.
She avowed,
“Here I am, Yahweh, I’m yours!”

But first, with her friends,
she climbed up in the hills
to grieve,
singing, “My love will not perish
in flames.”
She would never know the tug
from the cry of a babe.

At dawn, a soldier’s widow weeps,
looks out her latticed window.
She sees the flickering lamps
dance on the hill and remembers.
She puts a kiss on her babe’s
waking warm cheekand sings to her daughter
of Yahweh.

Feature Image: William Blake, Wise And Foolish Virgins, 1826, Metropolitan Museum, New York.

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Kathleen Scott Goldingay is a retired architect with a Master's in Theology.

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