Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, NEBUCHADNEZZAR: OR EATING GRASS, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

NEBUCHADNEZZAR: OR EATING GRASS, by                 Poet's Biography
First Line: Nebuchadnezzar the king called ha-rashang
Last Line: This peace with heaven.
Subject(s): Nebuchadrezzar Ii (630-562 B.c.)

Nebuchadnezzar the King, called Ha-Rashang,
Which is to say, the wicked, by the Jews;
I, King of Babylon, the beautiful,
The mighty who have spread the prospering code
Of Hammumrapi, and the obelisk
Of diorite whereon the code is stamped,
Kept in the Temple of Marduk, myself
The lover of progress, beauty, breathe this prayer:
Peace to all peoples, nations, languages
That dwell in all the earth, and also peace
Be multiplied to you; this I record
Upon these bricks of Babylon, and as well
My glory and my madness.

First attend:
What would the gods, the god Jehovah even
Have me to do, me gifted with this strength,
This wisdom, skill in arms? Sit in a hut
Of mud beside the Tigris, be a marsh
Of spirit, sleeping, oozzing, grown with flags?
Or be Euphrates rushing, giving life
And drink of life to fields? What should I do?
Suffer this Syra to dream and drool?
Jerusalem to boast, dispute and trade,
And vaunt its favoring heaven, or go forth
And smite Jerusalem and Tyre and take them,
And lead their peoples back to Babylon,
And make them work and serve me, build canals,
Great reservoirs, my palace, city walls,
The Hanging Gardens, till my Babylon
In all this would become a wonder, terror
And worthy of my spirit, hope and dream;
A city and a kingdom in the world
Become the external substance, form and beauty,
Administration, order of a soul
Lordly and gifted -- mine, my Babylon,
My dream expressed!

That which I did they tried
To do and failed in doing, even themselves
Would rule as I have ruled, build as I builded,
Win glory as I won it; to that end
Did they invoke their gods, and in the mouths
Of gods and of Jehovah put the curses
And wails of failure. I have triumphed, now
My gods are full of song; I have maintained
My kingdom and my spirit, driving out
The aggressor Necho, who came forth from Egypt,
Syria and Palestine to take from me,
Him I destroyed at Carchemish -- my spirit
Have I regained and healed. And now in age,
These eighty years of life gone over me,
And rulership of forty years, I sit
Within the level sun-light of my age,
And at this close of day upon my roof
And view my Babylon; but without fear
Madness will come upon me ever again.
The glory of my kingdom has returned,
My honor and my brightness have returned;
My counselors and lords have come to me;
I am established in my age, and excellent
Majesty is added unto me.

All this
Though here upon this roof, upon this spot,
My madness came upon me, when I looked
Over the roofs and temples of my city
And said: Is not this Babylon, the great,
That I have builded for my kingdom's house
By the might of my power and for the honor
Of my great majesty? Why was it so?

First genius and the dream, then toil and pain
While hands lay stone on stone, and as the stones
Rise from the earth, where naked slaves cry out,
Wheel, lift and grunt; and mortar, scaffolding,
Pillars of cedar strewn confusedly,
Your dream is blurred, even while your city rises
Out of the dream. I was like to a woman
In the pain of travail, who is mad with pain,
Scarce knows her friends or what is being done,
Nor needs to know, since nature orders all,
Delivers her, but lets the mid-wife lift
The infant to her breast. Even so with me,
I had conceived this Babylon, nourished it
In the womb of my genius where it grew, came forth
Whole like a child at last from scaffoldings,
Confusion, waste of mortar, stone and bronze.
And when it was accomplished, then my madness
Came on me in a moment of clear seeing
That this which was within me, was without me;
Was substance and reality before me;
Was even myself gone out of me, as the child
Goes from the mother -- then my madness came
Not when I saw it first, for I had seen it
Both from this roof and from the Hanging Gardens,
And from the temple of Bel, and in the streets;
But seen it without knowing, as the mother
Exhausted, dulled with agony may know
The child is born, without the consciousness,
The wonder and the rapture of the child,
As the miracle that was of her, but now
Is a miracle external and a life,
A beauty separate, that walks from her
And has its life and way, herself and hers,
But different and its own.

