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Shall I thy vine branch be, yet grapes none bear?

Graft in thy olive stand; and fatness lack?

A shackeroon, a rangel, yet an heir?

Thy spouse, yet, oh! My wedding ring thus slack?

Should angel-feathers plume my cap, I should

Be swashed? But oh! My heart hereat grows cold.

The words:

Daniel Patterson assumes shackeroon  to be a variant on “shackerell,” an obsolete word for vagabond.

Swash is to be worthless.

A rangel must obviously be something of a similar sort. Rangle is gravel fed to hawks to help with digestion, so perhaps this is an alternative spelling.

Summary: Should I be a fine thing in name and yet a wretched thing in actuality? This idea chills my heart.

The Comparisons:

He gives a series of six images in contrast: grape vine, olive tree, heir, spouse, dressed with angel-feathers in his cap.

With the exception of the final image, the images are all important pictures of the way the Christian is said to relate to God.

The Grape Vine

This image comes from John 15, and has particular poignancy here. The nature of the image is that the believer is said to abide as a branch in the grape vine of Christ. Christ provides growth and fruitfulness. If one lacks fruitfulness, it is a dead vine to be pruned.

The passage reads:

 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”

John 15:1–8 (ESV)

The Olive Stand

This image comes from the 11th Chapter of Romans, and concerns the complicated issue about the relationship of the Covenant People of Israel from before the coming of Christ with the current church. The details of that theological dispute are not critical for this poem. What is important is that God broke off branches and then grafted in branches onto the olive tree. Someone like Taylor would be a wild branch grafted into the tree. But that grafting again comes with a warning (which I have highlighted):

17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

Romans 11:17–24 (ESV).

Thus, the first two images do not convey merely the idea that he is not living up to the ideal; they also convey that he may be an imposter. Although not explicitly alluded two in this stanza, there is an idea from the Sermon on the Mount which may be lurking in the choice of these allusions:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21–23 (ESV)

An Heir

This is a substantially more encouraging image. In the 8th Chapter of Romans, Paul refers to believers as “joint heirs with Christ”; and this is made as a matter of comfort and assurance:

15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:15–17 (ESV)

A Spouse

While the language of heir includes a conditional (“if we suffer with him”), the language of the spouse, found in both Ephesians and Hosea is even more encouraging. The spouse will not be lost:

The first example comes the prophet Hosea, who refers to Israel as the Bride of God. Israel’s sin will be put away and she will be reconciled and not lost to God:

16 “And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ 17 For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. 18 And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. 19 And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.

Hosea 2:16–19 (ESV). There is a pun here which makes little sense in English. The words “Baal-i” mean “my Lord, master”.  This can be used as a reference to the god “Baal” or can be used of a husband. But it does create a subservient position for the wife. In place of that word, God says you will call me “husband.” Here is the more technical and detailed explanation:

The second level is that of vocabulary at home with Hosea and his audience but not so with modern readers. In classical Hebrew the familiar terms ʾîš (“man”) and ʾiššâ (“woman”) also express what modern readers understand by husband and wife. Thus in 2:2 one could translate quite literally: “She is not my woman and I am not her man.” The noun baʿal means “owner, master, lord,” and in certain contexts “husband.”12 Both senses of the word are presupposed here in 2:16. In the patriarchal, non-Western societies of ancient Canaan, a husband was the owner and master of his household, which included his wife. In a few instances in the OT the related verb bāʿal is used with the meaning “to marry, to take a wife.” A wife, furthermore, could be described as bĕʿûlâ, a feminine passive form, meaning “possessed [by a husband],” i.e., married. And as a noun, baʿal also is used for Canaanite deities. They were masters of certain powers and possessors/owners of property and people. “Baal” is not a proper name, even though in reference to deities it often functions like one. A Canaanite god called upon as Baal would additionally have one or more names and perhaps some epithets. The same thing can be said for a goddess, if called upon as baʿălâ/baʿălat. A modern parallel is the invocation of a deity as “Lord.”

The declaration in 2:16 that Israel will no longer call YHWH ba‘al presupposes that some in Israel had called upon YHWH with this common noun, a term completely at home in the eastern Mediterranean, especially in the Phoenician-influenced areas. To call YHWH ba‘al carried with it, at least in Hosea’s eyes, an unacceptable form of syncretism with the broader Canaanite culture of which Israel was nevertheless a constituent part. YHWH was worshiped as a deity in the land of Canaan, but for Hosea not all attributes of the Canaanite deities could be applied to the one Lord of Israel.

YHWH should no longer be called ba‘al, but it would be a sign of covenant intimacy to call him husband (ʾîš). It is a metaphor, signifying intimacy as well as indicating more mutuality between God and people than was found in the hierarchy and role specificity of a Canaanite pantheon. As the gracious giver of a covenant to Israel, YHWH is the father, husband, and owner of the people. These are his identities in his relationship to Israel, reflecting modes of his self-revelation. And in his household he can be known by the simplest relational term, ʾîš. Nevertheless, YHWH is no more essentially male than collective Israel or Samaria are female. In the comprehensiveness of his being, YHWH had attributes that belonged to various deities in the Canaanite world. These attributes were not uncritically assimilated to him, and as the comprehensive Lord for Israel, YHWH transcends a defining by gender.

J. Andrew Dearman, The Book of Hosea, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 123–124.

The second example would be from Ephesians, where Paul speaks of human marriage and the image of the marriage between Christ and the Church. What is of primary importance for our allusion is not merely the fact that spouse is appropriate, but further that the husband is love and give himself up for the wife:

28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

Ephesians 5:28–31 (ESV)

The love of the spouse is overwhelming, unchanging, and thus should be transformative. As Paul writes in another place, “For the love of Christ controls us.” 2 Cor. 4:14

An Angel Feather

This last image has no parallel in Scripture, but would be an image following upon the first stanza’s references to “livery.”  If I graced with an Angel Feather, I am a courtier of the heavenly court, then why?

His Failures

Understanding the images we can easily see the failures:

Shall I thy vine branch be, yet grapes none bear?

A grape vine should grow grapes. If it does not, is it a grape vine?

Graft in thy olive stand; and fatness lack?

Fat would be the oil: If I am an “olive tree” and don’t bear olives, then what am I?

A shackeroon, a rangel, yet an heir?

A joint heir with Christ would own all things. This is underscored by the passage upon which the poem is based, “All things are yours … Christ is yours.” If I have an heirship in all things, then how could I be dressed a homeless vagrant?

Thy spouse, yet, oh! My wedding ring thus slack?

If I am a true spouse, why have I lost my wedding ring?

Should angel-feathers plume my cap, I should

Be swashed?

If I am a courtier of heaven, then why am I worthless?

The conclusion

But oh! My heart hereat grows cold.

The first two images came with startling warnings (You will be burned). The third image came as a conditional. The fourth image came with a promise (but does not that promise apply to me?). The final image comes as a confession by a traitor.

As he contemplates this, it freezes him: am I being judged?