Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, NIMROD: 3, by ANNA HEMPSTEAD BRANCH



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NIMROD: 3, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: And nimrod came to bathsheba the queen
Last Line: And on the polished stone wrote his own name.
Subject(s): Nimrod (bible)


And Nimrod came to Bathsheba the Queen,
And spoke with her; but of that golden speech
There is no likeness upon earth to show
How mild its sound, how beauteous its shape.
But when the dying swan fulfills at eve
His passion on the lake and music swells
With aching sweetness all his snow-white plumes,
And he, that never, never shall return,
Like music burning floats into the sun;
Or when upon a sleek and polished water
The moon all night performs her dance serene
In solitary loveliness; or if
Smooth hands should serve to beautiful strange guests
Pale-colored honey in a golden dish;
Or if a water carrier, in the dusk,
Should in his earthen jar such water lift
As stars had shined on, in the wilderness,
And she who drank it said -- it tasteth sweet;
Oh then, with singing sound and moving shape,
There would be written on our mortal air
An old immortal alphabet from which
Wrapped in her dark and sacred hieroglyph
An awful visitor with shape unseen
Would move with music and would take the breath,
And there would shine along her ancient script
The solemn beauty of that either speech.
For there is not a tongue upon the earth
To tell how in that city famed of old
The stately ministers of lovely sound
Had laid their hands on music and built up
A gracious architecture of sweet tone;
Or how their great and gorgeous grammar raised
Its pillars, arches, corridors, and domes,
Beneath whose roofs ethereal thoughts like doves
Melodiously breathed; pale visions swept
With eyes enraptured; and in music stoled,
Before the altars, with rituals rich and slow,
Angelic meanings served before the Lord.
And Nimrod said to Bathsheba, the Queen,
"Am I not great? When I my voice east forth
Does it not roar like thunder? Shall I lay
My hand upon the earth and it not break
Like potter's clay dried up? When I go forth
Does not the ground smoke? Who has seen my face
And, having seen it, not covered up his eyes,
Crying, 'Great Nimrod'? Are my feet not set
Like cedars in the desert? Is not my breast
Unto my people as a spring that gushes
Out of a rock? When mine eyes glance abroad
Do they not pluck up terror as the eagle
Bears up the ram? I lifted up my voice
And cried unto the Lord -- yes -- unto Heaven
I shook my spear; yes -- unto them that boasted
Upon the seats of the angels, in high places
I shook my strong spear! And the Lord was vexed
And He sent down a whirlwind strewn with eyes.
And it did roar and spread itself and I
Did cast it howling underneath my feet.
The whirlwind did I cast beneath my feet.
The whirlwind burst its belly under me --
Yes, God's strong whirlwind! Behold, am I not great?
Am I not dreadful as the unicorn?
Am I not a palace hung with blazing shields.?
Am I not Nimrod?"
And Bathsheba spoke,
And unto Nimrod said, "Oh, thou art He."
And Nimrod said to Bathsheba, "Why then!
The whirlwind fell beneath me. I am one
That with a dagger stabs the empty gale
And scourging air with whips shall make it bleed!
Then was deep space astonished! For the Lord
Camped mightily upon the plain. His tents
Were of thick cloud. His war horses were there,
His chariots of dust, His fighting angels;
And He did lead on me His cohorts vast,
His fierce battalions. He swept down on me
His monstrous meteors. And I laughed at God.
And riding in thunder down the mountain side
Unto the lightning I did cry -- Thou Fool.
And I raised up my strong bow and I shot
Mine arrow at the Gods. And when it fell
I saw it red with blood. For I did slay
His strong white horse that plunged upon the gale.
His fierce horse did I slay that spouted forth
Pale smoke of vengeance; and the storm white angel
That drove him unto battle, between its wings
Upon its starry bosom -- did I wound.
Groaning in Heaven His great angel bleeds.
Am I not as a city girt about
With forests of tall spears? Am I not spread?
Am I not one whose visage flames like brass?
Am I not Nimrod?"
And Bathsheba stirred
Upon his breast her pale and beauteous face
And unto Nimrod answered, "Thou art He."
And Nimrod spoke to Bathsheba and said,
"Lo, who hath built this citadel? Who reared
These furious bastions glittering on the plain?
Who wailed it round about with dreadful brass?
Who founded its deep fortress and decreed,
Swollen abroad with splendor, terrific domes?
Who planted it with green and pleasant trees?
Was it God did it? Who conceived the town?
Whose finger sleeked the brazen corridors?
From whose imagination then did spring
These bright mailed armaments of towers that sweep
Their rugged radiance towards the sun? Lo, now
Did God disturb His placid hours of ease
And wearying of His Heaven descend to build
That monstrous chamber roofed with blood-red wings?
Did the Lord shape it? Verily I think
He was not moved from off His sacred throne
To come into the plain, and make for us
A thatch amid the wilderness, or build
Unto His sons a comfortable roof.
