Anna Hempstead Branch
Nimrod - Poem by Anna Hempstead Branch
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.'
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 spherèd 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 plumèd 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 smoothèd 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, whinneyings
Of wingèd 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 archèd 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 spherèd 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,
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.
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,
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.''…
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 jewelled 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 jewelled 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 grievèd 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.'…
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.
Then did the powers of the air breed forth
Sight in no mortal shape involved that flew
Furious as eagles blazing in mid noon—
And snatching Heavenward that naked deed
Swept up its prey, screaming, into the sun.
Then was there heard upon steep slopes of air,
Like fearful rushings of invisible steeds,
The trampling of innumerable eyes,
That mounted up to God, angry, amazed,
Terrific smoking, furious and appalled,
By earth affrighted. But when around the Throne
Vast multitudes of angels robed in wrath,
Displeased and splendid, gazed into God's face,
The Lord looked down upon great Nimrod's deed
And seated in large silence, pitied him.
Then from His breast a blazing angel came
And looking down upon the earth he cried,
'Oh blind, oh fatuous, knowing not thyself!
For I that am in God am thine own soul,
Thine own deep Self—unutterably real.
But thou wouldst build thy towers and threaten us
And snatch from out the Book His secret Word.
Yet—at thy voice—I will come down to earth,
And I will sphere before thy mortal sight
His midmost Truth, God's utterance crystal clear,
Shape of angelic substance that contains
The stars of destinies, astrologies,
Prophecies, histories, retributions, spells,
Births, crucifixions, resurrections, dooms,
And God's own heart that ever burns therein,
Made visible. Lo then, thine eyes shall see!
And thou shalt know how through thy walls are stretched
High Heaven's bastions; how angels' mighty feet
Tread deep thy strong foundations and their great arms
Uplift thy arches; how their heavenly breath
Bears up thy highest turrets, and how thy domes
Are symbols of their passing. Gazing on me,
Made wise with Truth, thou shalt grow glorious.
And I will shine through thee as does the flame
In sacred vessels—burning before the Lord.
A Prophet and a Saviour thou shalt be.
And thy great citadel shall open lie
To bright celestial guests and thou shalt walk
Among our sacred and dark groves; but if
I do not please thee, smite me with thy sword,
And I will leave thee and to Heaven return.'
Then, from His inmost bosom, God sent down
That angel unto Nimrod. And the King,
In Babel, made to Bathsheba a feast.
For he had marshalled hosts of armored men
In that great hall; and when Bathsheba moved
In silent radiance down the snow-white stair
There swept among them a vast murmuring
And a low roaring as of ardent flame.
Behold, she walked among them, and her feet
Were bound in golden sandals. The robe she wore
Was scarlet; and her face was pale. She came.
Then those that gazed upon her, being abashed,
Could lift their eyes no longer. But she moved
As does the sunset on an empty plain.
Beautiful and alone she walked unseen.
Only great Nimrod's eyes were not made blind,
But he observed the pageant of her face.
His shaggy warriors, bright as burning trees,
Blazed like deep forests all on fire, and lit
With smouldering helmet and with flaming shield
The air with conflagration; but their eyes
Fell down like flaming leaves, while over them
In the broad sky two eagles soared and met
And, mated in mid air, fledged on the gale
Great golden birds of love. So swiftly paired
The eyes of mighty Nimrod and the Queen.
Unwatched, unseen, amid vast multitudes,
She melted in his arms and on his breast
Laid down the awful splendor of her face.
And Nimrod saw the Angel, and his brow
Was pale, translucent; and a garb of light
Concealed the burning softness of his shape;
And he was mild and glorious and his eyes
In deep obedience smiled and as he shone,
Immortal doves were bred out of his sight—
And flew among the thousand columns of gold.
Like some strong diver he plunged down through light,
Through gulfs of quiet and eternal seas
Of such delight his bosom swelled with bliss,
And his large pantings shook the silvered deep.
With heaving sides he swam beneath the flood
And drenched with beauty floated into sight.
So Nimrod gazed upon him and he saw
Such rich benevolence as warmed the air
Like a celestial orchard deep with fruit
Of milky substance, bounteous and mild.
And the translucent brightness of his limbs
Was all inscribed with prophecies and dooms,
With retributions, ecstasies and dreams.
How starry was his substance, and his shape
How chastened unto beauty! How austere!
For he was lovelier than the Milky Way;
More ancient than the moon; more white than stars;.
And glories, dying from some fairer clime,
Did palely swim along his silent smile
Like great white singing swans. And Nimrod knew
His own deep self, unutterably real.
And in his hand he held an awful sphere,
A monstrous globule shaped like the full moon,
A dreadful brightness, stranger than a star.
Eternal, beautiful, orbed in golden light,
A vessel of pure fire it flamed serene,
More fearful than clear water when't is still.
Eternal beauty solved into one tear—
It laid a shape upon unshapen air,
And, as the radiant moon reveals the sun,
Held up to mortal vision the unseen.
