The Holy Bible – Knox Translation
The Book of Ecclesiastes
Next, I thought to give the rein to my desires, and enjoy pleasure, until I found that this, too, was labour lost.
Wouldst thou know how I learned to find laughter an empty thing, and all joy a vain illusion;
how I resolved at last to deny myself the comfort of wine, wisdom now all my quest, folly disowned? For I could not rest until I knew where man’s true good lay, what was his life’s true task, here under the sun.✻
Great plans I set on foot; I would build palaces, I would plant vineyards,
I would have park and orchard, planted with every kind of tree;
and to water all this greenery there must be pools of water besides.
Men-slaves I bought and women-slaves, till I had a great retinue of them; herds, too, and abundance of flocks, such as Jerusalem never saw till then.
Gold and silver I amassed, revenues of subject king and subject province; men-singers I had and women-singers, and all that man delights in; beakers a many, and jars of wine to fill them.✻
Never had Jerusalem known such wealth; yet in the midst of it, wisdom never left my side.
Eyes denied nothing that eyes could covet, a heart stinted of no enjoyment, free of all the pleasures I had devised for myself, this was to be my reward, this the fruit of all my labours.
And now, when I looked round at all I had done, all that ungrateful drudgery, nothing I found there but frustration and labour lost, so fugitive is all we cherish, here under the sun.
Then my mind went back to the thought of wisdom, of ignorance, too, and folly. What (thought I), should mortal king strive to imitate the sovereign power that made him?✻
I saw, indeed, that wisdom differed from folly as light from darkness;
the wise man had eyes in his head, while the fool went his way benighted; but the ending of them? In their ending both were alike.
Why then (I said to myself), if fool and I must come to the same end at last, was not I the fool, that toiled to achieve wisdom more than he? So my thoughts ran, and I found labour lost, here too.
Endlessly forgotten, wise man and fool alike, since to-morrow’s memory will be no longer than yesterday’s; wise man and fool alike doomed to death.
Thus I became weary of life itself; so worthless it seemed to me, all that man does beneath the sun, frustration all of it, and labour lost. And I, beneath that same sun, what fond labours I had spent!
I hated the thought of them now; should heir of mine succeed to them?
An heir, would he be wise man or fool? None could tell; but his would be the possession of all I had toiled for so hard, schemed for so anxiously; could there be frustration worse than this?
I would hold my hand; no more should yonder sun see labours of mine.
What, should one man go on toiling, his the craft, his the skill, his the anxious care, leaving all to another, and an idler? That were frustration surely, and great mischief done.
Tell me, how is a man the richer for all that toil of his, all that lost labour of his, here under the sun?
His days all painfulness and care, his very nights restless; what is here but frustration?
Were it not better to eat and drink, and toil only at his own pleasures? These, too, come from God’s hand;
and who has better right to food tasted and pleasure enjoyed than I?
Who wins God’s favour, has wisdom and skill for his reward, and pleasure too; it is the sinner that is doomed to hardship and to thankless care, hoarding and scraping, and all to enrich some heir God loves better! For him frustration, for him the labour lost.
The Holy Bible