2.1.2 Under the sun
Sayings of the Speaker, David's son, king in Jerusalem.
Utterly vain, utterly vain, everything is vain!  Man labours at his toil under the sun; what does he gain?  The generations come and go, but there the earth is, there it shall remain. The  rising sun goes down, it hurries round only to rise again.  From south to north the wind blows round, the wind turns as it blows, turning and then returning on its track.  The streams all flow into the sea, but the sea they never fill, though the streams are flowing still.  All things are aweary, weary beyond words: the eye is never satisfied, the ear has never enough.  What has been is what shall be, what has gone on is what shall go on, and there is nothing new under the sun. Men may say of something, "Ah, this is new!"–but it existed long ago before our time. The men of old are now forgotten, and men to come shall be forgotten by the folk who follow them.
I  the  Speaker was king of Israel in Jerusalem. I set myself to study and survey thoughtfully all that goes on under heaven–a sorry task this toil set to the sons of men by God!  I have seen all that goes on in this world; it is a vain, futile affair. You cannot straighten what is twisted, nor can you count up the defects in life.
Said I to myself, "Now here have I gained far more wisdom than any before me in Jerusalem, my mind has such experience of wisdom and knowledge; I have applied myself to wisdom and knowledge as  well as to mad folly, and I find it futile. The more you know, the more you suffer: the more you understand, the more you ache." 
Said I to myself, "Come, try pleasure and enjoy yourself."  But this too was in vain.   Mirth is madness, I reflected, and what is the   good of pleasure?     I searched my mind how to pamper my body with wine (keeping control of myself wisely all the time), how to come by folly, till I could see how best the sons of men might fare under heaven during the few days of their life.    I went in for great works, built mansions, planted vineyards, laid out gardens and parks  in  which  I  planted  all kinds of fruit-trees, and made pools to water the trees in my plantations;   I bought slaves, both men and women, and had slaves born within my household;   I  had  large  herds  and flocks, larger than any before me in Jerusalem;   I amassed silver and gold, right royal treasures;   I secured   singers, both men and women, and many a mistress, man's delight. Richer and richer I grew, more than any before me in Jerusalem, nor did my wisdom leave me.    Nothing I coveted did I I deny myself; I refused my heart no joy–for my heart did feel joy in all this toil; so much I did get from all my efforts. But when I turned to look at all I had achieved and at my toil and trouble, then it was all vain and futile. Nothing in this world is worth while. For what can he do who succeeds the king? Nothing but what the king has done already.
Then I turned to look into wisdom and mad folly. Wisdom is better than folly, I saw, as light is better than darkness; for the wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in the dark. But I also found that one fate falls to both. So I said to myself, "If the fool's fate is to be my fate, what is the use of all my wisdom? This too is vain,"  said I to myself. "The wise man is no more remembered than the fool, for in days to come both alike will have been long forgotten. Alas, the wise man dies like the fool!" So I hated life; for all that goes on under the sun seemed evil to me, all of it vain and futile. I hated all that I had toiled at under the sun, knowing I must leave it to the man who follows me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have it all in his own hands, all I have won by my toil and trouble and skill under the sun.
This too is vain. So I turned to despair of all my toil and trouble under the sun; for a man who has toiled skilfully and thoughtfully and ably has to leave all his gains to one who has never worked for them. This too is vain, it is a great evil.   For what  good  does  a man get himself  from all  the toil and strain of his labour in this world?    All   through  life his task is a sheer pain and vexation, day after day; the very night brings no rest to his mind. This too is vain. There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and enjoy himself as he does his work. And this, I find, is what God grants; for who can eat, who can enjoy himself, apart from God? [[To a man whom God approves he grants wisdom, knowledge, and happiness, but he sets a sinner ... the task of gathering and amassing wealth, only to leave it to -the man whom God approves: (which is indeed vain and futile).]]
