chapter  2
7 Pages

'All Words Fail through Weariness': Ecclesiastes

Perhaps the most hauntingly lyrical of all meditations on the interweav-

ing of death, desire and mutability is Ecclesiastes. Its main theme is

the transience and futility of human endeavour: 'I have seen all the

works that are done under the sun; and behold, all is vanity and

vexation of spirit' (1:14, A V ) . 1 In the Ecclesiastes of the Authorized

Version of the Bible, the word 'vanity' recurs around forty times. It

has become t h e word to express that welding together in one experience

of transience and futility. The Hebrew word is hébel, which means

vapour - that which is unsubstantial, momentary and profitless, fleet-

ing as a breath, and amounting to nothing:

The traditional translation 'Vanity of vanities, all is vanity', can be freely

expanded to read: 'Everything in life is hol low and utterly futile; it is the

thinnest of vapors, fleeting as a breath, and amounts to nothing. ' (Scott,

p. 202)

Often hébel is conjoined with the phrase 'grasping at the wind' : again

inanimate nature, even as it becomes the breath of life, epitomizes

futility.