On Solomon’s namesake

What immeasurable energy, interest and fun
come about with the birth of a beautiful son!
That intensity felt with our daughter’s arrival
revisits the soul in a vibrant revival:
euphoria springs from each covetous glance
at his face and his body, his socks and his pants.
If he’s crying or blithe and serene, it’s the same:
it’s the grace that suffuses his corpulent frame.
He is somehow delicious, a bountiful joy
who exceeds our delight in expecting a boy.
A poetical father is shamed by the bliss
which his every extravagant sentence will miss.
The ineffable can’t be described with the word.
To attempt it regardless is vain and absurd.

There is something, however, in Solomon’s frame
that occasions some cumbersome words:  it’s his name.
When he grows to be bigger, he may even ask:
‘in what nominal glory should Solomon bask?’
We’re aware of the gravity, power and fame
which belong with the stentor of Solomon’s name.
It’s a mightily large operatic conceit,
an ideal that no ordinary human can meet.
He’s a baby already bestriding a stage
which is grand and grotesquely immense for his age:
he’s already a king of uncounted resources
who’s gifted with huge psychological forces:
before he’s been able to babble or coo
he’s a genius of justice and oratory too.
He pronounces his wisdom with firmness and strength
that correctly belie both his weight and his length.
The sagacity stamped on his delicate brow
is the sum of all learning from Adam till now
and whatever he does, from a burp to a fart,
has complete Salomonic composure and art.
The most lowly of functions is lofty and fine
as befits the Augustness of Abraham’s line.
The imperial temper lives on in this child,
comprehensively knowing, distinguished and mild.

But the question if Solomon is or is not
like the biblical king in his miniature cot
is an issue best left for the future to tell.
We would wish that our Solomon merely excel
in the gaining of happiness, peace and delight
as were ever beheld in King Solomon’s sight.
For the rest it’s an idle parental ambition
to vie for the heights of a kingly condition.
However, I note among all of the kings
of whom anyone’s noted remarkable things
that the biblical Solomon gains his appeal
by ideas and beliefs that are human and real.
There are wonderful narratives.  If you’ll allow
let me tell you the story of Solomon now.

When young Solomon first had ascended the throne
he felt almost embattled, afraid and alone;
there were other ambitious pretenders and foes
who contrived to depose him, intrude and impose.
To remain as the king he despatched them with force
and commissioned their death without fear or remorse.
When his place as the king was assured, he had time
to consult with the God who’s supremely sublime.
As the son of King David, the boy was allowed
to converse with the highest who scatters the proud.

‘I’m impressed’, said the Lord, ‘with your regal position.
What gifts would you long for to lighten your mission?
Whatever you ask for I’ll give you forthwith,
else the Lord is a hoax and the Bible a myth’.
‘I need wisdom’, said Solomon, ‘prudence and brain
to make judgements that aren’t to be fickle or vain.
I need wisdom to act as a principled judge
to identify ore when I’m sifting the sludge.
I need prudence to judge between pleasure and vice
or politically shifty conflicting advice.
I am only a boy.  What I see when I look
must be true for inscribing in Abraham’s book;
so I need the discernment, the nous and the head
to add chapters to his that are worth being read.’

The Lord God was delighted to hear the request.
His response was spontaneous:  ‘Wisdom is best.
When I’ve asked all the patriarchs up to this date
what they’d like if their wish could determine their fate
they’ve consistently asked for longevity, health,
the defeat of their enemies, comfort and wealth;
you’re the first to have asked for a force in the mind
and for that leave the others ten light-years behind.
I will therefore endow you with wisdom, a store
as has never been gained by all sages before.
You’ll have wisdom that everyone envies and more.
You’ll have prudence and judgement and shrewdness galore.
But because you have asked for this excellent thing
which so wholly befits an illustrious king
I will give you the riches, good health and the years
which you didn’t require through incredulous fears.
You show trust in sagacity.  Take it and more,
the material symbols that inculcate awe,
a profusion of gold, a palatial abode
and more livestock and steeds that all Babylon rode.
They’re to relish with wisdom.  You’re blessed with these.
You’re a person who jangles the heavenly keys.
You’ll be loved by the crowd for its peace and your trust.
Go and do what you will and revere what you must’.

