Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, NIMROD: 5, by ANNA HEMPSTEAD BRANCH



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NIMROD: 5, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: That night the angels in their citadels
Last Line: Ebbed back to silence and eternal calm.
Subject(s): Nimrod (bible)


That night the angels in their citadels,
The great mild-eyed, whose snow-white innocence
Was soft upon them and like plumage deep,
Moved forth for pleasure and their gliding step
Peacefully on the radiant pavement shone.
Their silvery feet like doves beneath the sun
With tender pacing bred ethereal sound
Which in the melodious substance of the stone
Throbbed with the pulse of many an echoing tones
As in the sunlight sweetly sunken moons.
Some walked in the warm gardens where they ate
A placid fruit, milk white, whereof the taste
Increased in them their wisdom. With delight
Some camped beneath the trees and in deep groves
Played secret lovely games that left the air
More innocent with mirth. Some from the lips
Of Awes and Terrors and Powers and Blazing Thrones
Learned that which passeth speech. Some stretched through space
Gigantic limbs or plunged into the void
To try their strength with nothingness, and some,
Through gazing upon beauty having grown
Miraculously quiet, wrapt in calm
Received the silent ecstasy of sleep.
Some, wardens of the barricades, high up
Upon the ramparts of God's citadel,
Gazed from the parapets and saw how smooth
The plains of pure and undisturbed bright thought
In shining levels lay 'twixt them and man.
But as they gazed upon the eternal ways,
Lo, Heaven itself was shaken. Then mid air
Was split asunder. Then was the void struck deep
With blackened precipices and stern cliffs.
Then space was made astonished and was rent.
Then dreadful whirlpools of dark, thundering time
Swept forth their reeling floods. From jagged steeps
Plunged shrieking shapes of stars on fire. Then thought,
That once had stretched a lucid interval
'Twixt God and man, convulsed with darkness, broke
In fearful chasms, gorges of despair,
Fathomless seas, sharp-peaked and distant heights,
Sheer walls of distance, deep and echoing flumes,
Untrodden plains and jungles of dark air,
Where fierce monstrosity and brutish rage
Devoured each other. With anguished meteors pained,
Eternal hurricanes of grief disturbed
The deep arboreal forests of black night.
Then struggling up the dark abyss they saw
An urgent spirit whose white angelic shape
Was poised for an instant on the cliff
Of utter darkness, like the morning star;
Then plunged again into the black ravine,
Then forth once more; then, fearfully obscured,
Rushed up through trackless distances, pursued
By howling furies; then followed the harsh trail
Which skirted the high citadel; then leaped
Across the blazing bulwarks, up the heights.
So swept among them, of his splendors stripped,
Great Nimrod's angel! Anguished, bleeding, bright,
Exhausted, beautiful, aggrieved, appalled,
He beat the air with large astonished eyes.
Then, like a steed gone frantic, forward plunged,
And like one burning cast himself abroad.
Pale with celestial anguish his body shone
Like the white spirit of eternal flame,
While wildly throbbing on the angelic stone
Spread the crushed splendor of his beaten wings.
Then once again he reared himself and stood
Enraged and potent with a blazing front
And cried with such a voice as shook the air --
"What has been done on earth? What has been thought?
What dreamed of? What conceived? How shall I speak,
That come as witness to you from that orb
Which is man's habitation! With what voice
Shall I cast knowledge, howling, through these streets?
Shall I confound your presence? With my speech
Shall I your bleeding brightness so afflict,
Your bodies shall melt forth in tears? Oh ye!
Ye Spirits, that dispersed upon the air
Feel Nature trembling; Angels, that so close
Are driven to one another by the gales
Of earthly devastation, ye surge like seas
Of troubled radiance; ye august Archangels,
That lift complacent, towering in the sun,
Your glacier beauty of precipitous wings;
Oh ye almighty Thrones whose blazing eyes
Breed forth astonishments, dominions, powers;
Ye principalities that in the air,
Fearfully spread in conflagration bright,
Consume the darkness of the void; Ye Wars
Beautiful, shaggy, bristling, circumstanced,
That ride with thunder and with cohorts vast
March forth with Dominations; Oh, all ye Times,
Ye fearful Times, ye Half Times! on this day
I say man has accomplished a strange thing,
And on God's altar there smokes up to Heaven
The savor of unnatural deeds. For when
At dawn, in Eden, underneath the trees,
Eve, slumbering at peace in Adam's arms,
Enraptured, docile, in her sleep conceived
A dark monstrosity -- direful, new --
Man's disobedience; when fatuous Cain
Gazing into his brother's living eyes,
With hate ecstatic, first conceived of death;
Or when before the flood the sons of men
Whored fearfully and of adulterous flesh
Bred frightful progeny; I say that then
There was a speech in Heaven and it declared
Man's dark inventions to the stars. But now
What word shall shape before you this new thing?
