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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

From The Vision of Nimrod

By Charles de Kay (1848–1935)

[The Vision of Nimrod. 1881.]

NO sun, no moon. Northward the star Orion,

The star of Nimrod, had the zenith won,

When from the waste the roaring of a lion

Boomed like the bursting of a signal gun.

They saw with fright the even dusk of night

Roll to a shape, black on the starlit heaven,

And lo, a Lion of enormous might,

Shadowy, shaggy! From his jaws of ravin

Issued the awful sound

That shook the ground.

And as they gazed, speechless with mortal terror,

It took new form like ocean’s clouds at morn;

The lion changed;—that surely was no error

Which saw a bull shaking his dreadful horn?

But hardly of the new shape were they ’ware

When the brute’s head of him so fiercely charging

Turned human; a grave face with curling hair,

Its ordered locks on breast and back discharging,

Loomed through the dusky night

And stayed their flight.

Then from the face, locked with a steadfast meaning

Upon their eyes, the shape took change and flow,

And lo, a giant on a war-club leaning,

Lifted on high, held the dark plain below.

Purple and golden on his stalwart shoulders

His garments lay, but spotted all and torn,

Like robe that long in royal cavern moulders;

And round his neck upon a chain was worn,

Like a strange cross to see,

An amber key.

But all that coat, by tooth of time corroded,

Was full of eyes and little crescent moons

And peaches over-ripeness has exploded—

Pomegranates cloven by a score of noons.

The war-club whereupon his left hand rested

Was scaly like a pinecone huge in size;

Against those two his shadowy bulk he breasted

And with his right hand pointed toward the skies.

Then in a voice of dread

Croaking, he said:

“Barbarians! Once, with the sages of Chaldee,

I, Nimrod, watched upon a tower’s back,

Marking the planets creep most cunningly

A pinnacle past, which sharply cut their track;

Methought this arm, that was all rigid grown

With following slow their motions wise and stealthy,

Grew boundless large, reached upward to yon sown

Broad field, the sky, with red ripe star-fruits wealthy,

Plucked and consumed them still

At my fair will!

“’Twixt Kaf and Kaf, those hills that wall the world,

My body stretched, and from my heaving breast

The streams of breath, against the hard sky hurled,

Were turned to clouds that veered at my behest.

Anon the horizon with sharp white was lit

And by that glare the veil of things was riven;

The door to strange new lands was suddenly split,

As if I, earth, had caught a glimpse of heaven.

I saw how great that bliss,

How petty this!

“That was the hour of evil fates descending;

From that strange night I was not merely man:

Where’er I marched crowds must be still attending

Me, the great midpoint of the earthly plan.

Euphrates was the life-blood of my heart;

Tigris a vein that throbbed with ceaseless motion;

In me the firs of Ararat had part

And I was earth, air, fire and boundless ocean!

Folly from that black day

Held me in sway.

“From Ur the town I marched with vainness blinded

And founded empires in the teeming plain;

Lured to revolt ten cities fickle-minded,

And dared the gods that could not save their slain.

I was their god. I was the lord of all,—

Each step a new town or a plundered palace.

I drowned a land with break of water wall;

Repeopled it, when kindness grew from malice.

Who reckoneth all my crimes?

He falls who climbs.

“Of Babylon I made the stateliest city

The earth has yet upon its surface known.

Nation I fenced from nation without pity

That all might wend toward Babylon alone.

Tribe might not trade with tribe, nor north with south,

But all must barter at my market centre;

Nor eastman speak with westman mouth to mouth

Unless they first within my limits enter.

Thus grew each tongue and art

Slowly apart.


“But, spite of crimes, spite of my wealth and glory,

Of me what know ye, men of a puny age?

I am a rumor, an uncertain story,

A vanished smoke, a scarce-remembered page!

The angry peoples showed they could be kinder

To my great fame than after-following kings,

For hate still kept a little sour reminder

When every mark of me had taken wings.

Whate’er on brick I traced

My sons effaced.

“Yes, my own sons, for whom I bear these curses,

Melted my statues, overturned my grave,

Hammered from living rock the deep-hewn verses

That from oblivion my vast fame should save.

Thrice was this mass of brickwork, seamed with ravage,

All newly builded by succeeding kings:

What of the rage of desert-dwelling savage?

From sons a treachery far deeper stings!

Every one hundredth year

Some man must hear,

“Must hear how they betrayed me, yes, and ponder

O’er my great crimes, my splendor and my fall,

How messengers from some great godhead yonder

In vain approach, Nimrod from sin to call.

I know not who he is, foretold by many,

For on my mind weighs a thick cloud of doubt,

Like fogs across these barren plains and fenny,

So fertile once, they laughed at want and drought.

List, though you shrink with fear,

Tremble, but hear!”