From our friends at the Ronald Knox Society of North America:
The First Lessons of Matins on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday are taken from the Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremias. They are among the saddest and most beautiful readings of the Liturgical Year.
Here is Knox's translation of Chapter 1:
When Israel was brought into captivity, and Jerusalem left deserted, the prophet Jeremias sat down and wept, with this mournful lamentation following. And as he spoke, ever he sighed and moaned in the bitterness of his heart.
1. Alone she dwells, the city erewhile so populous; a widow now, once a queen among the nations; tributary now, that once had provinces at her command.
2. Be sure she weeps; there in the darkness her cheeks are wet with tears; of all that courted her, none left to console her, all those lovers grown weary of her, and turned to enemies.
3. Cruel the suffering and the bondage of Juda's exile; that she must needs dwell among the heathen! Nor respite can she find; close at her heels the pursuit, and peril on either hand.
4. Desolate, the streets of Sion; no flocking, now, to the assembly; the gateways lie deserted. Sighs priest, and the maidens go in mourning, so bitter the grief that hangs over all.
5. Exultant, now, her invaders; with her enemies nothing goes amiss. For her many sins, the Lord has brought doom on her, and all her children have gone into exile, driven before the oppressor.
6. Fled is her beauty, the Sion that was once so fair; her chieftains have yielded their ground before the pursuer, strength-less as rams that can find no pasture.
7. Grievous the memories she holds, of the hour when all her ancient glories passed from her, when her people fell defenceless before the invader, unresisting before an enemy that derided them.
8. Heinously Jerusalem sinned; what wonder if she became an outlaw? How they fell to despising her when they saw her shame, that once flattered her! Deeply she sighed, and turned away her head.
9. Ill might skirts of her robe the defilement conceal; alas, so reckless of her doom, alas, fallen so low, with none to comfort her! Mark it well, Lord; see how humbled I, how exultant my adversary!
10. Jealous hands were laid on all she treasured; so it was that she must see Gentiles profane her sanctuary, Gentiles, by thy ordinance from the assembly debarred.
11. Kindred was none but went sighing for lack of bread, offered its precious heirlooms for food to revive men's hearts. Mark it well, Lord, and see my pride abased!
12. Look well, you that pass by, and say if there was ever grief like this grief of mine; never a grape on the vineyard left to glean, when the Lord's threat of vengeance is fulfilled.
13. Must fire from heaven waste my whole being, ere I can learn my lesson? Must he catch me in a net, to drag me back from my course? Desolate he leaves me, to pine away all the day long with grief.
14. No respite it gives me, the yoke of guilt I bear, by his hand fastened down upon my neck; see, I faint under it! The Lord has given me up a prisoner to duress there is no escaping.
15. Of all I had, the Lord has taken away the noblest; lost to me, all the flower of my chivalry, under his strict audit; Sion, poor maid, here was a wine-press well trodden down!
16. Pray you, should I not weep? Fountains these eyes are, that needs must flow; comforter there is none at hand, that should revive my spirits. Lost to me, all those sons of mine, outmatched by their enemy.
17. Quest for consolation is vain, let her plead where she will; neighbors of Jacob, so the Lord decrees, are Jacob's enemies, and all around they shrink from her, as from a thing unclean.
18. Right the Lord has in his quarrel; I have set his commands at defiance. O world, take warning; see what pangs I suffer, all my folk gone into exile, both man and maid.
19. So false the friends that were once my suitors! And now the city lacks priests and elders both, that went begging their bread, to revive the heart in them.
20. Take note, Lord, of my anguish, how my bosom burns, and my heart melts within me, in bitter ruth. And all the while, swords threatens without, and death not less cruel within.
21. Uncomforted my sorrow, but not unheard; my enemies hear it, and rejoice that my miseries are of thy contriving. Ah, but when thy promise comes true, they shall feel my pangs!
22. Vintager who didst leave my boughs so bare, for my much offending, mark well their cruelty, and strip these to in their turn; here be sighs a many, and a sad heart to claim it.