And Nimrod saw it and he cried aloud.
And from his limbs, as out of gnarlèd trees,
Slow heavy drops exuded; and his sweat
Dropped from him like thick amber and he fixed
Upon that spirit astonished, staring eyes—
And cried unto the angel, 'It is the Word.'
For lo, made visible to mortal sight,
Strange mingled colors swam upon its shape.
Like skies at noon its pure angelic substance
Contained all stars and they engendered forth
Prophecies, histories, high astrologies,
Falls, crucifixions, resurrections, dooms,
Portents and charms; bright times, like ripened fruit,
Fell from its surface; seas and shifting lands
Were hurried from its face; vast nations rushed
And circling round it in mad hurricanes
Chastened its limpid stillness. Then, all gone,
Closed in its central sweetness, sphered in calm,
Blushed the perpetual smile of God.
That Angel unto Nimrod and he said,
'See in my hand God's awful Hieroglyph.
This is His secret Utterance, the Word
Which thou dost seek, in prayers that thou hast shaped
And raised to Heaven in thy domes august,
Thy soaring towers and thy spires that dream.
Take it from me. I am thy Spirit's Truth,
And we are one another, and from thee
Shall future times beget me. Thou shalt grow
Mild, ancient, and at ease, eternal, wise.
A prophet and a saviour—thou shalt be.
And thy great citadels shall open lie
To bright celestial guests and thou shalt walk
At will among our sacred and dark groves—
And thou and all thy sons shall be as kings.
Stretch out thy hand. Lay hold upon God's Word.'
And Nimrod gazed upon that Utterance.
And from it streamed such splendor as lit up
Bathsheba's face, inclined on Nimrod's breast.
And they perceived the galleries of the hall
Uplifted on the shoulders of archangels
And how amid the thick and blackened bronze
Was spread their hair and how their powerful shoulders
Supported Nimrod's bulwarks and their breath
Blew forth round domes like bubbles and their eyes
Bred out of earth his battlements, as the sun
Bids forests into growth; and they beheld
Strong Gravitations that with gigantic knees
Forced down his bastions while ethereal hands
Lifted his pinnacles; and they perceived
That through the ramparts of that mighty town
Were stretched sweet angels' wings and how mild eyes
Gazed at them from the stones and the great arches
Were lifted on the backs of angels, bent
To lift that joyous burden; and bright feet
Were spread amid the rock and rushing raiment
Of splendid spirits roared along the stone
For Nimrod when he built. And they perceived
How Cherubim had beckoned, and behold,
The city had grown upward; wingèd steeds
Were chained to drag the stones and forms unseen
Had built among the laborers on the plain.
And she remembered what God said to Nimrod,
And looking on the polished stone that stood
Between great brazen angels, she saw it hid
In purple cloth. Then Bathsheba drew down
Great Nimrod's face unto her own and said,
'Son of Almighty God—what hast thou done?
Tell me, great Nimrod, hast thou kept His word?
For I remember how I bade thee go
And write upon the stone, even as He said.
And if thou didst not do it—never more
Can I in solace lean upon thy breast.
No more can I learn from thine eyes, or say
Unto my soul,' This man shall lead thee forth
And marshal thee to God'—But I in grief
Would cloud my presence even to thy face.
Tell me, what didst thou write upon the stone?
Oh—ere I come to thee again—I say
Was it God's name?'
And Nimrod turned and saw
That burning shape, bright as the breast of God,
Gaze at him from the air and unto him
That Utterance spoke. 'What has thy soul conceived?
What thought has taken thee? Oh, in thy heart
What strange imagination has sprung forth?
What speech is this that thou reflectest on?
If thou dost speak it, thou shalt be accursed.
Tell her what thou hast done, else with thy hand
Cast down the Word of God.'…
And Nimrod turned.
And gazing on Bathsheba he beheld
The pale and awful beauty of her face.
Then he cast down God's Word before her feet,
And said, 'Upon the stone I wrote God's name.'
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 poisèd 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, poisèd 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.
Three days, above the plain, the setting sun
Moved over Babel; and its thousand courts,
Ruined beneath the sky, lay silently
Like pools of blood. Its devastated domes
Shone forth no more but blackened on the ground,
Rent into shapes gigantic. Its vast walls,
Spread fearfully, lay swart upon the sand,
Cleft in deep chasms, gorges of dark bronze,
Black, wind-swept cliff and brassy precipice.
Its towers had ceased like thunder. Its temples huge,
Convulsed in mammoth shapes, crouched on the plain
Like anguished gods—doomed and forever dumb.
For, with its spirits gone, what tongue can tell
The speechless agony of aching bronze,
The groanings and convulsions of strong stone.
Bed rock was heaved from earth. From dungeons deep
Emerged pale waters that, in mighty halls,
Spread glassy lakes beneath the shattered domes.
It seemed eternal ruin. No voice broke
That death-like stillness and not any man
Looked forth to query where his home had been.
