The Epic of Gilgamesh

HUMBABA

My friends, who can reach heaven?

The monster bellows like a river swollen with flood.
Many are consumed in his fiery breath.

My friends, who can reach heaven?

Let us ask the mountain for a sign.
Let us cut the spirits from the cedars.

My friends, who can reach heaven?

To be remembered a man must undergo
The ravages of the eight winds.

My friends, who can reach heaven?

No matter how tall he is, a mortal can never reach heaven;
No matter how wide he is, a mortal cannot stretch over the earth.
Therefore, may Shamash open before my feet the closed road


*

ENKIDU

We climbed the mountain.
It was enough.
We chased wild creatures over the grassy plain.
It was enough.
We planted grain.
It was enough.
We drew water from the river.
It was enough.
We dreamed the same dream.
It was enough.
We left our tracks in the forest.
It was enough.
You were the shield that protected me.
It was enough.
You were the sword and axe at my side.
It was enough.
You were the ceremonial coat that warmed me.
It was enough.
May the mountains weep for you.
Both night and day.
May the wild creatures of the plain weep for you.
Both night and day.
May the fields overflowing with grain weep for you.
Both night and day.
May the pure Euphrates where we drew water weep for you.
Both night and day.
May our tracks left in the forest weep for you.
Both night and day.
May the dreams that now grieve weep for you.
Both night and day.
You were the shield that protected me.
Both night and day.
You were the sword and axe at my side.
Both night and day.
You were the ceremonial coat that warmed me.
Both night and day.


*

UTNAPISHTIM

I can see nothing ahead or behind me.
The darkness is so thick, and there is no light.
I go like a murderer, ravaged by the heat and cold.
Why should my heart not be torn apart by grief?
The darkness is so thick and there is no light.
My friend has returned to clay.
Why should my heart not be torn apart by grief?
I do not want to sleep the endless sleep.

My friend has returned to clay.
There are no stars or sun where he is now.
I do not want to sleep the endless sleep.
Neither my sorrow, nor my pleas, nor the tearing of my hair could rouse him.

I go like a murderer, ravaged by heat and cold.
I can see nothing ahead or behind me.
Teach me how to build a house that will last forever.
I can see nothing ahead or behind me.


*

GILGAMESH

I am no longer interested in the sword and the bow.
The Faraway has taught me that I am weak.
For whom have my hands labored?
For whom does my blood beat?
My days will soon be washed away like a face drawn in sand.
I have neither friend nor brother by me.
To speak of my despairing mind,
The icy-feathered gulls shriek overhead.
No blithe heart can know what unhappiness I suffer.

Yet I am resigned to all my losses,
And I ask you, my people, to let them touch you.
Let me brand my searing path across the shadows before your eyes.
Look at the fine temple I have built!
Search the world locked within its stones with a smooth hand!
Throw off the ceremonial coats that warm you,
And shroud yourselves instead
In the raging fire of the answers that never come,
In the raging fire of the answers that never come.


*

ENKIDU

What violence has been done to the atmosphere?
See how the stars scurry through the thickets,
Nature’s balance broken, and the voices of the creatures
Rise like a spell toward a heaven cast in human fire.
I feel him drawing near; he is anxious to search the world
Buried in me with a smooth hand.
I can almost touch his features,
The sunburnt hair curled
Around his toes whispering against my own. And yet what ire
Flames within me when I look upon him in his heart. I who have speared
The worst of beasts, who have braved pale seas
As they rose and fell beneath me,
I who have pinned the demons of the night until the haunted song of the stricken
Drew its curtains over waves of my pure fury.
Perhaps in this roaring silence, I will embrace the meaning of my dream.


*

GILGAMESH

I am tired of the light that dribbles from my voice
So washed in certainty that the days
Will blink like lashes over rich fields of wheat.
I want a place older than the leaves,
Older than these strong walls where the story of the earth is carved.
Give me a radiance that broods beyond this temple,
Where the hidden mysteries of life and death rejoice
Wildly together, where man, like a dying animal, does not grieve
After the storms have wrecked his simple
House. I want these things, and yet I will not serve
These idols fashioned out of the same clay
Of which I, myself, was pinched by my mother’s rapacious need.
The very god of storms has wreaked into my first breath the secret
That erosion takes patience, not unlike the willingness to bleed.