Joseph

See Genesis 49:1-4,22-26.

Standing at the parting place
My soul must choose its ben.

The excellence of dignity
with outstretched fingers beckons me,
and proffers with an easy smile–
calm as muddied water,
sweet as a she-slave’s eyes.
I know you, oh unstable one:
sorrow’s first ben-oni.

But shepherd-strengthened archer calls
though sorely grieved and separate,
to fly along a master’s halls
for coat of priesthood hue, and crown,
and place in God-King’s retinue.
Oh dreamer clean, I know you too.

Striding from the parting place,
my mind shall choose its ben.

Joseph is his name.
Joseph is his name.

Joseph.

Two roads diverged… Photo credit: Eric Vondy (Flickr)

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About Daniel Hardman

Software architect and tech blogger: http://codecraft.co ~ Author of fiction, poetry, sci-fi, fantasy: http://sivanea.com ~ Twitter: @dhh1128 ~ http://gplus.to/danielhardman
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One Response to Joseph

  1. Nephi asks:

    >>>So, Sarah and I were talking about poetry worth memorizing, and your poem Joseph came up. Neither of us had it memorized, but I said it was one of my favorites of yours. Sarah said she wasn’t quite sure what “Ben” was referring to, and I realized that I had just assumed it meant something like center/anchor. But since that conversation, most of the websites I have checked say that it means “son (of).” I did find a website that says it may mean something more broad, such as “building block.” Anyway, I thought that I would take advantage of the perks of being related to the author and having email access and just ask you. Where you using “Ben” to mean building block or did you have a different meaning in mind?

    I’m flattered that you asked about my poem, Nephi. The older I get, the more I see almost mystical significance in the act of naming; in regards to people, it can be an act of moral agency–a theme I’m exploring in my current novel. This poem shows that I was thinking about that topic a long time ago, I guess.

    “Ben” refers to the Hebrew word for “son” (as in David Ben-Gurion), and it alludes to the story of Jacob and Rachel naming their youngest son as Rachel died in childbirth (Genesis 35:16-18). Although the child was named Benjamin (“son of my right hand”), Rachel called him Ben-oni (“son of my sorrow”). It is interesting that Jacob’s oldest son, Reuben, also has “ben” in his name. Leah gave him that name because she was pleased to bear her husband a son; the name means “See the son.”

    With this context about how “ben” has been significant in personal names in Israel, most of the poem is an allusion to the contrasting patriarchal blessings of Jacob’s two birthright sons, Reuben and Joseph (whose name means “he [Jehovah] will increase”). See Genesis 49:1-4,22-26. The speaker contrasts Reuben-like choices of deception, adultery, and selfishness with Joseph’s choice to run from Potiphar’s wife regardless of consequences, and observes that Reuben was the first (and truest) “Ben-oni” in the family.

    In a way, we beget tomorrow’s versions of ourselves through the choices we make each day (“my soul must choose its ben”). The poem expresses a commitment to beget the speaker’s future self as Joseph, not Reuben.

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