Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, NIMROD: 2, by ANNA HEMPSTEAD BRANCH



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NIMROD: 2, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: And nimrod looked on babel and beheld
Last Line: Being greatly wroth, hated him for his speech.
Subject(s): Nimrod (bible)


And Nimrod looked on Babel and beheld
How beautiful it was, and how it glowed,
A rose of splendor, burning on the plain.
And in his heart the king conspired to build
Sweeter and lovelier spires, more smiling fanes
Than ever yet had been upon the earth
And such vast arches as not yet had been,
But that with mortal beauty should persuade
The immortal angels, wondering, to explore
Those beauteous vaults of glimmering marble made,
Hollowed of whiteness like the sphered moon,
Roofed terribly with arched and blazing wings;
Walls like the bosoms of the Cherubim;
And milk-white pavements, clear and richly pale
Like alabaster, but of starrier stone,
Swimming with many a floating sweetness, shed
From many a violet-colored robe and green,
Or rosy foot, or viol shaped of gold.
There should be laughter heard -- angelic guests
At pastime with the queen -- and they should play,
With plumed wings and innocent grave smiles
And silvery footfalls in the chastened groves;
And with God's smile upon them, they should speak
To men His secret Wisdom from the Book.
Oh, it should be like Paradise new made
And God himself should walk with them at eve.
And it was builded and there moved the Queen.
But if the angels in celestial games
Down those calm alleys wandering, around
The rosy pillars swept their golden plumes,
No pale reflection of their dancing feet
With starry sweetness pleased the placid stone.
But still the polished, pale, white pavement shone
Like smoothed water tranced with many a moon,
And if they came they tarried there unseen.
Then, in the streets of Babel, Nimrod made
A feast before the Lord, and Bathsheba
Led forth the women; and with shawms blown loud,
With trumpet and with cymbal, they declared
The greatness of Jehovah; but Nimrod went,
And sought the Lord on a high mountain peak,
And standing with uplifted arms, he raised,
In great and fearful cries, his voice to God.
And Nimrod cried aloud, "Lord, I am he
That crouched alone in the desert. Among rocks
I herded with the wolves. Then did I seek
To build unto my people a strong town,
With bulwarks of firm rock. Then did I heave
My shoulder to the stone. Lord, I have set
My citadel upon the plain; and lest
My people go astray, I have inscribed
Upon my brassy walls bright characters
Uttering knowledge. With a thousand tongues
My walls proclaim Thee. But that Wisdom, Lord,
That burns forever on the midmost page,
Of thy great Book the awful hieroglyph --
I have not seen nor spoken. Send from Heaven
Thy angel to us and I will learn from him
Thy sacred Word; and when upon that feast
My spirit has grown wise, lo, I will turn
My people's hearts to wisdom and we shall be
Beautiful nations bourgeoning the plain,
And I and all my sons shall be as kings."
And he was silent. But upon the town
No voice shook like thunder, and from the sky
No angel, sweeping earthward, in mid air,
Held up God's burning Word. And he was wroth,
And in his sullen heart defied Jehovah.
But God sent forth a pale and spectral host
Of war horse and of rider. From the steeps
And citadels of cloud on the horizon,
They mightily plunged upon the embattled plain
Encircled round great Babel. Blazing scouts
Skirmished the valley; shadowy stallions reared,
Driven by vast archangels, whose fierce spears
Whirling aloft, they stabbed upon the town.
A thousand gusty shapes rushed forth to war.
And there were chariots of dust that drove
Windily down the plain. Bright meteors lit
Upon them screaming. Built among the clouds
Were domes and turrets; and blazing with pale lights
Acropolis towered above acropolis.
Then Nimrod, throned upon his peak, looked down
To where the blazing cohorts of the Lord
Threatened the town with vengeance; and he rose,
Obscured with wrath as is the sun with cloud.
And like an engine of dread war he set
His shoulder to the mountain side and heaved
Its giant bowlders forth till from the cliff
With sudden scream, as if some savage chief
Would drive his angry cohorts into war,
They leaped with sound of grating wheels and plunged
Down the precipitous slope at God's encampment.
But Nimrod, leaping to the mightiest stone,
Then bounding to another as they plunged,
With arms outstretched and darkly beetling breast,
With angry locks, with great and godlike eye,
With furious shouts of battle and laughter huge,
And challenges to Heaven, scourged with cries
His screaming stallions maned with whistling wind
Goaded the vengeance of His flinty wheels
That bright with many a whirling fire appeared
Bestrid with eyes -- yes -- like the lightning perched
Upon the gale, he swept upon God's hosts
His monstrous cavalcades. Then, driving down
His thousand thundering chariots of stone,
Enraged, enraptured, pale, with bow upraised,
Great Nimrod shot his arrow at the gods.
And lo, the heavenly onslaught flamed away.
God's dark encampment lifted from the plain.
Then there were rushings heard in the deep air
And all the spectral host paled from the sky.
Then Nimrod unto Babel cried aloud.
"Lo, I have shot in Heaven God's great white horse!
With neighings and fearful tramplings he went down!
And his affrighted angel drifts pale wings
Across his bosom, lest he take from me
The anguish of mine arrow in mid air.
Am I not Nimrod?" And he cried aloud,
"Am I not Nimrod?" Then spoke he to his soul:
"Lo, such dark cities smoulder in my brain
As light the air with terror. I will achieve
A great and mighty town such as not yet
Has mortal plotted and no angel dreamed.
With my strong ramparts I will storm the sky --
Yes -- cleave it with my turrets. I will lift
My fortress straight against God's citadels.
And having with my frontage besieged the pale
