vale of tears

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Calque of Latin lacrimārum vallis from the “Salve Regina” (a hymn to the Virgin Mary), based on Hebrew עמק הבכא(ʿēmeq habbāḵāʾ) from Psalm 84:6 of the Bible. The Hebrew term may mean “valley of the baka tree”, a tree of uncertain species (compare 2 Samuel 5:23–24[1] where baka is used to refer to a tree, and is often translated into English as “balsam tree”, “mulberry tree”, or “poplar tree”), but ancient Greek translations assumed the word intended was בָּכָה(bakhá, to cry, weep) and so rendered the term as “valley of weeping”, which was then used in Latin and English translations. See, for example, the Douay–Rheims Bible (1610) where the verse is numbered as Psalm 83:6.[2]



vale of tears (plural vales of tears) (idiomatic, often literary or poetic)

  1. (in the singular) The world, a place where difficulties and the sorrows of life are felt, especially (Christianity) as a place to be left behind when one dies and goes to heaven.
    • 1654, Samuel Clark[e], “The Life of Vitus Theodorus, who Dyed Anno Christi 1549”, in The Marrow of Ecclesiastical History, Contained in the Lives of One Hundred Forty Eight Fathers, Schoolmen, First Reformers, and Modern Divines which Have Flourished in the Church since Christ’s Time to this Present Age: [], 2nd enlarged edition, London: Printed for T. V. and are to be sold by William Roybould [], OCLC 1118052517, page 323:
      He [Vitus Theodorus] was called to be a Paſtor at Norinberg, his own country, [...] till it pleaſed God to put an end to his labors, by tranſlating him out of this vale of tears into his Everlaſting Kingdom, Anno Chriſti 1549.
    • 1708 June 4, [Urith Bunchley], A Funeral Sermon upon the Death of Mrs. Urith Bunchley, Daughter to Sir Austin Palgrave, Bart. who Departed this Life May the 21st. Preached at Clavering in Essex, May the 24th, 1708 [Julian calendar]. [] By a Presbyter of the Church of England, London: Printed for S. Bunchley, and are to be sold by J[ohn] Morphew, [], OCLC 771324095, page 10:
      While we ſojourn in this vale of Tears and Sorrow, we are detain'd from the bleſſ'd Sight and Enjoyment of God; and kept from the Happineſs of juſt Men made perfect.
    • 1749, Miguel Cervantes de Saavedra, “Of the Strange Adventure, which Befel the Valorous Don Quixote with the Wain or Cart of the Parliament of Death”, in Charles Jarvis, transl., The Life and Exploits of the Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha. Translated from the Original Spanish [], volume II, 2nd edition, London: Printed for J[acob] and R[ichard] Tonson and S. Draper [], and R[obert] Dodsley [], OCLC 745000636, page 57:
      But let us recommend all to god, who alone know what ſhall befal in this vale of tears, this evil world we have here, in which there is ſcarce any thing to be found without ſome mixture of iniquity, impoſture, or knavery.
    • 1832, [Edward Bulwer-Lytton], chapter XI, in Eugene Aram. A Tale. [], volume I, London: Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, [], OCLC 49755006, book I, page 192:
      Body o' me, it makes a man sick of his kind, ashamed to belong to the race of men, to see the envy that abounds in this here sublunary wale[sic – meaning vale] of tears!
    • 1853, Leigh Hunt, “[Exercises of the Heart in Its Duties and Aspirations.] XXI. Of Tears and Laughter.”, in The Religion of the Heart. A Manual of Faith and Duty. [], London: John Chapman, [], OCLC 1972357, page 61:
      We must not call earth a vale of tears. It is neither pious to do so, nor in any respect proper. We might as well, nay, with far greater propriety, call it a field of laughter.
    • 1889, Mark Twain [pseudonym; Samuel Langhorne Clemens], “The Pilgrims”, in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, New York, N.Y.: Charles L. Webster & Company, OCLC 1072888, page 260:
      I excused myself and dropped to the rear of the procession, sad at heart, willing to go hence from this troubled life, this vale of tears, this brief day of broken rest, of cloud and storm, of weary struggle and monotonous defeat; and yet shrinking from the change, as remembering how long eternity is, and how many have wended thither who know that anecdote.
