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

Anthology: Poems on How to Live Human Voices Wake Us

Tonight I read a handful of poems on the theme of How to live, what to do? How to get by in the world as a devotee of culture, solitude, ritual, beauty, tradition and individuality? There is of course no one answer, and anyway, poetry should stay as far away from direct “advice,” or proscription of any kind. Still, when I sit back and think about the kind of poems that help me through the day – and the months, and the years – these are some of them. Let me know the poems you rely on in this way: send me a message at As I also mention, after this episode I’ll be taking a break from Human Voices Wake Us for at least a month. The best way to support the podcast is to preorder my book Notes from the Grid (coming out February 23), or check out any of my other books: To the House of the Sun, The Lonely Young & the Lonely Old, Bone Antler Stone The poems I read are: Wallace Stevens (1879-1955), How to Live What to Do Galway Kinnell (1927-2014), Tillamook Journal Edith Nesbit (1858-1924), Things That Matter Seamus Heaney (1939-2013), #2 from Lightenings Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962), Joy Louise Glück (1943-), Summer Night W. B. Yeats (1865-1939), A Prayer on Going into My House Emily Brontë (1818-1848), “Often rebuked, yet always back returning” Henry Vaughan (1621-1695), Man Don’t forget to join Human Voices Wake Us on Patreon, or sign up for our newsletter here.  — Send in a voice message: Support this podcast:
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  4. First Person: Voices from 1900-1914
  5. The Great Myths #22: The Story of Ragnarok in the Norse Eddas

[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