Frontiers of Heavenly air, then will I lift
My slow invasion to the immortal plains.
And there, defying all His hosts, will drive
His bright fleeced whirlwinds; hurricanes with eyes;
His golden-bellied lightnings; shaggy thunders;
His meteors that dart like screaming birds
Among tumultuous forests of black night;
All strange unhuman monsters that frequent,
Angelic, brutish, the jungles of fierce air;
His Silences, that crouch amid the waste
To slay who heareth them beneath the stars
Awakened out of sleep; His awful Noise,
Whose mane is like a thousand lions' deep,
And that with fires doth bristle; His Circumstance,
His Peradventure, His Go To -- all beasts
Furious with dreadful beauty that He keeps
To rage with splendor up and down this earth;
His Wars that move with such velocity
They shine as sweet as simple doves; His Feignings
Wherewith he shaketh man; His Abominations
That howl at night, and His deep Desolation
That seizeth them rejoicing at noon day;
His Furies -- Retributions -- that do scream
From pinnacles of air and plunging down
Snatch up the guilty conscience, so they keep
Upon its living flesh perpetual feast;
Yes, all His angelic beasts that ravage with wrath
The deep invisible air, these will I slay.
Hear then! On His own cohorts will I turn,
And many a starry breast shall bleed that night
And many a snow-white sweet immortal shape
That cannot ever die shall writhe and bend,
Blown up and down as windy fires would burn.
And there shall be great tramplings, whinnyings
Of winged steeds astonished. Archangels pale
Shall rend their blazing splendors off and wrapped
In panic only, seek escape in night,
To hide them in the vastness. The Cherubim
Shall swell their gorgeous eyes with dread. So then,
Having dismayed His host, I will besiege
The splendor of His deep acropolis,
And thence will drive those inner ones that move
In garments sweet of pale serenities;
The great, mild-eyed, most docile, loveliest,
Whose soft meek bodies sing like great white birds
Beneath the golden forest of their deep wings,
Whereof the sound is like a noonday gale,
That causeth dropping of fruit mild and strange;
Whereof the sound is like a silver fountain
That springeth in a golden basin;
Whose placid bodies are like chastened pillars,
Simple transparencies to the Lord, by which
A great and arched roof is lifted up,
That is the embracing splendor of their pinions;
Whose bodies are strong as alabaster, shapen
Of pale translucent brightness, limpid stillness,
Like shining water wreathed with many a star.
Oh, as a star deep sunken under water,
Their bodies are sleeked like ivory set in amber.
Large, peaceful, bounteous, their dreamy bodies are.
These, hastening them along their happy halls
Reared of supreme delight, through corridors
With music paven, till their ruffled wings
Ache with my violence, I will drive forth
Over the high roads of high noon to where
My earthly citadel shines on the plain.
So leading in before my people's eyes
My triumph unbelievable -- all these
Shall pass, meek-looted, wondering, before Her
That is my Love, my Queen -- and they shall go
Into her chambers and with chastened touch
Shall lay their hands upon my brazen walls
And marvel at them, and shall turn mild eyes
Of deep astonishment when they behold
Our human beauty, how the pride of man
Has waxed like cedars where the stars of God
Walk forth for pleasure and His wind lies down.
And I will drive them, if I will, as slaves
To build me huger temples, more awful fanes,
A terrible citadel from which to heave
My flaming battle axe at God's own breast!
Then will I plunge into His secret place
And snatch from out His page that Hieroglyph.
So will I scourge to labors beyond thought
The bare immortal sweetness of their shapes,
Beating with whips their pale astonished wings,
Or if it please me, I will comfort them --
Feed them with mortal fruit and with my hand
Smooth to obedience their trembling plumes,
Till their discordant feathers sweetly sing.
Then when among themselves they speak and cry,
And say to one another, 'Brothers, behold!
Who is this man that has so driven us
From our dear placid courts! that with his thought
Can scourge us till we cry or run to do
The whispered bidding of his sleep! whose wish,
Being raised against us, fearfully doth blind
With terror all the century seeing eyes
That live among our wings; but, being inclined
Can soothe our grief! Brothers, who is this man
That hath defeated God and mastered us,
His great soft snow-white children?' -- Then indeed
Shall I to my great chamber lead them in,
Hollowed of splendor, like the sphered moon,
Roofed over as with fierce and blood-red wings.
Here, in this chamber, on a polished stone
As evidence that man shall pass away
But he whose name endureth on that stone
Shall be remembered; from its surface springing
Two brazen wings of aspect terrible,
Spreading their steadfast breadth as if to lift
The name inscribed thereon to Heaven; shall flame
A monstrous syllable, a symbol strange,
To be a sign and evidence of him
Who built great Babel in the empty plain,
The corner-stone and column of its greatness,
Its roof, its strong foundation, and its wall,
Its rose in a deep garden, its sweet water
That is a wellspring in the rock; Lo, now,
I will go in and write thereon my name,
That my enslaved great powers shall see and cry,
' Behold the man that snatched God's Word from Heaven,
Great Nimrod!
And he built upon the plain
A mightier city; and he raised on high
Sheer peaks of bronze and armaments of domes
That bright with sullen splendor spread their shields
Against God's anger. But the eternal sky
Preserved its shape in silence and the sun
With all its hosts of light sped on its way,
Bright, unappeasable. And God came down,
Invisible, in radiance panoplied,
And spoke with Nimrod. But Nimrod, in his heart,
Being greatly wroth, hated Him for His speech.





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