Text of the Poem

(Poetry for Students)

"I, the great king, the powerful king, king of the
     world, King of Assyria, the king whose path 
     was a cyclone, whose battle was a flaming 
     sea, I am powerful, all-powerful, exalted, 
     almighty, majestic, all-important in 
     power,"—inscription of 670 B.C.

Sometimes, a lion with a prophet's beard 
Lopes from a bas-relief to stretch his claws. 
His bestial eyes are wonderfully sad.

Then he grow wings, the terrible king grows wings,
And flies above the black Euphrates loam,       
Hunting for enemies of Nineveh.

His names are Shamshi and Adadnrari,
Tiglath-Pileser, Assurbanipal,
And the first Sargon of Dur-Sharukin.

"The day my chariots stormed the town, I waxed        
My beard with oil of rose and waterlily,
And freed nine pearl-caged nightingales, and built

A pillar of skills so high it stabbed the sun."
(Was that the tomb's voice, or the desert-wind's?
Or ours?—what ghost is still our roaring priest?)     
The scribes shall say: his will outflew his wisdom. 
The saints shall say: his was the sin of pride. 
The skulls say nothing. And the lizards grin.

This is the rapture that the Gentiles feared
When Joshua made music masterful.       
Each sinew is a harp-string crouched to twang.

The treble of such bloodlust if he pounced 
Would shriek an anti-social kind of beauty 
Like parrots in a gypsy carnival.

Then back to stone. In stone he sleeps the least.          
It's not with love his brooding glitters so. 
Earth spawns no gangrene half so luminous

As the contagion of those molten eyes.