Thus the heavenly master decisively spoke,
making Solomon wise with a magical stroke.
What the Lord had predicted and promised as well
came about as all heavenly forces compel.
The intelligent king grew in fame and esteem
and excelled in fulfilling his heavenly theme.
He administered wisely and procured through his hand
the creative delights of a prosperous land.
In an epoch of peace, the economy rose
and production afforded new wealth to dispose.
With the revenues gained, the young monarch was thrilled
to design all the structures he wanted to build.
He remembered the thought to revere what he must
and began with the project that God would deem just:
he constructed the Temple, the house of the Lord
which for God and himself offered mutual reward.
It was beautiful, grand, an illustrious site
which joined delicate skill to a vision of might;
it was worthy of God least of all in its size
but the love in the art works—the architect’s prize—
which embellished the ceilings, the altar and walls
such as never was seen in the noblest of halls,
a profusion of ornament, sculpted and wrought
with affection, dexterity, patience and thought.
Though composed of the earthen non-spiritual clod
it was visually scripted for chanting to God;
with its angels and cherubim seeming to fly
it exalted the fervour for reaching on high;
the spectator was rapt by the sight of the art
understudying such an illustrious part.
It was hugely uplifting and seized the supernal,
fulfilling a vision to share the eternal.

The people adored it and Solomon rose
on a popular wave that defeated his foes.
But by now this intelligent popular king
had no enemies left in the powerful ring.
His charisma compelled a belief in his actions
The populace worshipped his gifts and attractions.
Like David, his dad, he performed on the lute
in a way that made even the Muses seem mute;
his poetical works are a temple as well
which, as much as the building, can move and compel.
On the amorous harp a libidinous king
could evoke all the joys that no poet could sing;
he achieved innovation in verse, with a theme
that no poet before him had tried to redeem;
he exalted erotic and lustful emotion
in congruent measures with heartfelt devotion.
Small wonder that people adored him and sighed
with a mixture of longing, affection and pride.
He created the symbols, the Temple and song
which projected their passions for centuries long.

In constructing that edifice, Solomon showed
how he widened the pious Levitical code;
for his choice of the art works offended a law
which no God-fearing Jew had neglected before.
In the Bible, the Lord had severely decreed
that no image should hang upon Abraham’s seed,
that the people of Israel must banish all pictures
and honour this pact with the firmest of strictures.
King Solomon judged that this rule was absurd
and one had to recast the juridical word.
If the image assists a sublime contemplation
it argues a natural justification:
if iconoclastic ideas are irrational,
so is the law that presents them as rational.
Solomon ruled that the image be built
without any remorse or confusion or guilt.

In committing this work, he confirmed a belief
that his intimate life had brought into relief.
Against sacrosanct precedent, Solomon did
what the rules in the Bible expressly forbid:
he extended his charms to seduce and pursue
an illustrious woman who wasn’t a Jew.
He considered this interdict foolish and narrow
and married the beautiful daughter of Pharaoh.
(The marriage was also politically shrewd—
though this didn’t determine the woman he wooed—
because peace between Israel and Egypt ensued
and the profits of trade could be safely pursued.)
‘If I love her,’ said Solomon, ‘why should I not?
To abjure what the heart says is moralized rot.
To find love is supreme and to limit the choice
is alas to concede to an alien voice.
The idea that I shouldn’t seems less than divine.
If it’s anyone’s business, it’s hers and it’s mine.’
But unhappily Solomon couldn’t leave trace
of the name that his followers wouldn’t efface;
so she’s known as the daughter of Pharaoh, a name
in a manner of speaking with enviable fame.
One assumes it is she of the Song of all Songs
whose non-Israelite blood was the worst of her wrongs.

It is clear that the king was libidinous.  Love
was supreme and inspired the Heavens above.
Though he’s known for his wisdom, the amorous king
was a lover whose passion his canticles sing.
He’s alone in the Bible as someone of lust
whose lascivious instincts are happy and just.
It is true that he had an unquenchable thirst...
If he did have affairs, he was hardly the first.
He was good to his wife and he gave her a house
which befitted a goddess as much as a spouse.
The Old Testament author suggests that the king
kept a host of young courtesans under his wing
and that none was a Jewess but gentiles the lot
which has tainted the tribe with a permanent spot,
an indelible stain on immaculate stock
and a scandal polluting God’s privileged flock.
But King Solomon wasn’t concerned about race.
Intermarriage, he thought, was deserving a place
and he didn’t accept that it had to be true
that all virtue abided in being a Jew.
He extended a welcome to races apart
and had ethnic inclusiveness deep in his heart.
Xenophobia irked him.  He didn’t pursue
a belief in the insular life of a Jew
but received foreign guests and regaled them with pleasures
as much as his wisdom and generous treasures.

