Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, NIMROD: 1, by ANNA HEMPSTEAD BRANCH



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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

NIMROD: 1, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: One time, in shinar, when the setting sun
Last Line: "and I, and all my sons, shall be as kings."
Subject(s): Nimrod (bible)


ONE time, in Shinar, when the setting sun,
With all his thousand javelins, drove the day
Before him and the myriad tribes of light
Departed sullenly with bleeding feet,
Great Nimrod, the strong huntsman of the Lord,
Returning hot with bloodshed from the chase,
Beheld great Babel, wrathful, beautiful,
Burn like a blood-red cloud upon the plain.
Then Nimrod, when he saw it, laughed aloud,
And turning to his warriors cried, "Behold
How those steep battlements defy the cloud
With starry dome and precipice of brass.
Their sword-like minarets have stabbed the sun.
What fiery ledge, what blazing battlement,
What savage bastion flushed with angry gold
Bulwarks the dreadful bright acropolis!
Look how yon crags of bronze, fantastic, burn
In God's great conflagration, not consumed,
Imperishable; but built of flaming cloud
His high pavilions perish. Lo, how strong
Yon citadel of stone! Is it not great?
Is it not ribbed with sinew? Flanked with war?
Are not its ramparts beautiful? Lo now
Whose is the city?" And his warrior chiefs
Saw how its arrowy splendors smote the light
And how its ledges, gorges, furious cliffs,
And all its savage multitudinous crags
Besieged the silent sky; then, being amazed,
Gazing upon such splendors, answered, "Thine."
For it had come on Nimrod, in the waste,
That he should build a huge metropolis
For Bathsheba the queen. And it was built.
Its strong foundations were sunken in deep rock,
And on the walls were graven mighty shapes.
For Nimrod had gone forth and laid his hand
Upon the barren stones and they were runed
With ancient script, embodiment of words
That once were heard in Babel -- such utterance
As when before the flood the sons of God
Spoke to men's daughters, or when on the sheer marge
Of time stood Adam and with august cries
Saluted nature -- star, sun, cloud, earth, moon,
Bright angels, wondering beasts -- and from his lips
Shook huge ejaculations, piercing calls
Of keen astonishment, smooth murmuring tones
When he gazed forth on beauty, and when he saw
Eve, in her whiteness, the first awful word
Whereby a man cried unto a woman his love.
Such was the speech of Babel. These words revealed
Men's hearts to one another. For the earth
Had been made spiritual and with waters purged
Of ancient wrong and grief. Man was new made.
Not innocent as in Eden -- oh not fresh
With Paradisal sweetness -- but grown wise
And taught by the sons of God, they set their minds
To august ends and great. So had they left
Strong nations in the desert and multiplied
Like myriad hordes of sand and they had raised
Their thoughts to beauty and conceived high deeds,
Truths, honors, valors, heroisms, loves,
Faiths, aspirations, sacrifices, prayers,
And unto them had built a beauteous speech,
Revealing all things truly. For not yet
Was mortal falseness harbored in their thought.
Imagination had not dreamed of this.
Not yet the bastions of high Heaven had rocked
Beneath that onslaught. God's deepest angels hid
In placid innocence had never yet
Shed tears of nameless grief nor their warm wings
Grown chill with that cold vapor from the earth.
No man had learned how vessels of sweet tone,
Blessed for the sacred wine of truth, might lift
To trusting lips abominable drink.
No man on earth had lied; but words, fair-shaped,
Blushed with the spirit's sense, fluid as thought.
Priest-like their speech moved on its ancient task,
The sacred ceremonials of the truth.
For with that speech great prophets known of old
With glowing symbols uttered secrets hid;
Wonderful doctrines of stars, suns, and moons;
Litanies of the seasons; hidden charms
Wherewith the earth works miracles; the spells
Of soft angelic water; the rich creeds
Of deeply brooding air entranced at noon;
High versicles that from the lips of time
Spake of the eternal; runes of numbers, shapes,
And all the myriad moving powers that build
The architecture of the world. These words
Shone in the lucid firmaments of thought,
The bright melodious orbs of heavenly speech.
And Nimrod traced their shadows in dark script.
For he inscribed upon his brassy walls
Marvelous symbols stranger than the sphinx
Breeding eternal secrets; gorgeous shapes,
Bright-blazoned, beautiful; letters, that as thick
As footprints of innumerable slaves,
Swept on the stately caravans of thought;
And there were signs and symbols, deeply carved,
Rich characters that wreathed like thick-set vines
Yielded a mortal vintage of sweet tone
Whereof the juice was wisdom, and God's sons,
When they had drunk of it, forevermore
Must go enraptured; jungles of black script,
Where howling in the wilderness like beasts
Ranged forth the dreadful wisdoms of the Lord.
And there were dark and dreaming hieroglyphs,
Beautiful, old, occult, in which were breathed
As was God's wind into the clay, grave sounds,
Angelic musics, syllables austere.
But when Bathsheba saw those histories,
How manifold, and how from out those signs
Spoke prophecies and powers, and how the bronze
Was dark with secret knowledge and such creeds
As Nimrod heard from mighty men of old,
She was astonished, and to her Lord she cried,
"Art thou not great in Babel? Art thou not wise?
Hast thou not learned to read the ancient sign
God writes upon the wind? Do not thy words
Like dawn upon the mountain peaks make plain
God's will before us? Is not thy casual speech
Beautiful to us? When thou dost comfort us
With thy deep wisdom, do our souls not feast?
Dost thou not cast thy voice abroad like thunder
To teach His law to us? From His cloudy speech
Thou hast snatched the fires of His meaning down.
Lo, now, thou hast transcribed for us His lore
And grayed His ancient spelling on the stone.
Thou art great Nimrod. Where then is the Word
That burns forever on the midmost page
Of God's most secret book, in Heaven set deep?
What is it? Canst thou say it? How long shall earth
Groan with the lack of it, that utterance
Whereby all things grow beautiful, that Word
That being spoken, the angels at the gates
Shall drop their flaming swords, and we return
Into that Eden -- which they tell us of --
Lost in the forests of the dawn! Go thou,
And learn that secret wisdom from the Lord.
Then, when thou hast revealed it, never more
Shall our flesh wither, and our souls put on
Sackcloth and ashes. In shapes fulfilled of light
We shall attain God's likeness. Never again
Shall sorrow be upon us nor affliction
Make in our flesh its lair. But death shall set
His face away from us. And thou shalt grow
Ancient in years and beautiful with time.
And I will bear thee harvests of strong males,
And thou and all thy sons shall be as Kings."
Then Nimrod spoke to Bathsheba, the queen,
"From out the midmost page of that dark book
God sets in His deep Heaven, I will bring down
To thee the blazing fires of the Word
Whereby this earth shall be lit up and shine
As with fierce conflagration. Then indeed
Our souls shall be enlightened. Then our flesh
Shall blush with joy under the waning moon.
Then death shall turn his face away. No more
Shall sorrow be upon us nor affliction
Make in our flesh its lair. But thou shalt grow
Ancient in years and beautiful with time.
And I will lead thee back where Eden glows
Like dawn across the desert. Am I not he
That when he speaks, all hearing are astonished?
Do not my words teach wisdom? Does not my speech
Cast scourges on the unrighteous? But on them
That fear the Lord is not mine utterance
Sweet as the rain at noon? Am I not Nimrod?
Lo, thou shalt bear me harvests of strong males,
And I, and all my sons, shall be as Kings."





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