    • 1983, Umberto Eco, “In which Adso Receives the Confidences of Salvatore, which Cannot be Summarized in a Few Words, but which Cause Him Long and Concerned Meditation”, in William Weaver, transl., The Name of the Rose: Translated from the Italian, London: Secker & Warburg, →ISBN; republished London: Vintage Books, 2004, →ISBN, page 180:
      Driven by such a hope, as if refusing to recognize this world as a vale of tears where (as they taught me) even injustice is foreordained by Providence to maintain the balance of things, whose design often eludes us, Salvatore journeyed through various lands, from his native Montferrat toward Liguria, then up through Provence into the lands of the King of France.
    • 1999, Dwain Campbell, “Prologue”, in Tales from the Frozen Ocean, St. John’s, Nfld.: Jesperson Publishing, →ISBN, page 10:
      So it was steady as she goes as Sally was hustled into bed, and on the stroke of twelve a fourth Aintree child entered this vale of tears.
    • 2005, Daniel Hillel, “Epilogue: The Lasting Relevance of Early Ecological Influences”, in The Natural History of the Bible: An Environmental Exploration of the Hebrew Scriptures, New York, N.Y.; Chichester, West Sussex: Columbia University Press, →ISBN, page 227:
      As we devour the Earth's resources and despoil the environment, we are driving ourselves into a metaphoric vale of tears.
  2. A particular place of sorrow or suffering.
    • a. 1722, Matthew Prior, “Solomon on the Vanity of the World”, in The Poetical Works of Matthew Prior, Esq. [], Edinburgh: Printed by Mundell and Son, [], published 1793, OCLC 931361946; republished in A Complete Edition of the Poets of Great Britain, volume VII, London: Printed for Iohn & Arthur Arch, []; Edinburgh: Bell & Bradfute and I. Mundell & Co., 1793, OCLC 926771470, book I (Knowledge), page 473, column 2:
      That, in this pilgrimage of ſeventy years, / O'er rocks of perils, and through vales of tears, / Deſtin'd to march, our doubtful ſteps we tend, / Tir'd with the toil, yet fearful of its end: [...]
    • 1772, Anna Lætitia Aikin [i.e., Anna Laetitia Barbauld], “An Address to the Deity”, in Poems, 3rd corrected edition, London: Printed for Joseph Johnson, [], published 1773, OCLC 1112869814, page 128:
      If, friendleſs, in a vale of tears I ſtray, / Where briers wound, and thorns perplex my way, / Still let my ſteady ſoul thy goodneſs ſee, / And with ſtrong confidence lay hold on thee; [...]
    • 1782, William Cowper, “Conversation”, in Poems, London: [] J[oseph] Johnson, [], OCLC 1029672464, page 256:
      But though life's valley be a vale of tears, / A brighter ſcene beyond that vale appears, / Whoſe glory with a light that never fades, / Shoots between ſcattered rocks and opening ſhades, / And while it ſhows the land the ſoul deſires, / The language of the land ſhe ſeeks, inſpires.
    • 1821, [Louise Demont], chapter XLII, in Voyages and Travels of Her Majesty, Caroline Queen of Great Britain: [], London: Printed for and published by Jones & Co. [], OCLC 559166163, page 662:
      Jerusalem is the city of tombs; the valleys of Halcedoma and Jehoshephat are covered with them; and the living appear to have no other task assigned to them than that of keeping watch over these deposits of ashes. [...] Such are these places of lamentations—these vales of tears—these vast repositories of death.
    • 1992, Kwame Anthony Appiah, “The Invention of Africa”, in In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture, New York, N.Y.; Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, →ISBN, page 23:
      [I]n the New World, Christianity had provided the major vehicle of cultural expression for the slaves. It could not be denied them in a Christian country—and it provided them with solace in their "vale of tears," guiding them through "the valley of the shadow."

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  1. ^ The Holy Bible, [] (King James Version), London: [] Robert Barker, [], 1611, OCLC 964384981, 2 Samuel 5:23.
  2. ^ The Second Tome of the Holie Bible, Faithfvlly Translated into English, ovt of the Avthentical Latin. [] (Douay–Rheims Bible), printed at Doway [Douai, France]: By Lavrence Kellam, [], 1610, OCLC 1006139495, Psalm LXXXIII:6, page 157: “Blessed is the man, whose helpe is from thee: he hath disposed ascension in his hart, in the vaile of teares, in the place, which he hath appointed.”.

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