When was it that He left the triumphing
And being grieved for us in our distress
Harnessed His meteor to the groaning rock
And dragged it for us? When, with blazing ax
Of His sharp lightning did He split in twain
Impregnable strong stone for us? And when
Did He make derricks of the desert blast,
Or of His falling stars link mighty chains?
When? When? Nay then, I think He was not stirred
To sweat with us when we did heave the stone.
I have not seen Him when the sun was hot
Upon the desert perish of slow thirst.
Hath He smelted bronze in a furnace? Hath He been
Scourged with the slaves? For when the sunbaked clay
Upon the plain was red with blood, I think
It was the footprint of some starveling child
That strove with a burden, but not ever yet
Because Jehovah bled. Yet when He saw
My great bright citadel, the Lord was wroth,
And in the darkness spied upon my speech.
Yes -- seized upon my utterance! His ears
Snatched up my words as the avenging eagle
Bears up its prey. Yes -- plunged on them through space
And feeding on their fatness He grew wroth.
For a great city shined upon my brain.
And I did dream of vast and spheral hails,
Broad, deep, high-arched, like Heaven's inverted dome.
And I would build such towers as should search
The countenance of the sun. And I would storm
God's fortress with my great acropolis,
And drive his frightened angels out, and thence,
To do my bidding and to help me build
Upon the earth a citadel more vast;
A precipice so high that I might leap
Into sheer gulfs of Heaven! Then, having plunged
Through that abyss of brightness, I would scale
Its secret ramparts, dare its highest wall,
Triumph above its batteries, show my face
With laughter on its pinnacles, then rush
Into its central silence, and, from the Book
Bring down to earth -- against His will -- God's Word.
Therefore I would inscribe upon a stone,
'Great Nimrod!'
For behold, upon the earth
Am I not mighty? Am I not one who dreams
But when he wakens seeks not any man
To speak with cunning counsel but with deeds
Interprets his own dream? Am I not one
Whose name is as a silver shawm blown loud?
Am I not Nimrod?"
And Bathsheba raised,
Shining as does the terrible chrysoprase,
Her pale and awful beauty from his breast
And unto Nimrod said, "Lord, thou art He."
Then Nimrod in his rage did spread abroad
And in his violent robes gathered such wrath
As hidden in dark clouds shall shake the sky.
The thick locks on his head in anger reared
And bristled as with sparks. His challenging eyes
Swept the dark air with such velocities
As when with onslaught fierce a thundering drove
Of neighing steeds stampede the plain. His brow
Was black with deep and swollen veins. His hands
Were stretched aloft as if to snatch from Heaven
God's thunderbolts. So Nimrod speechless stood,
With such a silence as should scourge the air
More fearfully than does the hurricane.
So Nimrod stood; and Bathsheba, the Queen,
Gazing upon his presence was appalled;
And casting down her beauty at his feet
Spread out the yellow harvest of her hair
Upon the stone. Not like a woman now,
But having seen an omen in mid air,
A portent and a devastating doom,
A part of groaning nature she fell down,
Her broad and simple flanks like the white herds
Submissive on the plain, her bones like rock,
The sinew of the earth -- like earth she lay,
The dark, the elemental, the chastised --
And waited for his wrath. And Nimrod spoke.
"Break, break, ye clouds, and cast upon the earth
Your progeny of fierce, angelic lights.
Rage, rage, ye stars that never more should creep
Like hounds about God's footstool. Heave, thou earth,
And cast thy broth at Heaven. Ye mighty hills,
Tremble I say, for sickness of His feet.
Howl, thou meek air! Thou earth, sky, sun, moon, wind,
Ye forests, clouds! Oh all ye visible things,
Be purged of God. For I, that am a man,
Having observed the ways of the Most High,
Am utterly astonished. God was wroth.
He was afraid because I sought to build
A citadel so huge it should confound
His High Archangels. So he drew a cloud
Of angry darkness round about his throne
And restless amid rest he cast about,
Eternal, jealous, how he should subdue
Our mortal glory. Then the Lord came down,
Invisible, in radiance panoplied.
And when I saw His front, I was amazed.
Then was He pleased. Then was His mind set up.
Then did His countenance boast and in His heart
Unto His watching hosts He cried -- Ha! Ha!
For He is one that having not ever sown
Shall reap the harvest. And He was consumed,
When He beheld great Babel, as with fire
Is the dry flax. Then did He smoke with rage,
And in His dark and monstrous heart decreed
That those who sweat, who bled, who died, should cry
To Him, enthroned in the eternal ease,
'Behold, God did it!' And He said to me,
'Lo, now thou art confounded and cast down.
Go thou into the chamber and on the stone
Write thou Jehovah's name.';
Then Bathsheba
Arose before him and upon him shone
Her pale and awful beauty. Her large eyes
Cast darkness forth upon the air and filled it
With premonition of a doom august.
And she spoke to him as the Sovereign Night
Utters forth stars that shape the destinies
Of other worlds.