But the gaunt wolf skulked slant-eyed from the plain,
And when the sun was set the jackal whined
Down empty echoing corridors of stone.
Under the roofless pillars the night owl
Flew among ruined arches and the wind
Sighed through disconsolate forests of black bronze.
But when upon the third night the full moon
Shone on the plain, a dark and awful shape
Loomed forth upon the rock and spread abroad
Its shadow in the waste. For a long time
It crouched, squat in the sand, nor moved at all,
But its huge bulk was like a bowlder cast
In the eternal idiocy of stone.
At length that sombre entity did move,
And with colossal labor without sound
Heaved up its groaning ruins; and the moon
Revealed the shaken semblance of a man.
With vague spread feet, gnarled knees and shaggy sides,
With bulging eyes and large, astonished face,
With matted locks of horror-whitened hair,
Gigantic in the waste he towered alone,
That once in Babel was a mighty King.
He stared abroad, as if a diver, lost
Beneath deep waters, gazed on a sunken town.
Then with a vacuous eye he seemed to search
As for a thing forgotten—that being found
He would remember it. And he moved on,
Desolate in the silence—and he saw
Unearthly crawling monsters of slow stone,
And buried in a sea of livid light
Black on the sand, unutterable shapes.
Through ruined vaults and roofless corridors
He moved with stealthy step. Sometimes he came
To empty chambers open to the sky
Whose lone inhabitant was the windy owl
Wheeling his ghostly shadow to and fro
With melancholy hooting. Much amazed
At these unearthly ruins he moved on,
Turning his steps along a corridor
That promised him the end he sought and seemed
As when along an insane countenance
A look of recognition strangely creeps.
But at the end it led him to a place
Made imbecile with ruin—where not one thing
Preserved its ancient contour. Sometimes he beat
Against a barricade of rock or rushed
Like one gone frantic to some parapet
Or from a ruined casement stared far off
Upon a sea of moonlit waste. At last,
Not knowing where he went, he turned his steps
Among the ruins of that mighty hall
Where once great Babel held her festival,
And his bright warriors, shaggy as burning trees,
Blazed forth like conflagration. Nimrod strode
Under the sky and on that ruin gazed.
For lo—those walls, graven with mighty shapes
Beautiful, old, occult, were spread abroad
In gorgeous devastation. And he gazed
On awful effigies of sculptured bronze.
Cast from their habitations they appeared
With frigid gestures to forbid or warn.
Carved out of purple marble, slit-eyed, straight—lipped,
With gold set in their nostrils and their mouths,
With hands upon their knees, about to speak,
Yet dumb forever, stared swart images.
Hewn out of uncouth rock, old sacred beasts,
Elephants, lions, monsters terrible,
Dragons and birds that flew before the flood
With scaly wings of brass, grotesquely shaped,
Stared at him from those devastated walls,
Shaken with thunder each one from his niche
Of lawful meaning. As if the shining beasts
That rage with love and splendor about God's throne,
Beneath His hand unutterably good,
Being cast to earth returned to natural wrath
And whined or whinnied, bellowed, roared or screamed,
Each after his own kind, desiring flesh;
So these immortal symbols, fallen from grace,
Unspiritual, brutish, uttered death.
Monsters of twisted bronze, griffin or sphinx,
Strange mythologic beasts no eye had seen,
Beneath the moon, in effigies of hate,
That once in ordered harmony had choired
With golden mouths a psalmody of love,
Stared at him as he moved and with mad lips
Cried dissolute meanings that were not the truth.
Then his flesh cowered before old hieroglyphs
Of chronicles forgotten—gods asleep—
That muttered forth sad dreams and vaguely spoke
Into his soul, dark, unimagined crime
And uncreated horror. Letters strange
Leered at him wildly and with insane eyes
Told tales abominable of an earth
They saw not well. But some were chastely made,
More lovely than the white and ancient moon;
But like the moon they ever turned away
An occult fire from the eyes of man.
Others of more intelligible shape
Seemed beautiful to him—but oh, how dumb,
Like mouths of speechless angels—lost syllables,
That had no meaning for him, yet did seem
To have that in them which should ease his grief
If his soul's eyes could read their outlawed script.
Adamic spellings, palely glimmering runes,
And broken shapes of ancient alphabets!
He seemed like one who argued with the speech
Of furious madmen—for upon the night
They worked such images as with fearful shapes
Floated upon the air in horrors pale.
Insanities, that in the shadowy wind
Beat round his face like harpies and befouled
His spirit's sustenance! Contagious fear
Begot abomination where it was not,
And having sickened all things, on his soul
Cast off its trembling and diseasèd sweat.
Murder sat throned on emptiness, and hate
Was soured in the air's stomach till it spat
A living venom around Nimrod's feet.
Wrath shook his marrow. Floating idiocies,
Like watery jellies in voluptuous shapes,
Swam through his brain; and disembodied lust
Fearfully drifted towards his dreamy flesh.
