Way back in 1992, the year all for One was founded, a friend of mine suggested that I should write a play based on the book of Ruth. I had previously written a one-man show about Martin Luther and the Reformation, and some very short dramas for church. I loved the idea of a play about Ruth, and since I’d been toying with the idea of a blank-verse play, I decided to write the Ruth script in that meter. The Redemption of Ruth is written in unrhymed iambic pentameter, and employs imagery from harvesting as well as refinement of precious metals. It also uses extensive allusion to other parts of the Hebrew and Greek scriptures.
A word about poetry, for those who don’t recall their high school English class:
–some poetry rhymes; much does not (e.g., the Psalms in Hebrew, Beowulf in Old English, haiku poems in Japanese).
–some poetry has meter, a rhythm which is regular. We speak of “feet” or groups of syllables which can be stressed or unstressed, and the various rhythm patterns have names.
Iambic pentameter is a very common meter in poetry, especially for blank verse (poetry which has rhythm but not rhyme). Iambic feet are short-LONG, with the second syllable accented, as in the word conTROL. Pentameter refers to the fact that there are five “feet” per line. Shakespeare’s plays are written largely in this meter.
An element common to most poetry is imagery: poems often use concrete images to say something about an abstract idea, and they typically do so in very compact language. Ruth and Boaz both compare the ripe barley to gold, a precious metal then and now. Ruth says “the fields are gilded thick with golden heads of grain.” Boaz asks, “Could I melt it down and find some pure gold hidden in the coarseness of the straw and chaff?”
Both characters also use the imagery of winnowing to speak of the purification from sin, and the drawing of a foreigner into the house of Israel. In the play’s climax, as Ruth secretly watches Boaz winnowing barley, they speak a choral hymn which joins the two metaphors.
BOAZ: “You’ve threshed Your People, Lord, time after time,
with famine, plague, with foreign enemies,
hoping to sep’rate Israel from sin’s
dead chaff. Now cleanse us, God, by winnowing
our hearts’ grain and send straw, hay, stubble out!
Away upon a purifying wind!”
RUTH: …”You’ve threshed their hearts, now thresh my own
and see if there is any gold in me. Blow on my heart—”
BOAZ: “You Wind of God!”
RUTH: “–and take the shame and the uncleanness…”
BOAZ: “All our dross melt with Your mouth’s keen heat!”
RUTH: …”and carry it away on wings of wind!”
BOAZ: “With tongues of fire the chaff is burnt and rises,
smoke and dust curling far up into
the misty blue of heaven.”
The other element I want to mention is the frequent allusion to other passages of Scripture. Boaz is the great-grandfather of David, the Bible’s most famous poet. I wanted to suggest that the poetic gift ran in the family, and since much of David’s poetic imagery involves appreciation for God’s created order and provision, it was easy to borrow some of the psalms for Boaz’ prayers. There are also hints of Solomon’s Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, as well as a couple of nods to St. Paul, himself a superb Hebrew scholar.