"Lo, who shall war with God?
Hast thou such spears as those that from the sky
Cleave earth straight through? Hast thou a war horse shod
With flame? Whose mane is thunder? Canst thou shake
The stars with murmuring? Or by thy nod
Confound great waters? Canst thou do this? My Lord,
Thou art vainglorious. Think upon the flood.
Remember Adam. For upon my dreams
Such awful portents ride as meteors
Astride the blast. I see! -- I see! -- I see! --
And there is doom upon the land and wailing,
And direful confusion! Make peace with God.
Else where this citadel is reared to-day,
To-morrow wolves shall haunt and hooting owls
Shall lodge them in the ruin. Then thou, cast out,
Shalt stretch thy hands into a windy air
And cry 'Lord, Lord!' upon an empty plain.
Go thou, and on the brightly polished stone
Write thy Lord's name.;
Then Nimrod went from her
He passed beyond the brazen door and stood
Upon a massive landing flanked with stone,
Bright paved with various-colored stone and arched
With moon-white marble, hushed with many a shape
Of pale and dancing creatures carved in light;
Blossoms and garlands; wild and starry forms
That ran soft-fooled through the tender stone;
Deep fruitage, shadowy grapes, apples of snow,
White shining pears, pomegranates richly pale;
Dim hands and silver flagons -- and anon,
Blushing with sweetness, all the soft white stone
Smiled like a rose, where vaguely seen as though
From some profound and spiritual air
Their fair immortal shapes had melted through,
With laughing eyes, with soft and cloudy hair,
Angelic faces smiled and dimly shone.
The portal was blood red and it was carved
With haloes of fierce angels, burnished bright
With glowing ribs of deeply crudded wings.
And on the left a brazen cherub stood
With locks outspread. His pinions were blood red.
His breast was alabaster and his eyes
Of topaz, flaming fearfully. In his hand
He poised a jeweled spear before the Lord.
And on the right a brazen cherub stood
With locks outspread. His pinions were blood red.
His breast was alabaster and his eyes
Of topaz, flaming fearfully. In his hand
He poised a jeweled spear before the Lord.
'Twixt massive balustrades of thick carved gold
Downward there swept a huge Olympian stair
Of grave, celestial whiteness like the moon.
It swelled abroad, calm, beautiful, and bland.
Descending into beauty yet more vast,
It moved as some white-bosomed awful god
Slowly matures his shape upon the air.
So with large curves it did embody space.
With godlike love embracing emptiness,
In austere nuptials it sank down in bliss.
For lo, there swelled upon the mortal sight
A vast, a spheral chamber, as did seem
The breeding place of immortality.
Young angels here might lay a soothing hand
On space made infinite and grieved time
Become eternal. Here such calm was spread
As doth inhabit greatness. The rich air
Conceived such splendors as appeared to sweep
Like divine blazing eagles the huge roof.
From column unto column space swept on,
Breathing, enraptured, god-like and austere --
Music made visible. And Nimrod gazed.
And when he saw, globed forth beneath that dome,
All human beauty sphered before his eyes,
Even like mortality shrined in one tear;
When he bethought him how upon a night
He with imagination was consumed;
Yes, even he that haunted with the wolves
Among the rocks, naked upon the plain,
Was seized with such great awfulness of dream
As blows mortality from off our souls
And leaves them to a high and god-like doom;
And how -- even upon him, the warrior chief --
There swept upon his spirit, burning, bright,
The knowledge of that chamber -- beautiful;
Then he stretched out his arms upon the air
And stood as one astonished. For behold,
Spread like a glassy sea the radiant floor
Was smoothed in golden pools of deep delight.
The blazing walls of fierce and polished brass
Were bright as bosoms of the cherubim,
And angel-shaped strong columns lifted up
A solemn dome of arched and blood-red wings.
Then Nimrod moved along the placid floor
Till, in the center of its vastness, set
Upon a pedestal of blackened bronze,
He came upon a huge and polished stone
Like the shield of a great angel. On each side
Two dreadful cherubim in brass did flame
And their bright swords were crossed above to bid
The Powers of Heaven hide before a name
Soon to be graved forever upon stone.
And Nimrod looked about him and he saw
The dim and dove-like smoke of incense, rising,
Float palely in the air before the shrine.
And he beheld the fiery spread wings
Of those four blazing cherubim, and read
Upon the pedestal of bronze, strange script,
That being translated cried, "Angels, Archangels,
Ye generations of men; hereon is writ
The name of him who built great Babel. Lo --
He is our stronghold. In the wilderness
Our sweet well water gushing from a stone,
Our sword, our buckler, and our blazing shield,
Our rose in a fair garden.;
And behold,
That radiant chamber rushed upon his soul
Like a great host of angels and he spread
His gaze about him. And when Nimrod saw
How empty was the broad and blazing space,
And how no eye disturbed the air, he turned --
And on the polished stone wrote his own name.





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