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 Page: Profile: Poetry   Total Views: 13,724,054  

Poem Specs

VxPoem ID: 12188


Posted: May 3rd. 2005 9:24:46 AM

Views: 2870

Inanna Just Before Her Descent Into the Underworld

by B. T. Newberg

Age Group: Adult

Part I:
Inanna at the Break of Eve

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 crow 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.

Before me oped 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!

Part II:
Inanna in the Dark of Night

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 moons: 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 a 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.

But this thou cannot mark from where on high
Thou hide thyselves in dreamy shadow's bliss,
Lost to mortal sight, nor earth nor sky
Illuming, but removed into the kiss
Of thy uncomplicated love; note this:
Thy daughter chose the darkest night to wreak
Her will upon the barrow--thy 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.

Part III:
Inanna at the Cusp of Dawn

(to be concluded...)

Author's Notes: 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

About this poem:

This story, which has no historical precedent in Sumerian myth, fits in the open space between the myths of Inanna's marriage and her descent. The myths of Inanna's courtship and marriage to Dumuzi portray an ideal, simple romance. Yet the myths of Inanna's descent to the underworld and return, in which she chooses Dumuzi to take her place in hell, betray a much more complicated relationship. The subject of this poem is a moment after her love has lost its simplicity, yet before she fully realizes where the relationship is headed. Feelings arise as she hesitates before the mouth of the tunnel to the underworld...

Background notes:

The motivation that drives Inanna to her descent is unclear in the historical myths. She claims a desire to witness the funeral rites of the bull of heaven, slain by the lion of heaven in a battle symbolizing the spring storms of Mesopotamia. The bull was married to her sister Ereshkigal, and so for the funeral she goes to Ereshkigal's underworld abode. Most readers discount the funeral as a mere excuse masking some deeper motivation.

Inanna was a relative latecomer to the Sumerian pantheon, and something of an upstart. In the three parts of this poem, Inanna encounters aspects of much older deities. In part I, Inanna feel's the influence of Enlil, lord of winds. In part II, she addresses her own parents, Nanna and Ningal, who together constitute the deities of the moon. In part III, she will confront Enki, lord of waters. All of these older figures, in their own myths, have already made the same journey to the underworld and returned to tell the tale. Her celebrated descent and return, so far from being unprecedented, was rather all too typical. Thus in this telling she is young and rash, rebelling against yet following in the footsteps of generations gone before.

This is an experiment inching toward a larger ambition: a full-length poetic telling of the whole story of Inanna's descent and return.

I'm not really a poet, so I'm kinda learning as I go. Constructive criticism is welcome.

As my friend Bard Oskan (who's poetry can also be viewed here on Witchvox) says, writing about a myth helps you remember it and imagine it more vividly. I'll put that on record as my official motivation. :)

Copyright 2005

Author's Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
More Poems: B. T. Newberg has posted 73 additional poems- View them?
Author's Profile: To learn more about B. T. Newberg - Click HERE
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