The idea of “and Jeremiah Wept” is both a fascination and a complication. If we weep for others, are we weak, or empathetic? Framing matters. A hundred years ago, openly weeping for a friend may have been seen as inappropriate, but today, a public weeping may be assigned as a sign of strength of character in the bleeding heart of dismay.
Here’s how ChatGPT explains the history of “And Jeremiah Wept” in context:
“And Jeremiah Wept” is a phrase that comes from the book of Jeremiah in the Bible. In the book of Jeremiah, the prophet Jeremiah is known for his lamentations and tears over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity of the Israelites. The phrase “And Jeremiah Wept” refers to the many instances in the book where Jeremiah is portrayed as weeping or mourning over the hardships faced by his people.
The phrase has come to symbolize sorrow, grief, and mourning, and is often used to express sympathy or empathy for someone who is going through a difficult time. It is also sometimes used as a title for works of art, music, or literature that depict sorrow or tragedy.
In a broader sense, “And Jeremiah Wept” can be seen as a representation of the human experience of sadness and loss, and serves as a reminder that even the greatest prophets and leaders in history were not immune to the pains of life.
This idea of Jeremiah weeping struck me as I read a 1999 New Yorker magazine article about the great playwright Arthur Miller [emphasis mine].
Last year, in a poll taken by the Royal National Theatre of eight hundred English theatre professionals, Miller was voted the greatest contemporary playwright; but in America, where in some quarters he’s seen as a kind of Jeremiah, Miller is not accorded quite the same honor. He ascribes his decline in popularity to the erosion of the “unified audience” that came with the rise of the avant-garde in the early sixties. “The only theatre available to a playwright in the late forties was Broadway,” Miller writes in the fiftieth-anniversary edition of “Salesman.” “That theatre had one single audience . . . catering to very different levels of age, culture, education, and intellectual sophistication.”
The fact that America — the American Theatre Movement that birthed, and then gloriously bestowed Arthur Miller upon us — somehow viewed him as a weeping Jeremiah struck me. Theatre people tend to be jealous and often petty. They prefer to tear down people for revenge rather than building them up for the good of the community. It is a vicious cycle that is generational.
To describe Arthur Miller as a Jeremiah appears to betray the very envy that controls the dreams of people and the graves of us all. If we can’t punch him in the nose, we’ll belittle his inherent legacy by describing him as a complainer and an unassailed crier for the moral waxing and waning of the American experience.
Since the stunning 1949 Broadway debut of “Death of a Salesman” the world on stage and around the stage has changed. Arthur Miller redefined the way American life has changed — we try to get ahead the same as ever — no matter who gets hurt, or what gets damaged, but we pretend we care for each other along the way as our moral culpability rots within us.
Loyalty to a job is now an anathema — a joke with no punchline. There is no pity for the worker on the line, and there is no respect for the man in the golden tower cutting them checks. The world changed around Willy Loman, and Willy Loman tried to change his own little world, but failed.
Arthur Miller led us from a Shakespearean structure of the drama to one that was more disjointed wish fulfillment. If we dream it, we can make it so — until it turns sour into a nightmare. Leave behind the thought, and the logic, and try to feel something with the limited beating of your blessed, congressional, heart.
Arthur Miller believed in the Everyman theory of the drama — we are all in this together — where the abstraction of failures, and loves, and emotion, and morality, all played together to try to give a changing world a structure that made sense to us. Arthur Miller wrote about common people, for regular people, and he was wildly successful.
Do not weep for Arthur Miller, or even Willy Loman — no, that was not the way — weep for others, weep for loss, never weep just for yourself because those who openly weep for pity are those who are condemned to never love again, confirming they were never alive at all.
Jeremiah weeps so that we may find life in chaos. Arthur Miller wrote so we may understand ourselves.