Everything has its appointed; hour, there is a time for all things under heaven: 
a  time for  birth,  a time for death, 
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill, a time to heal,      
a time to break down and a time to build,    
a time to cry, a time to laugh, 
a time to mourn, a time to dance, 
a time to scatter and a time to gather, 
a time to embrace, a time to refrain,
a tune to seek, a time to lose,     
a time to keep, a time to throw away,
a time to tear, a time to sew,    
a time for silence and a time for speech,
a time for love, a time for hate, 
a time for war, a time for peace.
What does a busy man gain from his toil?  I have watched the interests that God sets the sons of men to labour at; he assigned   each to its proper time, but for the mind of man he has appointed mystery, that man may never fathom God's own purpose from beginning to end. For men, I find, there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they are alive; it is indeed God's very gift to man, that he should eat and drink and be happy as he toils. Also, I find, whatever God may do shall stand unchanged; nothing can be added to it, nothing can be taken from it.   So God orders things, that men may stand in awe of him.  Whatever is, it has already been; whatever is to be, already is; and God is ever bringing back what disappears. 
Once more I looked into the world, and there I saw wrong within the courts of justice, iniquity within the courts of religion. [[Yes, but (I said to myself) God will deal one day with the just and the unjust; 'tis he who appoints a time for everything, for all that men devise and practise.]] This, I reflected, is God showing what men are, to let them see they are no better than the beasts.  For man's fate is a beast's fate, one fate befalls them both; as the one dies so the other dies, the same breath is in them all; man is no better than a beast, for both are vanity, both are bound for the same end; both sprang from the dust, and to the dust they both return. Who can tell if the spirit of man goes upward, while the spirit of a beast goes down into the earth? So I saw the best thing for man was to be happy in his work; that is what he gets out of life, for who can show him what is to happen afterwards?
I looked again and saw all the oppression that goes on in the world; there were the oppressed in tears, with no one to redress their wrongs–tyrants in power and the oppressed in tears, with no one to redress their wrongs! So I judged the dead already in their graves to be more happy than the living who were still alive; yes, and happier than them both the man unborn, who has never known the misery that goes on in the world.
Also I saw that human toil and skill mean jealousy between man   and man. (This too is vain and futile!)   He is a fool who folds his hands and lets life go to ruin.    Still, one handful of content is better than two hands full of toil and futile effort.   I saw another futile thing  under  the  sun–a  lone man,  kinless,  without  son  or brother, and yet toiling on to make money; he cannot satisfy himself with what he gains, and he never asks for whose sake he is toiling and stinting himself of pleasure.    This too is vain, a sorry business. Two are better than one; they come well off in all they undertake, for if one falls the other man can raise his fellow. But woe betide a lonely man who falls,  with none to help him  up!   Again,   if  two  men lie together they keep warm; but  how can   any man keep warm  alone?   Also,  two  men can stand up to a robber, when a  single  man would  be overpowered.   And a threefold cord is not easily broken.
A  young  man, lowly  born and wise, is better than an old and silly king who will no longer take advice; in a rebellion the  young  man  may  rise  to  the throne, although he was born poor within the realm.   I have seen all the living on earth side with such a youth, who was destined to reign instead of the old king; no end of people hailed him as their leader. Yet later on men lost all interest in him! This too is vain and futile.
Never enter God's house carelessly; draw near him to listen, and then your service is better than what fools offer–for all a fool knows is how to do wrong. Never be rash with your lips, never let your heart hurry you into words before God. God is in heaven, and you are on earth; so let your words be few. For as many worries mean that a man will dream, so many words mean  that a fool is talking. When you vow a vow to God, pay it without delay (for the vows of fools displease him).  Pay your vow; better not vow at all than vow and fail to pay. Never allow your lips to lay you open to punishment; never say to God, "I vowed that by mistake," lest God be angry at your excuse and undo you. Stand in awe of God [[for many dreams and words mean many a vain folly]].
When you see the poor being oppressed or right and justice tampered with in the State, be not surprised; it is one official preying on another. But over both there is a supreme authority; after all, a country prospers with a king who has control.
