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Translating Lamentations 1:1-2

Oh!
Lonely now she sits — the city.
Great with people
     now a widow
Great with power
    now a slave.

Weeping weeping in the dark
All her loves turn away
All her friends now turn against
Every-one her enemy.

 

The poem is written as a lament after the complete destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in 586 B.C.My translation does not capture every word (the Hebrew text and a more “literal” translation are found below) However, I tried to capture of some of the word-play and create the compression of thought which can make a poem jarring. I also sought to chanting rhythm by starting each line with an accented syllable, and repetition of words. The hope was to make it sound more like an English poem, and thus to convey some of the poetic feel. Every translation is a compromise — this is especially so with poetry which has its linguistic and cultural conventions.

Lamentations 1:1–2 (LHB)
1 אֵיכָ֣ה׀ יָשְׁבָ֣ה בָדָ֗ד הָעִיר֙ רַבָּ֣תִי עָ֔ם הָיְתָ֖ה כְּאַלְמָנָ֑ה רַבָּ֣תִי בַגּוֹיִ֗ם שָׂרָ֙תִי֙ בַּמְּדִינ֔וֹת הָיְתָ֖ה לָמַֽס׃ ס
2 בָּכ֨וֹ תִבְכֶּ֜ה בַּלַּ֗יְלָה וְדִמְעָתָהּ֙ עַ֣ל לֶֽחֱיָ֔הּ אֵֽין־לָ֥הּ מְנַחֵ֖ם מִכָּל־אֹהֲבֶ֑יהָ כָּל־רֵעֶ֙יהָ֙ בָּ֣גְדוּ בָ֔הּ הָ֥יוּ לָ֖הּ לְאֹיְבִֽים׃ ס

The Hebrew more literally reads
Alas
She sits alone the city
She was full of people; she has become like a widow
She was great among the nations a princess among the provinces
She has become a slave.

Weeping she weeps in the night and tears are on her cheeks
There is not to her comfort form all her lovers
All her friends/neighbors acted treacherously to her
They are to her enemies.

If you want to know more about this poem, I heartily recommend Abner Chou’s commentary. Here is a bit:

Line 1: Solitude. The first line begins with אֵיכָה (“how”), which typically poses shock at the current situation as well as intense bewilderment and anguish (cf. Isa 1:21; Jer 48:17; see Hillers, 18). The word is onomatopoeic, sounding like a cry of desperation.82 For this reason, it commonly initiates a funeral lament (Berlin, 49). It fittingly also begins chapters 2 and 4, and is the Hebrew title of this book. The writer expresses his pain and amazement at how Jerusalem has fallen. He notes how the city sits in solitude. The pf. verb יָשְׁבָה denotes the state of Jerusalem at this time. It sits on the hill, unable to do or be anything but alone (בָדָד). This does not merely refer to the idea that Jerusalem is by itself but rather stresses the city’s isolation and exclusion from joy (Jer 15:17; 49:31). This is in contrast with the city that once was full of people (רַבָּתִי עָם).83 In sum, the first line communicates the writer’s shock that the city full of life has become a ghost town.

Abner Chou, Lamentations: Evangelical Exegetical Commentary, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014), La 1:1.