Forever the diplomat, thus he obtained
the material peace from which everyone gained.
He believed in acknowledging other beliefs
and reflected them kindly in sculpted reliefs.
He erected an altar to service his wife
as her different beliefs gave her meaning and life.
He was loath to require that a paramour, too,
should be made to conform to the creed of a Jew;
he let money be spent on their altars as well
to some Baygon or Baal or a Drakon or Bel.

For these beautiful gestures, the Lord was incensed.
It was all that his jealousy guarded against.
He detested and feared as abominable deeds
all respect and attention to alien creeds.
He was angry, moreover, for more than the creed
but that Solomon might be profaning his seed;
he was using his penis on women beyond
the particular people of whom God was fond;
the ancestral belonging began to secede;
he’d betrayed the fiduciary debt to his seed.
It was spiritual treason, the final disgrace,
to despise the possessiveness fixed in God’s face.

‘I am angry’, said God; ‘I’m enraged and disgusted.
Is this all the wisdom in which I have trusted?’
The Lord made reprisals, the Bible declares
with extreme and unkind sanctimonious airs.
What it doesn’t record in its negative tide
is the way that King Solomon gently replied.

‘I am sorry’, he said with a courteous nod.
‘You have given me wisdom, O mightiest God,
and the fruit of this wisdom is having a mind
that’s resistant to dogma and being confined.
In the wisdom you gave me, I made some reforms
which transgressed the restrictive Levitical norms.
But the Rabbis are blind to what wisdom can see.
What for them may be criminal isn’t for me.
I have never transgressed what my wisdom has taught
and I’ve always performed and revered what I ought.
I’ve loved non-Jewish women.  Is that an offence?
If it’s done with the heart, then it’s just and makes sense.
I have honoured beliefs of an alien tribe;
but then they’ve taken heed of the God of the scribe;
there’s reciprocal trust and we all get along.
By what arbitrary code is this deemed to be wrong?
What my wisdom has told me is quite the reverse:
to put laws above reason is mad and perverse.
What a law should perform must be subject to reason.
If not, then the system makes ethical treason.
Excuse me, O God, for my frankness in this
but the crimes I’m accused of are ones I dismiss.’

The Lord God looked severely but then out of grace
an agreeable smile took a hold of his face.
‘You are making a reasonable point,’ he replied,
‘and have reason to brush my reproaches aside.
Let me tell you a truth to make friends of us both
that explains why your wisdom occasions my wroth.
When you asked me for wisdom, I’d lain some aside
which was spared from before the diluvial tide;
but alas it was needed before you and since
as the actions of everyone clearly evince.
I lacked wisdom myself in not making enough.
In creating your species, my guesses were rough.
One is never so angry as when one has ire
with oneself as a person one cannot admire.
I’ve been furious now that the wisdom in you
shows that deficit everywhere else which I rue.
I’ve made rules for a somewhat uncritical lot
who believe that adherence is always their lot.
You’ve transcended, I know, and you haven’t transgressed.
We were right when we uttered that "wisdom is best".
Let us therefore most fondly agree to depart
with your wisdom recorded on history’s chart.’
They embraced and resolved to work hard at their arts
with commitment to reason uplifting their hearts.

I admit, little Solomon, greatness like this
is the fortune of grace that you’ll probably miss.
It may be that you’ll neither make temples nor songs
nor correct the Lord God for his spiritual wrongs
but consider this point:  if the biblical king
has sung all of the songs that you’re never to sing,
you’re exceeded no more by King Solomon’s ghost
than was Raphael outdone by the heavenly host;
you’re no futher outstripped by King Solomon’s wing
than am I by King David’s violin or his sling.
I’m contented to lie in historical shade
and enjoy all the music and myth that they’ve made.
If we look toward wisdom, we share in the same.
For the rest, take the peace that is meant by your name.

Robert Nelson


If you've any comments on his poem, Robert Nelson would be pleased to hear from you.