A lover of money will never be satisfied with his money, and a lover of wealth will never make anything of it (this too is vain!). The more a man gains, the more there are to spend it, while the owner can only look on. Sweet is the worker's sleep, whether he has much to eat or little; but the satiety of the rich keeps them from sleeping.   A sore evil have I seen in the world, wealth hoarded to the owner's loss: in some unlucky venture it is lost, and the man has nothing to leave to his son.   Naked he came from his mother's womb, and naked he must return; for all his toil, he has nothing to take with him. A sore evil this, that as he came so he must go.    What does he gain by all his futile toil, spending his days in gloominess, privations, deep anxieties, distress, and fits of anger?
Here is what I find right and good for man–to eat and drink and to be happy as he toils at his task on earth, during the few days God  gives him to live.   Such is his lot; yes, it is God's own gift when a man is made rich and wealthy and able to enjoy it all, to partake of what may be allotted him and to enjoy himself as he toils.    Then he will never brood over the fewness of his days, for God is giving him his heart's delight. There is an evil I have seen under the  sun,  that presses heavily on men–God making a man  rich, wealthy,  and  honoured,  till  he  has  everything his heart desires, and yet he is unable to enjoy it; an outsider gets the good of it.   This is vain, a sore misfortune. A man may have a hundred children and live many a long year, but if he gets no joy of his prosperity and dies unburied, he is worse off, I hold, than an untimely birth that lifeless comes and darkling goes without a name; the sun it never saw nor knew, but it is better off.   The man may live a thousand years twice told, but if he never enjoys himself,  then are not both alike bound for the same end?
A man toils on to satisfy his hunger, but his wants are never met.
A wise man fares no better than a fool; no more does a poor man who lives uprightly. Better a joy at hand than wants that roam abroad.
Whatever happens has been determined long ago, and what man is has been ordained of old; he cannot argue with One mightier than himself, and lavish talk about it only means more folly. What is the use of talking? Who can tell what is good for man in life, during the few days of his empty life that passes like a shadow? For who can tell a man what is to happen in this world when he is gone? A good name in life is better than none, but the day of death is better than the day of birth.
Better go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting; for death is the end of all men, and the living should keep that in mind.  Grief is better than gaiety, for sadness does the soul good.  The heart of wise men turns to the house of mourning, the heart of fools turns to the house of mirth. 
Better attend to censure from the wise than listen to a song from fools;  for like nettles crackling under kettles is the cackle of a fool. 
This too is vain: for a judge to make a fool of himself by oppression, and for life to be ruined by the taking of bribes.
The end of a business is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.  
Never be hasty in your anger; it is only fools who cherish wrath. 
Never ask why the past was better than the present: that is a foolish question. 
Wisdom is as good as an inheritance, a real profit for mankind; for wisdom like wealth is a defence, but knowledge does more good than money, it safeguards a man's life. 
Ponder the doings of God: who can straighten what he twists?
In prosperous days enjoy yourself, but in evil days ponder this, that the one is the doing of God as well as the other–all to keep man from knowing what is to happen.
All manner of things have I seen in my fleeting life, the good man perishing by his very goodness and the evil man flourishing upon his evil.    Be not over-good,  be not  over- wise; why expose    yourself to trouble?  And be not over-evil either, do not play the fool; why die before your time?   The best way is to take the one line, and yet not avoid the other  [[for he who stands in awe of God shall avoid both extremes]]    [[Wisdom is better  protection for the wise than a dozen   wardens  for  a city]], for there is not a single good man   upon  earth whose good   deeds are   without   some sin.   
One thing more.  Never listen  to all  that people say; you may hear your own slave cursing you.   And many a time, you must confess, you yourself have cursed other people.
All this I have tested by means of wisdom. I thought to become wise, but wisdom remained out of reach. Reality is beyond my grasp; deep it lies, very deep, and no one can lay hands upon the heart of things.  I cast about in my mind to know and survey and discover wisdom and the reason of things, finding that wickedness is folly and folly madness; and I discovered something, something more bitter even than death– the woman who entangles men, whose heart is a net, whose clasp is a chain [[A man by God's good favour shall escape her, but she will snare a sinner]]. Vainly have I sought over and again the truth of things, putting together this and that; but here is what I have found, says the Speaker: one true man in a thousand, but never a true woman! Here is all I have been able to discover: God made the race of men upright, but many a cunning wile have they contrived. 