For never yet has man, who fashioneth
Great cities and great progenies of dust,
Created a new virtue; but his wit
Conceives unnatural monsters of misdeed
And fierce original crime. I came to him
Through skies of lovely thought. Oh, like a star
Singing athwart the dawn, I swept the air
Of his clean spirit, morning fresh. I came,
Beautiful, wrapped in light, beyond all dreaming.
What he had not imagined, I shone on him,
His own deep Self unutterably real.
And in my raiment were his secret dawns.
Pale was my substance with the spiritual stars
That were the fires of his ancient prayers.
My body poised in the air did sing
Like silvery strings with music, and he gazed,
And knew how beautiful I was and saw
His own deep Self, unutterably real,
But in his heart preferred an alien thing.
Oh, can ye in this citadel conceive
What Nimrod plotted? How shall I make plain
Without vast ruin blackening these halls
His spirit's dark achievement! For he wrought
A harsh invention and a blind machine,
And from his lips there sped an iron word --
A direful engine that did bring to waste
The gardens of his being. Then on his brain
Seized black negation. With a staring eye,
His thought regarded emptiness. He groaned.
Then he stretched forth a groping hand upon
Annihilation, and swart nothingness
He drew about him with its ancient chill.
I saw his senses swim, dizzy as clouds
Dispersed upon the ethers of his soul.
Then did his mortal presence ail. His flesh
Melted upon his bone. His eyelids pale
Were cold and sweated heavily. His eyes
Started and were astonished. In his breast
He felt protesting nature with huge throes
Endeavor to escape and leave him strewn,
By all the elements cast out. Aghast,
His snow-white flesh was shaken like a city
That cracks upon the gale ready to fall.
And from his deep disease such vapor smoked
As if a fire in the groins or breast
Were prophesying ruin. Not like a man
Turned Nimrod unto me, but some wild shape
Reared of disaster, built of empty ash.
So sorrowed he before me and with tears
Large in his godlike eyes, he gazed at me --
His spirit's Truth -- and groaning heavily,
With devastation shaking his huge frame,
He spoke forth monstrous syllables and cried
What was not true before the Lord; then cast
The Word of God upon the barren stone,
And from great Nimrod's lips emerged pale death."
Then was the silence of that listening host
Congealed, as when beneath the Northern blast
Deep solemn pools their quietness increase.
And stillness lay among their glittering spears
Like snow in a deep forest. But once more
That Angel lifted up his voice and spoke.
"Lo then, I waned from out his mortal sight
And sank myself into the golden air
That was his spirit -- wherefrom I had dawned,
His own deep Self unutterably real.
But oh, that world of thought not any more
Lay pure, transparent like a shining sky,
Betwixt his world and ours. It had grown dark,
And on his soul's horizon many shapes
Foreboded tempest. Then was split in twain
His spiritual earth. Dark gulfs of thought
Swallowed up his peaks of radiance. Hideous forests
Besieged his intellect with shaggy growth
Wherein roved many a wandering, livid beast
Of rage and hatred. In the evil air
Were floating idiocies and blank despairs,
Insanities and disembodied palsies,
Fright, and such leprosies as in the waste
Of his soul's desert howled among the tombs
Or at the town's gate, smelling out the feast,
Entered the helpless citadel of flesh.
Through these I rushed and from my substance waned
The beauty of his spiritual stars,
Until the fires of his ancient prayers
Seemed almost out. Then did I set my face
Against the whirlwinds of his deep despair,
His rage, his privy council, his muttering,
His peeping spirits perched upon the gale.
I rode on Revolutions and I leaped
From mammoth time to mammoth time. I clung
To gorgeous wheels of cycles and was whirled forth
From them into mid air. I sat astride
Event and guided it. Over vast plains
I drove his chariots of change! Look! Look!
Am I not wounded? Am I not aghast?
For I have ridden on his soul's eclipse
Unto the uttermost reaches of man's thought.
A thousand centuries lie beneath my feet --
His own deep Self, unutterably real."
Then to the bulwarks that great angel leaped
And gazing down into the nether air
Lit up the darkness with his blazing eyes.
With arms outstretched and with exalted brow,
He cried, "Lo now! Upon this town shall fall
An ending and a devastating doom!
For in its streets and mighty citadel
Truth reigns no more. Wherefore no more shall Truth
Be its chief servant. Ye doers of foul deeds!
