Ecclesiastes: 3: 1-8 (Turn! Turn! Turn!)

We have reached the third chapter of Ecclesiastes (at least, I wrote about the last verse of the second chapter, a couple of weeks ago) and it begins like this:

To every [thing there is] a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up [that which is] planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.

There. Now it’s stuck in your head, too. Unless you weren’t around in the 1970s, I suppose.

If you weren’t around, you may have difficulty understanding how popular this song was. Long the best of Pete Seeger’s tunes, it sounded from the first as if it had always been around. And by the time I remember, it had been around for ten years or so.

It seemed to be beyond genre. Nina Simone sang it. Johnny Cash sang it. Marlene Dietrich sang it. Choirs sang it. It was everywhere. It still is.

I don’t really know why. I mean, catchy tune, yes, and whatnot, but I wonder what anyone thought it meant. Some of the versions sound sad, as if the singer is wistfully describing the impermanence of everything. Some sound upbeat, as if the singer is optimistically predicting that this, too, shall pass.

Some are almost triumphant, as if the singer is proclaiming the permanence of a world that is, on the whole, good, despite any temporary drawbacks. It’s clearly a song a lot of people like to sing, but I don’t really know why. I mean, other than it being a good song, of course. There’s a quote from Roger McGuinn saying that it had “a good message, [and] a good melody.” The melody is surely lovely, and their intro is one of the greats, but what exactly is the good message?

I remember liking the song a lot, as a kid, but I have to say I don’t remember what I thought it was about. I’m curious what y’all think of it. Tori Amos seems to think it’s a sad, sweet song. Bruce Springsteen thinks it’s a rocker. Phil Lesh and Bill Frisell think it’s a hoot. Wilson Phillips think it’s kinda funky, with some soul. This all-star country line-up seem to think it’s about the things that last: land, I guess, and family, and country music all-stars.

Your Humble Blogger will be poring over the words, over the next stretch of time, with the usual interminable tedium that you have come to expect here. It’s possible that I will come to some sort of conclusion about what they mean to me; it’s unlikely that will be what they meant to all those wonderful vocalists. But going in to the process, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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