And so it was
When I beheld my Babylon, saw my dream
Spread out before me, clear and definite,
A beauty separate, my very soul
Torn out of me and fashioned into stone,
Having its life and way, myself and mine,
Yet being itself, its own. If I had seen
Myself divided and become two men,
My other self come toward me, stand, extend
His hand to me, my terror were not more
Than this to see my Babylon. In that moment
My madness came upon me.

But before,
Some nights and days before this I had lain
In troubled dreams upon my couch, had dreamed
Of images and trees, for daily cares
Of empire and the fears of change and loss
Had entered in my dreams. Cyaxeres
Dreamed that a vine grew from his daughter's womb
And overshadowed Asia, which denoted
Her offspring should be clothed with majesty
And rulership of Asia. As for me,
My tree was felled, only the stump was left,
Bound to the earth with brass and iron -- this
Foretold what I am now, as Daniel said,
Interpreting my dream. These dreams had come
Which shook me for the thought of human life --
How frail and fleeting! But again to hear
Curses about me for my work and genius
Called by these Jews Ha-Rashang; and to feel
Though I had chosen Daniel, Hananiah,
Michael, Azariah for mine own,
And to be taught to help me in the task
Of my administration; even though
I chose all men for duty, wisest use
And in my great humanity and strength
Had placed my subjects where they best could serve
The beauty and the progress of my city --
Though, as I said, to feel that I had done
All things for good and with no thought but good,
Yet still to hear these curses and to see
The worthlessness of human kind, the crowd,
I bowed my head and prayed to Ishtar saying:
Make me an animal and let me feed
With beasts instead of these: So had I prayed
Before my madness in that moment came.

Then as to that, my madness: it was sunset,
I walked upon my palace's level roof,
And looked upon my Babylon; then I thought
Of all my labors, how I had restored
The temples of Borsippa, Uruk, Ur,
Sippar and Larsa, Dilbat; made the plains
Below the great Euphrates rich in corn;
Brought plenty to my people, bread and wine
To all my people; laughter, as it may be,
Between our fated tears to all my people,
And then I looked on Babylon lying there
Beneath the evening's sunlight, safe behind
Its sixty miles of walls unscalable,
Rising four hundred feet, impregnable
For near a hundred feet of width in stone.
I saw its hundred gates of durable bronze;
My eyes were lifted to the terraces
Up, up above the river to the temple
Of Bel who blessed my city, and I saw
The temples built to Nebo, Sin and Nana,
Marduk and Shamash, saw my aqueducts,
The houses of my people, in between
The palm grooves and the gardens bearing food
Enough to feed the city if besieged;
Beheld the Hanging Gardens which I built
To soothe Amytis, who had memories
Of mountainous Media, gazing on
The Babylonian plains.

So as I stood
And looked upon my city, voices passed
Below me muttering Ha-Rashang, and then
This Babylon, my Babylon, lay before me
As my genius realized, grown out of me,
Myself become another, and a being
Which once was me, but now no more was me,
Was mine and was not mine; and with that thought
Rising like Enlil, god of storm and thunder,
Over my terrored spirit, I grew mad
And fled among the beasts, where for a season
I ate grass with the oxen, let the dew
Fall on my body, till my hairs were grown
Like eagle's feathers and my nails were grown
Like claws of birds. In madness and in hate
Of men and life, in loathing of my glory,
My genius and my labors did I live;
In loathing of these tribes who hate the mother
Goddess of our ritual and belief;
Tribes who have made religion of the hate
Of procreative nature, curse the flame
Of beauty, and of love wherewith I built
This Babylon of glory, lust of life;
Till nature cured me and I came again
To rule my Babylon, my excellence
Of majesty returned.

What am I now,
Bowed with these eighty years? My Babylon,
What is it now to me? I am a father
Whose son is aging, even has made his place
And lived to see it fade, diminish. A son
So old his sonship is a memory,
Has almost ceased to be -- that's Babylon.
And I, the father, know this Babylon
As creature of my loins, yet indeed
This city scarcely differs from the cities
That lie afar, as aging sons are men
Among the men of earth, but scarcely more
To a father bent with time than other men.
For in my riotous genius, like a vine
I did put forth this branch, the vine decays,
The branch will live a season. Out of genius
And lust of life to madness, out of madness
To this tranquillity, and this setting sun,
This peace with heaven.

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