Out of Paradise

I was in wonder as I crossed the borders of Paradise
at how well-being, as though a companion,
     turned round and remained behind.
And when I reached the shore of earth,
     the mother of thorns,
I encountered all kinds of pain and suffering.
I learned how, compared to Paradise,
     our abode is but a dungeon;
yet the prisoners within it weep when they leave it!

I was amazed at how even infants weep
     as they leave the womb —
weeping because they come out from darkness into light
and from suffocation they issue forth into this world!
Likewise death, too, is for the world
a symbol of birth,
     and yet people weep because they are born
out of this world, the mother of suffering,
     into the Garden of splendors.

Have pity on me, O Lord of Paradise,
and if it is not possible for me to enter Your Paradise,
grant that I may graze outside, by its enclosure:
within, let there be spread the table for the diligent,
but may the fruits within its enclosure
     drop outside like the crumbs
for sinners, so that, through Your grace, they may live!

St Ephrem the Syrian. from the Hymns on Paradise, 5:13-15. From Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems, by Sebastian Brock and George Kiraz (Brigham Young University Press, 2006).


  1. Okay, you are so cheating when you use St. Ephrem, because all I can use are terrible translations that cost a fortune. My favorite so far is the Hymn Against Bar-Daisian.

  2. Steve, it’s all good. St Ephrem manages to be effective even in awful translations, I’m sure! I’ve yet to run into something he’s written that isn’t striking and powerful and effecting a change of some sort.

    Esteban, yes, do. This is the bilingual edition (pointed Syriac and English). There’s a nice short review of it here. I got my copy through Gorgias Press, when they were having a sale, along with a passel of other Syriac-related tomage. They have great sales when they have them!

  3. I love St Ephrem’s works; he is a blessing to me in many ways — I find his poetry communicates to me where I struggle with concepts. Thanks for this extract: the last verse you quoted has been a favourite of mine since I first read it.

  4. Thanks for posting this, Kevin.

    I am still amazed by the profound wisdom infused with great humility that is so characteristic of the Orthodox, especially in the writings of the Fathers.

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