The English poet William Blake is almost as well known for his engravings and watercolors as he is for his poetry. In 1795 he produced this watercolor depicting the scene in the book of Ruth when Naomi has just informed her Moabite daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, that she is returning to her native land of Judah. She encourages each of them to return to their “mother’s home.” In response, Ruth and Orpah “wept aloud and said to her, ‘We will go back with you to your people.’” Blake has captured the pathos of the moment. Ruth clings to Naomi while Orpah turns in tears toward her Moabite home. Ruth explains her decision “Where you go, I will go . . .” Ruth’s words are often used in wedding ceremonies to express vows between spouses. In their biblical context, they express a loyalty that goes beyond family ties or national allegiance. “Your people will be my people, and your God my God.”
First portions to my husband, then the boys. I eat what’s left behind, grow willowy, more like a girl than I ever was.
My clothes curtain, I think of cutting the excess to sell, for what? There’s nothing left in this town, we are the only harvest to ripen white in the wind.
My husband says sometimes God allows pain to cause us to move. I pack our things.
The last cow to calf was three springs past, and now I boil its bones to make broth.
Naomi’s sojourn Ruth 1:1
The grain fled from our hands. Harvest brought no yield. Each day turned to us—empty faces, empty faces, and our sons’ mouths gaped wider. My fat of childbirth negotiated to rib, our children’s bellies bloat. I cut the oil by half and by half til we are eating water, some dirt. Hunger becomes the greater God; it gnaws us like a bone. We leave our home.
What they say of you, they say of me, the girls you were a girl with, the men you did not choose, I will not choose. I will carry what you carry, like a child, on my hip that has never born a child, heavy as a child who will not follow your voice. Your home built of sorrow will be my sorrow, the wasp pressed against the inside of the pane, my pane, the slackening of your skin, loosened skin around the eyes, will be my loosening, your hair gone colorless will be my own lack of color. Your cup of bitter waters is my cup of bitter waters and together we will drink it, until the bowl has gone dry as a skull.