What is the special occasion in the poem "Wellfleet Sabbath"?Wellfleet Sabbath by Marge Piercy   The hawk eye of the sun slowly shuts.The breast of the bay is softly feathereddove grey. The sky is...

What is the special occasion in the poem "Wellfleet Sabbath"?

Wellfleet Sabbath by Marge Piercy

 

The hawk eye of the sun slowly shuts.
The breast of the bay is softly feathered
dove grey. The sky is barred like the sand
when the tide trickles out.

The great doors of the Sabbath are swinging
open over the ocean, loosing the moon
floating up slow distorted vast, a copper
balloon just sailing free.

The wind slides over the waves, patting
them with its giant hand, and the sea
stretches its muscles in the deep,
purrs and rolls over.

The sweet beeswax candles flicker
and sigh, standing between the phlox
and the roast chicken.  The wine shines
its red lantern of joy.

Here on this piney sandspit, the Shekinah
comes on the short strong wings of the seaside
sparrow raising her song and bringing 
down the fresh clean night.

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jmj616 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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The novelist and poet Marge Piercy lives in Wellfleet, Maine, which is located in the seaside area of Cape Cod.  In the poem "Wellfleet Sabbath," Piercy describes the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath in her home by the sea.

The Jewish Sabbath begins Friday evening at sundown and continues until nightfall on Saturday evening.  Thus, Pierce's poem begins as the "hawk eye of the sun slowly shuts"--that is, at sundown.

Stanzas 1-3 describe the appearance of the bay, the ocean, and the moon as night, and the Sabbath, take hold.  The most important aspect of the Jewish Sabbath is peaceful rest, which Piercy alludes to with an anthropomorphism:

the sea
stretches its muscles in the deep,
purrs and rolls over.

 

In Stanza 4, Piercy mentions three important ritual symbols of the Sabbath:

a) candles, which are lit just before sundown;

b) roast chicken, which is the main course of a traditional Sabbath eve dinner; and

c) wine, which is used to recite a blessing thanking God for the Sabbath.

The poem ends with a description of how

the Shekinah
comes on the short strong wings of the seaside
sparrow raising her song and bringing 
down the fresh clean night.

"Shekina" is a Hebrew word roughly translated as the "presence of God"; in Jewish mysticism, it is often described in gentle,feminine terms.  Here, Piercy imagines it fluttering in on "the short strong wings of the seaside sparrow."  Like many poets before her, Piercy finds God in nature. 

 

 

 

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