The beauty of Israel is slain
upon thy high places: how the mighty have fallen!
Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Akelon;
lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,
lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.
Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew,
neither let there be rain, upon you, nor fields of offerings;
for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away,
the shield of Saul, as though he had not been anointed with oil.
From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty,
the bow of Jonathan turned not back, and the sword of Saul returned
not empty. Saul and Jonathan were pleasant in their lives, and in their death
they were not divided: they were swifter than eagles,
they were stronger than lions. Ye daughters of Israel, weep
over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights, who put
ornaments of gold upon your apparel. How are the mighty fallen
in the midst of the battle! O Jonathan, thou wast slain
in thine high places. I am distressed for thee, my brother
Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love
to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.
How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!
As an English major, I really love this poem and the way it captures the shock and fury that comes with dealing with the death of a loved one. I also like how it captures the desperate idealization of a loved one after they’ve passed away. Not sure why, but it seems to make things easier to deal with if you only remember the best of people. I also love the repetition in this poem, which helps the sense of grief resonate, as does the raging against Israel’s enemies and the land itself for allowing such a travesty to occur. Another nice touch is the juxtaposition of the Philistine women rejoicing and the Israeli women weeping indicates the enormity of the social consequences of Saul and Jonathan’s deaths while also contributing to the overall intensity of the poem.
I hesitate to talk about individual word usage since this is a translation which has been historically questioned and noted for incorrectness. I like the Elizabethan artistry at work in word choice here, but I can’t say for sure if this translation reflects exactly what the original author meant to convey - “distressed” seems so small a word for the enormity of the loss in this poem.
I’m going to use this eulogy in an upcoming project, so this post is partially for my reference.
The poem comes from 2 Samuel 1 in the King James Version of the Bible from the OliveTree Reader on my smartphone. Line breaks are mine.