Manipulators! Hiders! Plotters of schemes!
Runners on dark errands! Creepers on unshod feet!
Oh ye that dwell in Babel, breeders of lies!
Have ye not heard of that unholy spawn
That eateth its progenitors? Lo now!
Soon shall ye be devoured. Never more
Shall God's high angels lift your mighty walls
In their serene great hands. Not any more
Shall they upon their shoulders heave your domes!
Ye are forsaken utterly. Shake! Shake!
Ye mighty citadels! Ye are not built
Upon a real foundation. Ye shall sink
Amid soft brass and sickly dreaming stone.
Fall, ye high towers! Oh all ye constellations
Of domes resplendent, like a thousand moons,
Ye are eclipsed forever. Ye bright walls,
Whose rugged armaments drive against God's hosts,
Mailed in magnificence, ye shall be as dust.
Oh thou great Babel -- out of nothing reared --
Shake! Crumble utterly! Be thou dismayed!
For God is wroth upon you and to Him
Thy citadel is as a voice at night --
Thy brazen bastions built of empty wind.
Thou art abolished fearfully. His feet
Are darkly spread among you. Ye shall go
Afflicted and confounded. Ye shall rage
In scattered tribes. God's strong and awful wars
He will send down upon you. And no man
Shall to his brother lift a cry of peace.
Words shall be taken from you. On your lips
Your utterance shall be confused. Your breath
Shall sicken in your nostrils and send forth
A stench upon this land. With wailing voices
Ye shall breed forth new words and every one
Like old death-bearing Cain shall breathe out death.
Your tribe henceforth shall speak a various tongue,
And there shall be a curse upon your speech."
Then from that stellar orb that is the earth,
Rose such a lamentation that it vexed
The listening brightness of the zodiac.
And many a star fell from the sky that night
With mortal grief afflicted. Meteor-eyed,
Eternity watched a new epoch dawn
Upon that furious planet set in time.
Then in high heaven all the angelic host,
Beating about God's ramparts like a tide,
Swelled terrible with glory, and the eyes
Of no Archangel could range forth so far
As to declare the end of that vast sea.
But bright with billowy radiance they heaved
Their rugged splendor underneath the sun
And surged against the battlements. For, lo!
There shot among them fires that were such thoughts
As never more should blaze upon the earth,
Whose terrible radiance was the garb of speech.
Breathed in by Heaven, swept back God's beauteous words
To the eternal peace from which they came.
Burning, they plunged into the Angel's hands.
They sunk their glowing shapes into his brain.
They shouted in his thighs, and in his feet
Raised paeans of delight until he leaped
Before the Lord with prophecy enraged.
They foamed upon his brow. They swam serene
Through the translucent whiteness of his breast.
Amid his spiritual substance, fires shone
With moving splendor and interior flame.
They made soft music in his throbbing plumes
And on his finger tips did sweetly sing.
But never more on earth those orbs of light
Choired truth along the orbits of man's brain.
And with them rushed swart algebras, disturbed
From their deep lairs of stone; and numbers swept
Their wings from earth until material things
Groaned, crumbled, were no more. Swift accuracies,
Smooth-limbed and beautiful with flying feet,
Fled from their bright abodes of tower and wall
And, poised in high air, looked down amazed
To see huge towers stricken by their flight;
Lines, whirled about the heavenly ramparts, swung
From ancient straightness into anguished shapes
They had not dreamed of, arcs, and angles strange,
And terrible spirals. Many a tortured curve,
Unwoven from arch and dome, was stretched in pangs
Of pained and frigid straightness. High in air
Moved mournful, calm and stern geometries --
Pale priests of space -- that from their ancient hands
Loosed the old order and, at God's altars bowed,
Laid down their sacrifice of beauty. Then
A murmur rose among the radiant ones,
And they grew turbulent in Heaven, for lo,
The angel had gone down. His terrible wings,
That with bright comets bristled as with eyes,
Did shake the atmosphere like living wars.
Blown through his hair were strong bright meteors
Consuming as with flame. His thundering feet
Ploughed up the earth till fearfully she rocked
And groaned as chaos did of old. His eyes
Blazed like volcanoes from pale peaks of air
And prophesied destruction. His screaming voice
Perched like an eagle on white cliffs of the sky
And snatched earth's vision Heavenward. His brow
Passed judgment on the universe. His robes
With conflagration burned the gale. Oh then
There was a cry in Heaven, for all the host
Of bright magnificence, with thundering voice,
Shouted abroad in Heaven, "Great Babel Falls."
Then that bright sea of plunging radiance
Ebbed back to silence and eternal calm.





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