The Great Myths #6: Enkidu in the Underworld (Mesopotamian)

Robinson Jeffers: 10 Essential Poems Human Voices Wake Us

Please consider supporting Human Voices Wake us by clicking here. You can also support this podcast by going to wordandsilence.com and checking out any of my books. Tonight I read ten essential poems from the American poet Robinson Jeffers (1187-1962). Selections of Jeffers’s poetry are legion: many of them can be found here. The five-volume Collected Poems of Robinson Jeffers, edited by Tim Hunt and published by Stanford University Press, can be found here. You can read more about his life at the Poetry Foundation and Wikipedia. A larger selection of his poetry, which I recorded in 2020-2021, can be found here. The poems I read are: The Excesses of God Point Joe Hooded Night New Mexican Mountain Nova from Hungerfield De Rerum Virtute Vulture “I am seventy-four years old and suddenly all my strength” Inscription for a Gravestone The episode ends with a 1941 Library of Congress recording of Jeffers reading his poem, “Natural Music.” Any comments, or suggestions for readings I should make in later episodes, can be emailed to humanvoiceswakeus1@gmail.com. I assume that the small amount of work presented in each episode constitutes fair use. Publishers, authors, or other copyright holders who would prefer to not have their work presented here can also email me at humanvoiceswakeus1@gmail.com, and I will remove the episode immediately. — Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/humanvoiceswakeus/support
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[Amid the long illness that leads to Enkidu’s death:]

As for Enkidu, his mind was troubled,
he lay on his own and began to ponder.
What was on his mind he told his friend:
     “My friend, in the course of the night I had such a dream!”

“The heavens thundered, the earth gave echo,
     and there was I, standing between them.
A man there was, grim his expression,
     just like a Thunderbird his features were frightening.

“His hands were a lion’s paws, his claws an eagle’s talons,
     he seized me by the hair, he overpowered me.
I struck him, but back he sprang like a skipping rope,
     he struck me, and like a raft capsized me.

“Underfoot he crushed me, like a mighty wild bull,
     drenching my body with poisonous slaver.
“Save me, my friend! …….” [tablet broken]
     You were afraid of him, but you…… [tablet broken]

     “He struck me and turned me into a dove.

“He bound my arms like the wings of a bird,
     to lead me captive to the house of darkness, seat of Irkalla:
to the house which none who enters ever leaves,
     on the path that allows no journey back,

“to the house whose residents are deprived of light,
     where soil is itself their sustenance and clay their food,
where they are clad like birds in coats of feathers,
     and see no light, but dwell in darkness.

“On door and bolt the dust lay thick,
     on the House of Dust was poured a deathly quiet.
In the House of Dust that I entered,

“I looked around me, saw ‘crowns’ in a throng,
     there were the crowned heads who’d ruled the land since days of yore,
who’d served the roast at the tables of Anu and Enlil,
     who’d proffered baked bread, and poured them cool water from skins.

“In the House of Dust that I entered,
     there were the en-priests and lagar-priests,
there were the lustration-priests and the lumahhu-priests,
     there were the great gods’ gudapsû-priests,

“there was Etana, there was Shakkan,
     there was the queen of the Netherworld, the goddess Ereshkigal.
Before her sat Belet-seri, the scribe of the Netherworld,
     holding a tablet, reading aloud in her presence.

“She raised her head and she saw me:
     “Who was it fetched this man here?
Who was it brought here this fellow?”

[The remainder of Enkidu’s vision of hell is lost. At the end of his speech he commends himself to Gilgamesh:]

“I who endured all hardships with you,
     remember me, my friend, don’t forget all I went through!”

The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 7,
translated by Andrew George

See also: Enkidu,Underworld Journey

Read the other Great Myths here