Who is like a wise man? Who can explain things?  Man's wisdom lights his face up, it transfigures even a rough countenance.
Obey the king, for you swore him loyalty before God.  Rebel not rashly against him, never thwart him, for he does as he pleases; the king's word is su-preme, and none dare ask him what he means. No one knows what a king may do, and none can tell when he will do it. He who obeys the royal command will never come to harm. Still, the wise heart knows there is a tune of judgment coming, even though to-day men are being crushed under the king in misery; for all there is an hour of judgment.  No man can hold the winds in check or control the day of death; in war there is no furlough, and wrong is no shield for wrongdoers. All this I saw, as thoughtfully I pondered what goes on within this world whenever men have power over their fellows, power to injure them.
Then I saw bad men being borne to burial, carried to their rest, while the pious had to leave the sanctuary and were forgotten in the city (which also is vanity!).   [[Because sentence on a crime is not executed at once, the mind of man is prone to evil practices; but although a sinner may sin repeatedly and thrive, I know it is the reverent who are safe, as they revere God, while the bad man fares ill–he cannot thrive, for lives that lack all reverence for God pass   like   a   shadow.]]    Here again is a vanity that goes on in the world: good men fare as though they were wicked, and wicked men fare as though they were good.    This, I repeat, is vanity.    So I praise pleasure: the best thing for man is to eat and drink and enjoy himself, and to keep this up as he toils right through the life God gives him in this world.
When I gave my mind to the study of wisdom, to study all the busy life of the world, I found that man is unable to grasp the truth of all that God does in this world; he may labour in his efforts to attain it, in a sleepless quest for it by day and night, but he will never find it out; a wise man may think he is coming on the secret, but .even he will never find it out. For this I realize, this;  I see clearly, that the just and wise and all their doings are within the power of God. Will he love them? Will he hate them? None can tell; anything may happen to them. And for all men alike there is one fate, for just and unjust, good and bad, pure and impure, for him who sacrifices and for him who never sacrifices; as with the good man, so with the sinner; the profane man fares like the man whose oath is sacred. There is no evil like this in the world, that all men have one fate; it makes men seethe with evil aims and mad desires during their life, and then they join the dead–not one is left. Any one still alive has something to live for (even a live dog is better than a dead lion); the living know this at least, that they must die. But the dead know nothing, they have nothing for their labour, their very memory is forgotten, their love has vanished with their hate and jealousy, and they have no share now in anything that goes on in the world. 
Come, eat your food with joy and drink your wine with a glad heart, for this has God's approval. Wear white robes always, and spare not oil for your head; enjoy life with the woman whom you love, through all the fleeting life which God has given you in this world, for this is what you are meant to get out of your life of toil under the sun. Throw yourself into any pursuit that may appeal to you, for there is no pursuit, no plan, no knowledge or intelligence within the grave where you are going.
I looked at life again: in this world the race is not won by the swift, nor battles by the brave, nor bread by the wise, nor wealth by the clever, nor honour by the learned; death and misfortune happen to them all. For no man knows his hour; like fish caught in the deadly net, like birds trapped in a snare, so men are snared by an evil hour that drops upon them suddenly.
Here is another case of wisdom which I have seen on earth, and I was struck by it.   A little town there was, with few men in it; and a great king attacked it, he invested it, and built great siegeworks round it.    However, a  poor  wise  man  was  found within the town, who saved it by his skill.    And not a soul remembered that   poor man!  Wisdom is better than strength, I reflected; still, a poor man's wisdom wins no honour or deference for him. Wise words heard in quiet far excel shouts from a ringleader of revelers.
Wisdom is better than weapons of war: often a single error spoils good strategy.  
A poisonous fly makes perfume putrid: a grain of folly mars wisdom and honour. 
