While I sat in church this past weekend the speaker read a verse out loud that blew me away. The prophet Ezekiel compares Jerusalem to an abandoned infant:
“On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in clothes. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised. Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, ‘Live!’” (Ezekiel 16: 4-6)
Immediately I thought of Jean Toomer’s “Cane”. This Bible verse specifically made me think of “Karintha”, the first story in the first arc of the book. Karintha had a child in the forest. It “fell out of her womb onto a bed of pine needles” (Toomer, 4-5). There is some strong contrasting details that caught my attention.
When one thinks of a newborn baby they can picture the umbilical cord still attached to a slippery, smooth and bloody little body. Rubbing a baby in salt was meant to make the skin firmer and denser. In Karintha, Toomer chose to mention that “pine needles are smooth and sweet.” That is almost alluding to the fact that the baby was never taken care of and was laying on the forest floor still in its slippery and vulnerable state.
“They are elastic to the feet of rabbits” (Toomer, 5). One cannot help but think of a cord that “was not cut” (Ezekiel 16: 4) when they read those words. A newborn baby’s status on the food chain is below a rabbits when it is lying on a forest floor.
After having this in the back of my mind I realized that the Bible verse seemed to relate intertextually to Sophocles, “Oedipus the King”. Oedipus was despised on the day he was born because prophecy said that he would kill his father. His father took him “down the woody flanks of Mount Cithaeron” (Sophocles, 219) and left him there to die.
In Ezekiel 16: 6 it says, “Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, ‘Live!’” Oedipus would have been bloody because he was just born and his ankles were pinned together. A herdsman came across the baby Oedipus and took him in just like how God saved Jerusalem when they needed it most. Years later Oedipus is surprised to find out that it was only a herdsman that saved his life and the herdsman replies, “Your savior too, my son, in your worst hour” (Sophocles, 219). This sentence alone shows how Oedipus could be compared to Jerusalem and how the herdsman could be compared to God.
One can easily see how “Oedipus the King” and “Karintha” in “Cane” are related intertextually with Ezekiel 16: 4-6. It amazed me and I thought it would be interesting to share.
NIV Thinline Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005. Print. New Intl. Vers.
Sophocles. The Three Theban Plays. 1982. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin, 1984. Print.
Toomer, Jean. Cane. New York: Liveright, 2011. Print.