Then panic seized him and on his body cast
Disintegration, till what time should do
By terror was accomplished. Palsy shook
The virtue from his bone. His flesh distilled
In unseen waters. He stretched forth withering arms.
With vacuous eyes, with horror-whitened hair,
He might have lived innumerable years.
Awful he stood, unutterably old.
But as he groped for some remembered sight,
His trancèd eyes grew suddenly awake.
He came upon a crumbling arch, carved deep
With cunning skill and devious workmanship.
Beneath its shadowy arches, beating thick,
Bats throbbed athwart the darkness with shrill cries
Or in warm dusky garlands hung festooned.
Then gazing underneath that arch, he saw
A ruined marble stair, monstrous, snow white;
Upon the left, over the sunken steps,
A roaring torrent; shattered on the right
Huge fragments of a golden balustrade,
Wherefrom hung shining coils of mighty snakes;
And at the top a barred and brazen door.
Then Nimrod groaned. And plunging up besieged
With breast and hands that portal. It was carved
With haloes of bright angels and burnished red
With glowing ribs of deeply crudded wings.
And on the left a brazen cherub stood
With wings outspread. His pinions were blood red,
His breast of 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 wings outspread. His pinions were blood red,
His breast of alabaster and his eyes
Of topaz, flaming fearfully. In his hand
He poised a jeweled spear before the Lord.
Then Nimrod with huge clamor beat the door,
With shouts and speech of anguish; old great cries
He had not yet forgotten; Adamic prayers;
And prehistoric signals of the flesh
When it was pure in Eden; tribal calls
Of spirit unto spirit; ambrosial speech;
Curses that Cain once taught unto his sons
In his great city; Paradisal words
Ineffable to us, rich syllables
That fed the soul, calm as angelic milk,
With deep and immemorial tones of love.
And lo, beneath his violence that door
Groaned, yielded, gave, and fell, and its harsh sound
Echoed through the reverberating halls.
But Nimrod, gazing from a windy cliff,
Beheld the floating clouds and the dark sky.
Over a sunken ruin sailed the moon.
Cast far below he saw Bathsheba's towers
Flung forth in natural shapes, fantastic cliffs,
Caverns of bronze, or promontories steep;
And pale with ghostly splendor in their midst
The polished silence of a smoothèd lake,
Until that night by no man ever seen,
Paved with such bitter whiteness of the moon
A brazen dragon well might dance thereon.
Then Nimrod turned. But now not with huge cries
He broke the stillness, but his glassy eyes
Rolled forth on nothingness. Round his large face
Floated vague locks of horror-whitened hair.
Down that great marble stair he swept as if
A temple fell and in the ruined hall,
Gorgeous in devastation, groped among
His monstrous images. Then suddenly,
Shaken with palsy, with a staring eye,
He pointed down among the shattered wings
Of crumbled brazen angels, and plucked forth
A slab of polished stone on which was writ
A name of might. This, seizing in both hands,
He raised high in the air, and on it shone
In letters bright, a disobedient word—
'Great Nimrod.' Then he cast it in the dust
And raised to Heaven a primeval cry.
And at that cry dark shadows dimly stirred
From obscure places, and as snuffing hounds
Seek to the prey, vague human beings moved
Among the shaken ruins and appeared
From secret haunts where they in anguish hid.
Slowly from vaults and echoing corridors
They dolorously crept and were aghast
Seeing him white with age; and still they came
And huddled round him. But speechless through the night
Loomed the great King. Repulsed upon his lips
His words did sit like dark-browed effigies
In sculptured silence and he did not speak.
About their sombre chief they studded the dark
As when God's whisper spake into the sky
A thousand planets. So there appeared in sight,
In fearful resurrection, hosts of men.
And Nimrod lifted up his voice and spoke.
And from his lips his mighty arguments
Did lock their shoulders like great struggling gods
In the clear fierce arena of mid air.
For he alone of all that lived in Babel
Remembered the old God-like words nor yet
Had lost from off his tongue that ancient speech.
'Oh! Oh! Ye men of Babel! Wherefore then
Do ye stare round about with dog-like eyes
That beg the sop of charity from me?
There was a man that once on Shinar's plain
Built such a lordly city as not yet
Had Heaven looked upon…. I am not He….
Oh! Oh! Ye men of Babel! Get ye hence,
Out of this ruined city to a strange land,
And build new towns upon a distant plain.
They said that Nimrod was a mighty man.
His garments were like thunder. His head shone
With fleeces of the sun, and his bright lips
Flashed javelins of persuasion…Where is He?…
Oh! Oh! Ye men of Babel! I say that God
Is terrible on earth, and if our speech
Shall make a stench in Heaven, we are cut off.
Obey the Lord…I would ye had a king!…
But if ye love me, if ye have no fear
Of mine affliction, lest I bring a curse
Upon your tents and lest your women's milk
Be dried from out their breasts because of me,
Then place chains on my wrists; and on my brow
Write `slave,' and drive me with an iron scourge,
Bearing your burdens like the patient beast,
While ye shall wax like cedars in green plains.
If ye would have me with you, cry to me!
But if ye fear me, silently depart.'
But they, with looks askance, heard Nimrod's speech,
Not understanding his great ancient words.
And, being full of wrath, thinking he said
Unnatural, grievous things—with angry eyes
And sullen aspect they silently moved away.
That night they traveled forth upon the plain,
Nor unto Nimrod did his sons return.
But venerable Assher stayed with him,
The ancient, the white-haired, and his true friend,
That once had loved him for his bounteous youth.
And when he saw how health had left the King
And he had grown unutterably old,
The tears fell from his eyes; and Nimrod said,
Lo now, thou art my only and true friend.'
But when he heard that speech, old Assher thought
The King was mad and answered unto him,
'How can I serve thee?' Then was Nimrod's mind
Bewildered utterly and he conceived
That Assher hated him and with a cry
Of wrath and anguish, lifted up his sword
And smote him in the breast. And Assher fell,
And the blood flowed. And Nimrod stared at him,
Fearing lest curses crouched in hostile eyes
Spring from their lair and slay him who had slain.
But Assher, raising vaguely on his arm
And breathing heavily, gazed up once more
In Nimrod's angry eyes, and ere he died
With a loud voice he cried an unknown word.
Then was great Nimrod shaken grievously.
And from the shadows moved a dreary shape
And settled mournfully at Nimrod's feet,
Unnoticed. For from Nimrod's anguished lips
Swept words like planets. Golden and full orbed
They rode the silence as the throbbing stars
Rehearse the centuries or foretell new days
Or move through Heaven prophesying woe.
'Spirit of truth! Oh, how shall I make peace
With thy enraged great nature? I am one
Who having bid his tribe unto the feast
Pollutes the bread. Have mercy upon me.
For lamentation seizes on my flesh
And in my soul there is a deep disease.
Ye purities that in the wind and rain
Shall dredge the air of foulness—find out a way
To cleanse me! Never! Never shall I be clean.
Then cast me in the purging fires of Hell
And in eternal flames let me be burned.
Let me be damned. But oh, from out my soul
Let this ripe sickness somehow be consumed.
For if it were a horror of the flesh
That had unseasoned me—how quickly then
Might Nature work in me her ancient cure.
Then she might rend my body off from me
And cast its fevers in the air, and turn
Its leprosies into the earth, and fling
My spirit forth, a creature clean and bold.
But this strikes deeper. When I die, my soul
Shall howl outside the citadel of God,
And with rent garments cry `Unclean! Unclean!'
Thou happy flesh, that when distressed too far
Melts off in vaporish airs and is no more!
Oh, for some power that swiftly should unlock
The atoms of my spirit, that they might fly
Asunder once for all, and all my thoughts
Be cast abroad under the windy stars,
Blown off in gulfs of nothingness. Then no more,
Fixed in immortal entity of woe,
Should I ejaculate to mine own grief
That syllable of god-like torture— `I.'
What doom has come on me that I must go
Seeking mine own soul's death, yet find it not?
But still my spirit, breathed of God, must bear
Its ancient and intolerable shape.
Thou gaze of Truth, that, sphering forth my soul,
Still keeps me focussed—for one moment lift
That splendor from me! Then I'll plunge out in dark
And be no more a self… Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!
Who am I? What?… Once did I have a name?—
Ye blocks of nothingness that, hewn by me,
Built up in dungeons dreadful and unseen,
Immure my soul in darkness! I, no more,
Shall feel upon my spirit that sweet breath
Of ancient freedom. I, no more, shall plunge
Like droves of horses up my thoughts' steep plains
Nor in deep coverts hunt out mighty prey
Of fearful knowledge—Huntsman before the Lord.
Nor perched upon some mighty spiritual cliff
Shall I snatch down the lightning out of Heaven
To be unto my sons a flaming sword.
When I was young and in my spirit's health,
I dreamed such deeds as great archangels dream,
Such that astonished cherubs plumed in flame
Bent down to listen to my murmuring sleep.
I plotted triumphs beautiful and great,
With battle calls and singing clamor sweet!
Then, like mellifluous pipes with silver sound,
By mine own soul my flesh was blown upon!
Where is my clarion? On what inner hills
Blows my shrill trumpet? When shall my host return?
And oh, ye sweet and many-voicèd pipes,
To what harsh discord has your music gone!
I have so frightened nature that her milk
Has lost its sustenance, and when I turn
To her rich bosom she yields unto my soul
A food that palsies and a drink that kills.
Where shall I go? What shall I do? What hearth
Shall warm me now with flames? Is there a roof
To shield me from the tempest? No! No—I say!
For I am not as one that being thrust
Out of an alien door goes forth alone
Cursing his hostile tribe, but in the plains
Habits in some dark cave with lynx or owl,
Befriended by nutritious earth! I am
A wandering vacuum by space cast out,
Abhorred by nature and by God accursed.
Oh thou appalling universe! Thou hast
No darkened cranny wherein I can hide
From mine affliction. What will ye do to me?
Ye crouching, hostile, savage entities
Of earth, air, water, wood, flesh, spirit, stone!
There's not one grain of sand upon the plain
But from its breast such furies are unleashed
As hound my spirit forth—it knows not where.
Oh, while I live on earth, each thing that is
Shall scourge my soul with its identity,
Accusing, awful, unutterably real.
Ye fierce existing things, how shall I make
Peace with you ever! Brand upon my lips,
Thou Spirit of Truth, some burning word, so deep
Pain cannot shake it thence. Then I will go
Shouting it forth. But let my people turn
On me in wrath and scourge me for my speech!
Yes, stone me to the dust! Yes—strip from me
My clamorous flesh and send mine outraged ghost
Breathing forth vengeance and a shout of truth!
So might ye be appeased, ye things that bear
A shape upon you and mine own soul might feel
A solace to its grief. It cannot be!
But when I die and leave this earth I'll go
An ancient wanderer through the universe,
Hounded by meteors, cast off by the stars,
Plunged into chaos. Oh ye musics huge
That deepen into splendors with rich suns
Or wane with dying moons—never by you
Shall I be comforted but yet more damned
Because ye are so real. For I am one
With such deep contradiction in my soul
That when God to the void cried— `Let there be'—
I, unto groaning chaos, shouted, `No.'
Ye giant harmonies that in deep space
Build up proud architectures—not with you,
Shall I in sounding chambers of delight
Seek shelter from the intolerable waste.
Not in your shining palace may I dwell,
Who raised myself amid the howling waste
A small and evil tent of the unreal.
Ye powers that drive upon that failing roof
Your blazing weapons—be merciless to me.
With your strong, glittering spears stab me clean
Let not my dangerous spirit rove at large.
Fix me forever on some shuddering orb,
Sad and for ages doomed. For if I go,
Sweeping through space my pale terrific ghost,
Against mine own deep will I shall afflict
The duteous orbits of the stars; shall drive
My hounds of fierce negation forth with howls,
Devouring living entities, until
The world shall reek with carcasses of thought.
Or I might snatch from Heaven its accuracies
That twist and wreathe and wonderfully bind
His seasons and His planets! Whirl them forth—
Shuddering, beautiful, voluminous, bright,
Then cast them hissing underneath my feet
With all their cunning gone! Then, then indeed,
God's whole creation fearfully shall rock!
Or if with spells of hate and mutterings deep
I snare his numbers forth from midmost air
So that his strong foundations crumble quite!
Think, think, ye angels! with what eyes of grief
Ye would survey your aching atmosphere,
If I should snatch their poles from the swift orbs
Or casting grief upon the air whirl forth
Great shrieking circles that my thought had flayed
Of their circumference—or if my hand
Stripped time from off the stars—then—Send me peace!
Thou blasting light, shine not upon me so
That I should see the face of mine offence.
Thou burning Truth! How fearfully lit up
Is my own thought before me, as when dark crags
Jutting from off a mountain's thundering peak,
With blazing lightning sheeted in living flame,
Glow terribly apparent.
Oh,—if from out my spirit there had sprung
Some great new virtue—some unimagined good—
Such as the angels of the choiring spheres
Might gaze upon with love and breed it forth
For their delight—like great melodious doves!
Then should this cruel splendor show me plain,
Set on time's promontory where men's eyes
Gazing upon me ever should behold
Eternal beauty on my breast. But now,
With haggard front and a bewildered eye,
With barren countenance and shaking bone,
They see me lifting in accursèd hands
A fearful offering of archetypal woe,
Deep in my breast an everlasting shame,
And on my lips an immemorial lie.
Yet shine, shine on, thou awful Truth, and make
My deep affliction deeper. Let me know
Full well what I have done. Yes, let me sit
For centuries staring at this deed of mine,
So I may see on it thy fearful light
Nor wholly lose thee from mine eyes gone blind.
Increase my woe. Let me behold thee more.
Oh, not with slow recessional of light
Subdue my anguish in me. Ease me not
With lesser wisdom. But upon my soul
Beat down thy full and devastating light.
So I shall mourn for æons, eternal, sad,
Original, disastrous, inventive, stretched
Upon the starry wheels of cosmic pain,
Tremendous and afflicted, huge, chastised,
Greatest among the anguished gods of wrong—
I will preserve my planetary throes—
Nor yield my nature unto smaller pains.'
But lo, ere he was done, upon the peaks
Of his soul's mountains, thunder roared and shook
The hidden regions of his mind. The spears
Of multitudes of angels flashed and plunged
In his deep substance, as the fiery bolt
Buries itself in stone. Then from God's eyes
Swept forth a cloud of darkness, such as cast
His consciousness in foggy night. Bright thoughts,
Like stars in the deep heaven of his mind,
Tore their fixed bodies, screaming, from that sky,
And flashed away to emptiness. Oh, then
Was Nimrod seized with violent grief that shook
His giant limbs. He reared, he plunged, he bent.
He filled the air with such harsh cries as when
Wild horses deep in forest fires, raise
Upon the shuddering night, unearthly screams.
He swerved this way and that, and falling prone
Like a huge herd of cattle, beat the dust.
Then, raised aloft, he flung his groaning bulk
Into the air and dizzily swept through space
Circles of anguish as if a falling orb
Wheeled through the heavens on vast curves of pain.
Then, drawing back his thousand agonies,
His shakings, sweatings, terrors, dreads, despairs,
His furies, retributions, rages, griefs,
He bound them as the fearful hand of God
Locks fiery whirlwind into speechless stone.
Silent he spread, to helpless earth appalled,
And Babel's curse fell on great Nimrod's tongue.
Then, then, his spirit's golden bastions shook!
His starry dome of high philosophy
Flung down its meteors, and the columns huge
Of stately logic crumbled. In his soul
The shining architectures of sweet tone
Were spread in ruin. Down the corridors
Of his dark brain plunged wild and gusty shapes
Of syllables affrighted. Routed forth,
Flared great white faces of astonished words.
From chambers of music and deep vaults of sound
Where they had hidden, wild and lovely dreams,
Clothed in a virginal vesture of sweet song,
Went mad with discord. Then forgetfulness
Swept its slow fogs on mighty Nimrod's brain.
Awful aphasias, with their bleeding whips,
Scourged from its palace sweetly singing speech,
Beautiful symbols out of music made,
Syllables lovely, metaphors sweet shaped
That, floating brightly, danced before the Lord;
And from their altars many a priest-like word
They drove from ceremonials of high thought.
Then guiles and crafts, wreathing like thick black snakes,
Choked meaning like snared birds and creeping lies
Soft, thick and shining, monstrous and snow white,
Coiled palely round the struggling limbs of speech.
Then forth upon the air, not to return,
There leaped from Nimrod's lips terrific sounds
Driven by God's anger. Verbs like men at arms
Charged battling forth; and bold and blazing nouns
Like chariots, fury ridden; adjectives
That spread their fiery bellies in the sun
Till all their quivering wings as copper shone;
Ejaculations huge, deep tones of woe,
Thundering gutturals, hissing sibilants
Of fire-breathing serpents—every sound
That once had ministered to dream or thought,
Plunged from his shouting lips and shook the air,
Blazed brightly on the shadowy gale and then
Swept up to Heaven. When Nimrod saw them go
He stood confounded, and upon him fell
Vacuity, that numbed with aching sleep
All he had ever known. Then did he seem
Like one whose will, in bitter conflict plunged,
Grapples with thought, but with a flaming shield
That Heavenly warrior to the Lord returns.
Then from those lips that once had moved the earth
And swayed God's ramparts with their prayers, there came
First accents of a speech before unheard;
Faint murmurings, and sighs and querulous breaths,
Mutterings, peevish whispers, babble wild,
Bewildered utterances and whimpering cries
Like those of bleeding curs. And fiercer notes
Of astonishment and wrath shook from his lips,
New fearful curses, shoutings of dismay,
Alarums, prophecies of dire events,
And wild deliriums of mongrel tones.
But when he strove to lift his voice to Heaven
And cast with splendor before the Golden Throne
His great and ancient prayers—then his vague lips
Loose, stammering, uttered speech against his will,
Terrible laughter, crazy emptiness—
And a thick mumbling blurred great Nimrod's lips.
Then did he speak no more. But knowing now
What he had done before God's face, he stood
Refusing from his voice those lesser tones
That like the Titans had pursued the Gods
From his Olympian lips. Silent he grew,
Choosing instead to be forever dumb.
Thus Nimrod stood and the slow night wore on,
And her dark patience wasted into dawn.
But when that august silence on his lips,
Unbearable, unending, seemed to draw
Her soul up to him, as the old dead moon
Bids up the sombre tide, the huddled shape,
That had so long been crouched at Nimrod's feet,
Heaved heavily and underneath his eyes
Spoke syllables he did not understand.
But when upon his glassy eye there shone
The pale and awful beauty of her face,
Once more the trancèd waters of his mind
Shone with the glimmering radiance of words,
Reflections of such thoughts as in the sky
Of his soul's Heaven hung like spiritual stars.
And a vast cry issued from Nimrod's lips,
A primal utterance and an ancient word.
Then did eternal silence seize his tongue
And there was heard no more upon the earth
The solemn beauty of that elder speech.
And they that went from Babel were a host
Of mighty men. And with them they bore forth
Monsters of bronze and grotesque images
Cast from the walls, and wandering in the plains
They worshiped these false gods and unto them
Were terror and disaster. For since God's hand
Cast down the vessels of their lying tongue,
Men dwelt no more in brotherhood, but built
Cities against each other, breeders of war,
And spoke with differing and hostile speech.
And they were scattered westward on the plains
And built up mighty cities known of old,
Dark Nineveh—ferocious Babylon.
But ere they left the desert sands they turned,
And pointing back beheld upon the plain,
Besieged with glittering armies of the sun,
The ruins of great Babel. And that town
Lay in vast stillness. In the silent halls
No human voice broke the empty air.
No human footfall when the dusk was cool
Left desolate sound upon the echoing stone;
But in the deep, reverberating gloom
Down thundering gullies heaped of gold and bronze
The bell-like roaring of the unicorn—
And in far courts the windy satyr screamed!
At night with mournful voice the gusty gale
Searched through dark corridors of ruinous bronze.
With ghostly shout and supernatural cries
It filled the air with desolate shapes unseen.
When noon was hot, the desert lion came
And slaked his thirst at many a quiet pool.
Hyenas laughed where once sweet courts were green.
The flying serpent with his sighing tune
Beat the hot sunshine with metallic wings.
Through hideous gorges and down sounding flumes
That had been streets in Nimrod's mighty town,
Deep rivers roared or snow-white cataracts plunged.
Dragons were in their pleasant palaces—
Grey wolves howled down the corridors unseen.
Over hot fragments of smooth paving stone
In bright mercurial arabesques there flamed
The glimmering viper, and in colonnades,
With brassy columns or columns of black bronze,
Huge snakes in cruel stupor darkly hung
Their bulky richness, fierce, arboreal.
The bat beneath the arches made his home.
And all alone in melancholy halls,
Over a windy shadow, swept the owl.
Eve after eve, through jagged clouds, the sun
In blood-red splendor gazed upon the flumes,
The gorges deep, the terrible ravines
Of those deserted ruins. It did not seem
Within the years of man, but might have been
Some fearful ravage of primeval gods.
For like a ruined god whose fearful shape
Had been appalled to everlasting stone,
Rock-like in devastation, with his beard
Moss-like upon his bosom, and his hair,
With horror whitened, the only moving thing
Upon the air of night, great Nimrod reared
His shattered bulk. Gigantic, Nimrod stood,
Flanked with majestic ruin. But his gaze
Was set against the darkness and the wind.
Huge monsters huddled round him wrought of bronze.
He had not moved since from his lips that last
Great ancient word had broken, but he stood
With arms outstretched and mighty palms pressed down,
Bulwarked in anguish and in grief composed.
His solemn strife besieged the midnight gloom.
Nor might that shape crouched darkly at his feet
Shake down the solid bastion of his woe.
For since the moment when gigantic grief,
Bracing his bulwarks war-like against time,
Heaved up the mighty derricks of his bone—
He was as one in spirit so enthroned
Beyond mortality that never more
Might he know grief, save of his spirit's throes.
As if an anguished angel on a star,
Throbbing with golden immemorial woes
For cosmic wrong, heard not upon the earth
In jungles dark the howling of the beast—
So, fixed upon his starry orb of grief,
He gave no heed unto the brutish rage
That shook the mortal forests of his flesh.
But he was not more silent than the shape
Of earth-like devastation at his feet.
He did not cry to her nor moved at all
When in the night the rolling clouds immured
The brightness of the moon and in the dark
Obscured the staring whiteness of her face.
Nor when the heavy thunder of God's throne
Split into fearful chasms the black night
And he was sunk in dizzying gulfs of rain.
Nor when the lightning swept him forth once more
In speechless patience, as if burning wheels
Had whirled him up from nothingness accursed,
Stretched on a vast circumference of flame.
Nor when with huge and fiery bolts he seemed
Struck through and through with such large pangs as gods
Nailed against empty chaos might endure—
The great progenitor of a new crime,
Doomed to immortal grief and cosmic pain.
For still his crag-like presence flanked the gale
Like a calm precipice, nor did he shake
His citadel of woe. But when at last
The whirlwind of God's chariot rolled away,
With shuddering sinew and with groping hand,
With frightful palsies and reachings of dumb pain,
He plucked the woman crouching at his feet,
And pointing to almighty Heaven, he stretched
A hand upon her, turning to the sky
The pale and watchful beauty of her face.
For poised aloft out of dark wracks of cloud,
There flamed amid the fastness of the sky
A monstrous globule, a soft shining sphere,
A fearful brightness, stranger than a star.
A vessel of pure fire, it moved serene.
Eternal, beautiful, orbed in golden light
The moon shone over Babel—and it seemed
As if an Angel, before celestial hosts,
Raised in mid Heaven the eternal Word of God.
Comments about Nimrod by Anna Hempstead Branch
Read this poem in other languages
This poem has not been translated into any other language yet.
Still I Rise
The Road Not Taken
If You Forget Me
Edgar Allan Poe
Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening
Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep
Mary Elizabeth Frye