A wise man's sense will keep him right:  a fool's mind leads him wrong. Even on a walk the fool shows lack of sense,for he calls everyone a fool. If a ruler's wrath   flares up against you, do not resign your post; defer to him, and you will pacify his rage.
Here is an evil I have seen on earth, a ruler blundering without meaning it: fools often get high posts from him, while the noble have a lowly seat; so have I seen slaves on horseback, and   princes plodding afoot like slaves.
He who digs a pit may fall into it, he who breaks a wall down may be bitten by a serpent. 
He who quarries stones may be hurt by them, he who cuts logs may get a wound. 
If the axe is blunt and its edge un whetted, more strength must be put into the blow; successful skill comes from shrewd sense.
If a serpent bites before it is charmed, then  the  charmer's  skill  is useless.  
The  words  of wise  men  win them favour, but a fool's lips are his rum; his words are folly from the start, and they end in mad mischief; a fool prates on and on; even the stupid are weary of his fussiness.
Man knows not what is to be: who can tell him what happens when he is gone?
Woe betide you, 0 land, when your king is a mere boy, and your princes revel in the morning! Well for you when your king is nobly born, and  princes  revel at right hours, stalwart men, not sots!
Sloth make the rafters sink: when  hands  are  slack,   the
roof will leak.
Men feast for merrymaking, and drink for revelry– and money does it all! 
Curse not the king, not even on your couch, curse not the rich, even in your bedchamber; for a bird of the air may carry
the sound, and  wings  may  betray the secret. 
Trust your goods far and wide at sea,   _ " till you get good returns after a while.
Take shares in several ventures; you never know what will go
wrong in this world. When clouds are full of rain, they drench the earth; as the stick falls, to south or north, where the stick falls it lies. 
He whose eye is on the wind will never sow; he who  studies  clouds  will never reap. As you know not how the wind blows, nor how a babe in the womb grows, so you cannot know how God works, God who is in everything. 
Sow your seed in the morning of life, and stay not your hand till evening; you never know if this or that shall prosper, or whether both shall have success.
Sweet is the light of life, and pleasant is it for the eyes to see   the  sun.   If a man live many years, let him have joy throughout them all;  let him remember that the dark days will be many.   All that comes after death is emptiness. So rejoice in your youth, young man, be blithe in the flower of your age; follow your heart's desire and all that attracts you [[but be sure that for all this God will bring you to account]]; banish  all  worries  from your mind, and keep your body free from pain (for youth and manhood will not last)  [[but remember your Creator in the flower of your age]], ere evil days come on, and years approach when you shall say, "I have no joy in them"; ere the sun grows dark, and the light goes from moon and stars, and the clouds gather after rain; when the guards tremble in the house of Life, when its upholders bow, when the maids that grind are few and fail, and ladies at the lattice lose their lustre, when the doors to the street are shut, and the sound of the mill runs low, when the twitter of birds is faint, and dull the daughters of song, when old age fears a height, and even a walk has its terrors, when his hair is almond white, and he drags his limbs along, and the spirit flags and fades.
So man goes to his long, long home, and mourners pass along the street, on the day when the silver cord is snapped, and the golden lamp drops broken, when the pitcher breaks at the fountain, the wheel breaks at the cistern, when the dust returns to earth once more, and the spirit  to God who gave it.
Utterly  vain–it is the Speaker's verdict–everything is vain!
The more wise the Speaker became, the more he taught the people knowledge; many a maxim he pondered and examined and arranged.   The Speaker's aim was to find pleasing words, even  as he put down plainly what was true.   A wise man's words are like goads, and his collected sayings are like nails driven home; they put the mind of one man into many a life.  My son, avoid anything beyond the scriptures of wisdom; there is no end to the buying of books, and to study books closely is  a  weariness  to the flesh.
To sum it all up, in conclusion.   Stand in awe of God, obey his orders: that  is everything for every man.   For in judging all life's secrets God will have every single thing before him, to decide  whether it is  good or evil.
James Moffatt's translation 1913