Each of the seven cycles/stanzas rests/pauses/ends on a term that resembles “selah,” which is the “pausing” language from Psalms. According to wikipedia:
[Selah] is probably either a liturgico-musical mark or an instruction on the reading of the text, something like “stop and listen.” Another proposal is that Selah can be used to indicate that there is to be a musical interlude at that point in the Psalm. The Amplified Bible translates selah as “pause, and think of that.” It can also be interpreted as a form of underlining in preparation for the next paragraph.
I liked that “Selah” [the word] echoed the role of the sabbath or seventh day – pause/cease – but also of the sabbath year cycle – pause/rest – in reference to the 49/50 years highlighted by the Jubilee.
But I didn’t only use the word “selah,” because of something interesting I learned when studying about the word. It turns out we’re not quite sure of the origin of the word “selah,” and because of that, some interesting possibilities are available. I used each of the possibilities (and more), paired with the appropriate stanza in the poem.
salah = “[One] interpretation claims that selah comes from the primary Hebrew root word salah (סָלָה) which means ‘to hang,’ and by implication to measure (weigh).” – From wikipedia.
In this poem, I used “salah” in the first stanza, as both “salah” and this stanza refer to measuring or weighing. This stanza talks about the great question (further described in the annotation) that will be “cumbrously resolved in deadwooding and abscission”: will we achieve a golden mean, or fall to one faulty or lesser extreme or another? Will we become a heavenly combination of body and spirit, or a broken variant of one or the other? When we are measured, “what scion” shows? Salah.
salih = “Selah may indicate a break in the song whose purpose is similar to that of Amen (Hebrew: “so be it”) in that it stresses the truth and importance of the preceding passage; this interpretation is consistent with the meaning of the Semitic root ṣ-l-ḥ also reflected in Arabic cognate salih (variously ‘valid’ [in the logical sense of ‘truth-preserving’], “honest,” and “righteous”).” – From wikipedia.
In New Year of the Trees, “salih” is used in the second stanza. This stanza refers to Chadash or Chodosh:
“In Judaism, Chadash (or Chodosh) (Hebrew: חדש, “new [grain]”) is a concept within Kashrut (the Jewish dietary regulations), based on the Biblical requirement not to eat any grain of the new year (or products made from it) prior to the annual Omer offering on the 16th day of Nisan.” – From wikipedia.
Depending on the interpretation, grain that rooted or ripened prior to the temple offering could only be eaten after the temple sacrifice was made. Grain that was “too young” is chadash (From wikipedia).
The connection to the night of passover in the stanza Chadash – also referred to in Clingstone (with its “hyssop-struck” lintels) and Ficus Carica (with it’s “hov’ring hand”) – in the dietary concept of chadash is this: “grains planted after Passover could only be consumed, at the earliest, twelve months later.” (From wikipedia)
An acceptable/valid/righteous sacrifice first has to be made. Salih.
selah = The word is already described above in the introduction to this section.
This word “selah” is used in this poem following the stanza Clingstone. “Pause and consider” – Chadash says that an acceptable sacrifice must be made. Clingstone says the heart of stone must be surrendered for a heart of flesh, which happens thanks to “sacred violence.” Pause and consider. Selah.
sollah = “One proposed meaning is given by assigning it to the root, as an imperative that should not properly have been vocalized, ‘Sollah’ (Ewald, “Kritische Grammatik der Hebräischen Sprache,”p. 554; König, “Historisch-Kritisches Lehrgebäude der Hebräischen Sprache,” ii., part i., p. 539). The meaning of this imperative is given as ‘Lift up,’ equivalent to ‘loud’ or ‘fortissimo,’ a direction to the accompanying musicians to break in at the place marked with crash of cymbals and blare of trumpets, the orchestra playing an interlude while the singers’ voices were hushed. The effect, as far as the singer was concerned, was to mark a pause.” – From wikipedia.
In this poem, the stanza Shiv’at HaMinim refers to the delivery from Egypt and the seven species, which will be described further below in the annotation of the stanza. Here, the bitterness of memory of captivity is contrasted with the joy of sudden deliverance and abundance. In Clingstone, hearts of stone become flesh, and in Shiv’at HaMinim there is full, divine deliverance. Thus, “lift up’ ‘loud’ – and rejoice! Sollah!
This stanza references Adam and Eve and the creation. In their planting, in the soil, and in ‘soil man’ (how some translations render ‘Adam’) and his ‘corresponding piece’ (how some render ‘Eve’), and the weight of their sorrows, I hear and feel the ‘rock,’ ‘hard’ and ‘heavy.’ He tries to plant, he tries to get it right, but sorrow grows as a native plant in this earthly soil. She comforts him in this stanza, though in part her comfort is to say ‘you are not alone in your travail – the experience is universal.’ Though “selah” is not related to “sela,” I used the similar word here at the end of this stanza for ‘rock,’ ‘hard,’ ‘heavy.’ “Not one house without one dead.” Sela.
- Note: I learned about the Biblical translations that rendered Adam and Eve as “soil man” and “corresponding piece” in the wonderful book “Christ’s Emancipation of Women in the New Testament” by Lynne Wilson. Heidi and I have had a lovely time reading this one together.
I also used two important, similar sounding words in the last two stanzas of New Year of the Trees that also are not related to “Selah”: Shiloh and Salaam.
shiloh = There is of course difference of opinion around this term. Growing up Christian, I have long viewed Biblical references to “Shiloh” as references to Christ. This stems from both Genesis 49:10 as well as Isaiah 8:6. (Further, I have also read “Shiloh” into the waters of Siloam of John 9). I view Christ as the redeeming power that covers us, as the fig leaf (ficus carica, pertinent to this stanza) covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve, mentioned in the prior stanza. Christ covers us from “every human shock” and through “sacred violence” overthrows hearts of stone and gives hearts of flesh. I will discuss this more when the stanza is discussed.
But readers of other faiths – especially with the extensive Jewish and Islamic imagery employed in the poem – will hopefully also find a hopeful message here. My Jewish friends can find in the word “shiloh” that ends this stanza a reference to a promised Messiah, consistent with the promise of Genesis 49:10. My Muslim friends can hear in the word “shiloh” the promise of Muhammed, and in this stanza see language from the Quran’s Sūrat at-Tīn “by fig and olive” – and more, to be discussed when this stanza is discussed below.
For me, I love “the waters of Shiloh that go softly,” as found in Isaiah 8. And here, in the stanza about being covered by a canopy of fig leaves and by redeeming grace, we have Shiloh.
salaam = Arabic for ‘peace.’ Also, a short form of the greeting As-salāmu ʿalaykum or response wa ʿalaykumu s-salām. Appropriately to this poem, this is also used at parting. – From wikipedia. As the last stanza reminds of the life and death that precedes us and comes after us, and reminds us of the great cycles of which we are a part – and also as the last stanza reminds us that some answers leave us with more questions (ignotum per ignotius) – it also leaves us in peace. “Have faith,” the stanza seems to say, as the hymn states: “All now mysterious shall be bright at last” (“Be still my soul“). Salaam.
And, the poem reminds us that the Jubilee comes after these cycles – the slaves will be freed. Lands will be returned. Debts will be redeemed. All that is wrong will be made right. Iubilo!
Up next – perspective four – the sets of sevens.
Jump to any part of the annotation here (including directly to the stanza by stanza descriptions):
- The conceptual outline of the poem, generally
- The basic layout, in reference to the concept of the jubilee.
- The use of the word “selah”
- The sets of sevens
- A stanza by stanza review of some of what it all meansLinks to the stanzas for their individual “behind the scenes”: