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VxPoem ID: 12189


Posted: May 3rd. 2005 10:21:27 AM

Views: 2974

An Apparition of Inanna to Dumuzi

by B. T. Newberg

Age Group: Adult

An Apparition of Inanna to Dumuzi

I, Ninshubur, former servant to the late queen Inanna, the missing morning star, tell of a strange event that befell the widowed king Dumuzi...

In the royal palace, the hedges were in order but the caretakers were not.
The door stood, but the hinges had all come loose.

I passed into the innermost courtyard, being wise in the passages of the palace. There hid a tree called the huluppu, forbidden throughout the land by the king's order, and nigh extinct but for that final one. Into that desperate garden I passed. And I drew near to the inmost royal chambers. At dusk I drew near, and there I saw a small man peering out the window. I saw the king peering out the window at the huluppu tree.

I heard the words of her king, o lover. I heard the woeful words of her widow, her sacred husband, the fickle fruit-king, the handsome date-king, the charming lord of figs, who married the highest woman though he was but a shepherd, who lost the highest woman though she loved him still: the lord of the harvest, the sov’reign slain, the food of the table, the dark, dark Dumuzi.

When she left him alone, when she wandered into death, then all the earth wailed for her, but he did not wail. All the earth grieved for her, but he did not grieve. Therefore she returned to haunt him.

I slink’d outside the royal chambers, where she once lied in happiness. In my grief I was slinking along the wall. I was outside the chambers, and he was within. It was then that I heard his words. I will repeat them.

Hear, O lover, the words of her goat-king Dumuzi as he fell in royal robe upon his inmost chamber’s window:

“Art thou a ghost, my truant queen, or merely a tree outside my window? No, thou art nothing but the mem’ry of a lover long-aroving, savagely imposing on the senses. Ah!—forgive me, love: the goblet’s loos’d a pounding creature. For you there has been no memorial, for the bed we made I do not wish to remember.

Then from his royal mouth, as a ghost through some poor chosen vessel, fell something like the queen’s voice:

(Replied Inanna to her ripe Dumuz') :
"O lover, cherished mem'ry thou, as I
Upon a lonely pilgrimage, recluse
As some tormented hermit melancholy,
Or adolescent sickly swallow’d by
The rip’ning body like a stranger’s memories
Confronted in the mirror blamefully,
Descended deathly down into the draperies
Of earth-embowell’d caves for weight of lost humanities."

When these words fell from Dumuzi’s lips, he paled. But quickly he regained himself, and replied:

“At last you hie thee home, late daughter, but your story is cold. What are these flatt’ring ornamented lines I think you speak? Art thou political to put them on like the seven treasures?-- (but you outdo yourself by two) . Yet I shall agree to these thy terms,
For where the lady goeth, followeth the lord.
Whate’er so dark she doth, so doth he too.
She found him flocking sheep and on him pour’d
The sover’reign stars while sleeping in the dew:
A fi’ry comet fell my queen and struck the flock too.

“So if she fell from heaven as misplac’d meteor,
Her rightful place as morning star rebuking,
To mate this shameful shepherd of statecraft’s meter,
Whose rude talk reaks of rhyme’s abusing,
Then why this torpid tale of magic’s musing,
To greet the grieving one who wot him widow’d?
So long the queen did loiter in death’s oozing
Affections, all the earth now ekes the split ode
Of outer dearth and inner dirge, by date-king dittoed.

“Perhaps you leer upon the lace of purple
Lock’d with indigo interring me
In shrouds too gay for grieving’s strangled gurkle,
But have you never knealt and sighed enduringly
For the story of the Chinese sage demuringly
Thrumming an o’er-turn’d pot upon his wife’s
That-morning passing? He said, ‘Why should I grieve?
For I was sad but now am o’er it.’—and life’s
Too brief to brood in mem’ry’s heavy heave,
Wherefore I wear the sov’reign’s gold and warlord’s grieve.

“What?—will you not speak but only stare,
Though silently unquieting the soul?
Through a window peering in you dare
Disturb the lordly duties you left whole
To me, when down you dove into the hole,
A foolish errand into death’s own bed,
A curious cat, and blindly as a mole,
Seducing yet seduc’d by darkest lead,
A love that left you—dare I?—yes, I say it: dead!

“The fruit of thy dark tree we ate together,
Making sing the sacred marriage bed
With creaks and happy groans in summer weather
Now past, the fruitful day exchang’d instead
For this bedraggl’d tree to weeping wed,
Its willow boughs in burden down depending,
As pendulous as teats of crones, unbled
By baby born to heir the business pending
Of saving this deprived soul from hell unending.

“Oh, why do you appear to me a tree
Forbidden rattling ’gainst the window shutter,
So like thy sacred tree you gave to me
In marriage for the rite of pleasures utter?
You!—my sacred, sacred... alas, I stutter...
That species I uprooted from the land,
And cleans’d from mem’ry the mental clutter.
Now this, the last one, shall no longer stand:
Behold my ax!—yet something sorely stays my hand.

“O fortu’tous rhyme!—that measures man,
And playful reaps my woe from birth to birth,
For in plenty I’m the madly piping Pan,
But call me jokeless Job in times of dearth.
For share I too the shame that grieves the earth:
Behold my silver’d hair like crowning mold,
And wheezing wind that more sustains the mirth!
But this abused body now grows cold,
And to me wings a bird whose only song is death.
O my love, you see!—at last the framework fails, and the scheme comes crashing down, like a fire exchang’d for an ember, or a dream expos’d for a dream. I am out of time and out of rhythm. There is no more beauty in me. At length I die as plainfully as I’ve begun.”

Then sank the king down, as though to sleep, and fell upon the sill. He was slumping upon the sill. But rest he could not. At length came a gasp, and his eyes shot wide, and a rattle blew from his throat. Then rose the voice of the queen. Then spoke the cold, cold voice of my queen:

“O lover's memory like a ripened fruit,
How sober did I chew thy peal!--as I
Before a willow drooping destitute
Within a mountain's shadow heaved a sigh.
The sun hung red, and soon a goat began to cry,
While high above the peak into a cloud
Removed itself; and meanwhile in the sky
There frowned some ancient god, whose sky-dome proud
Its distance kept, though roiling red and heavy-browed.”

She told the story of her journey. My queen told the story of her descent. Through her king, she made it known to me. I will repeat it.

Hear, O lover, the story of Inanna’s descent:

“Before me op’ed a crevice black and narrow,
Hidden 'neath the willow boughs and stone,
And leading deathly down into a barrow
'Neath the mountain, where a sullen crone--
My sister, Ereshkigal--kept her throne,
And from that seat of bone and feather queened
Upon the dead: no leaf nor blossom blown
Escaped her brace, nor memory tambourined
In lonely mourning when a life from life was weaned.

“Into the crack I solemnly intended,
But a wind came ripping like a claw,
And held me back: old Enlil's winds portended
What would happen if I spurned the law
Of feathered death and climbed into its craw.
I stood there underneath the willow long
With arms akimbo; dusk pulled down its draw,
And dimness overtook the vale, erelong
The hooting birds of night began the evensong.

“A river somewhere rushed along that vale,
For soft and steady gurgle-gushed its sound
Betwixt the campfire crackles, while the shale
And rock kept quiet; meanwhile I turned round
The stratagems to gain my sister's mound.
As crossed I sat and stewed the late-night thought,
The straw-like autumn grass around me wound
Its fingers, but the flirts of sleep I caught
And crushed: no peace before I gained the thing I sought!”

So spoke my queen of her intent. But why? Why in all the worlds did she incline upon the depths? Why the throne of Ereshkigal did she seek? Why set her ear upon the deep?

“Then to the ground I set my ear with heart,
And bent my will, and pressed my furrowed brow
To conjuring by magic or by art,
A means to delve into the darkness like a plow,
And even so I wrought myself a vow,
And spilled the fateful blood to make it sound,
With ne’er a thought for why but only how,
To make that morbid trip beneath the ground,
Alone in all my heart, as I was bound.

“For something hidden there did call,
And beckoned like a lantern in a mist,
Some hazy face beneath a netted caul,
With graven lips that moving lowly hissed;
And like a dream that memory waking missed,
That image leaked away but never left,
To shadow merged and formlessness abyssed,
An urge, but of its vital object cleft,
A nothing but a yearning, void, bereft.

“It haunted me, that urge, as high I throned
Upon my seat as heaven’s queen, my king
Beside me firm; together we intoned
The laws and ordered each and every thing,
Except that one, that formless, soundless ring
Inside my ear, I could not even tell
My husband what it was, that murmuring;
And knew I then that nothing could dispel
That doom, that fate, that deep and mournful knell.”

And with those words my queen resolved to make her lone descent. Next she told the tale of that night, that dark and moonless night when she stood outside the entrance to the depths.

“What whispers as I stalk the midnight hills?
Thickly fell the darkness roundabout;
Like pitch it filled the cataracts and rills,
And took my vision, so that I may doubt
My step, but then as from the earth a shout
Came rumbling, shaking leaves upon their poles,
And driving winged armies off in route
Through flapping night, like hobble-hopping souls--
The cry "I am Inanna!" echoed through the knolls.

“O father Nanna, mother Ningal, prince
And princess of the moon: now tell me, where
Art thou on this most dark of nights? Long since
Thy fruitful bed thou made, and told me fair
What lovers' fruits were sweet, but mark with care:
That taste has waned, and now my belly swoons,
For that which ripes eternal's come to bear
A doubtful smell, and queasy sit the moons
Digesting in the belly, with love's uneasy boons.

“My husband knows me not; this nameless urge
He cannot fathom; what I feel is to his ear
A passing fancy, passion on the verge
Of indigestion, cramps, or monthly queer,
Commends me to the herbalist and seer;
But something deep within me changes now;
The trembling, static-charged atmosphere
Around me sparks, and phantom lights endow
Me with a health as vital anyhow.

“But this you cannot mark from where on high
You hide yourselves in dreamy shadow's bliss,
Lost to mortal sight, nor earth nor sky
Illuming, but removed into the kiss
Of your uncomplicated love; note this:
Your daughter chose the darkest night to wreak
Her will upon the barrow--your abyss
Of wisdom guides her not, and none shall speak
When proud she makes the journey under-peak!

“Away I've sent my virgin vizier-guard,
Old Ninshubur, to wait upon the plain
For victory's signal fire: as cinnabarred
And fragrant as myself when I, though slain,
Shall rise in glory for ancestral gain,
And gain of all the creatures of the earth,
That all may share in triumph over pain
And timely misery: no flood nor dearth
Nor wane of love shall be, when I have my rebirth!

“I quaked, and yet the vale, in acquiescence
To the rumble, like a minor fit
That hardly turns the sleeper from her nescience,
Turned to silence, shook for but a whit;
Erelong the birds again began to flit
From branch to branch, and insects whine their keen,
While high above the sky remained unlit,
Its hermit stars alone complete, serene,
Indifferent and content, as if I'd never been.”

To be continued...

Author's Notes: Another by-product of my recent work to retell the myth of Inanna's descent and return.

In this poem, Inanna's lover and king Dumuzi, resenting his abandonment when she journeyed into death, has refused to mourn for her. In the larger myth, this omission of duty is what eventually brings about his own death. Here, he is haunted by his conscience when his drunken eyes fall upon a tree that reminds him of her.

As a Naturalistic Pagan, I believe in evidence. There is no evidence that deities and magic are "real" in the most literal sense, but they may yet be moving and powerful. These poems are a tribute to the inspiration of Pagan ways.

For more information on naturalism, see

Copyright 2005

Author's Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
More Poems: B. T. Newberg has posted 73 additional poems- View them?
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