Ecclesiastes "The Golden Bowl"


"The Golden Bowl"

Context: This quotation is the title of a novel by Henry James wherein the breaking of a golden bowl symbolizes the end of a strained family relationship. The writer of Ecclesiastes, the preacher, speaks of the futility of this life, where everything–wisdom, pleasure, labor, hope, and desire–ends with death and the grave. Even before death, in this life, the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer; the ways of God are beyond human understanding. All one can do, "the conclusion of the whole matter," is to "Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man." Particularly in youth, says the preacher, must man remember his creator and rejoice in life as youth knows it. He warns that old age and death inevitably come to every generation, and he remarks upon the end of life, when every man must fear the judgment of God upon his actions, when life and its infirmities become a burden, and when the mourners will soon be in the street. The days of this life are short, but the days in the grave, our "long home," are long and many. Of death itself the writer of Ecclesiastes writes symbolically, noting it comes in many ways: as the loosening of a cord, the breaking of a bowl, the breaking of a pitcher, or the breaking of a wheel at a cistern:

Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.