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Babel: The Gate Of The God

Gordon Bottomley 1874 (Keighley) – 1948


Lost towers impend, copeless primeval props
Of the new threatening sky, and first rude digits
Of awe remonstrance and uneasy power
Thrust out by man when speech sank back in his throat:
Then had the last rocks ended bubbling up
And rhythms of change within the heart begun
By a blind need that would make Springs and Winters;
Pylons and monoliths went on by ages,
Mycenae and Great Zimbabwe came about;
Cowed hearts in This conceived a pyramid
That leaned to hold itself upright, a thing
Foredoomed to limits, death and an easy apex;
Then postulants for the stars' previous wisdom
Standing on Carthage must get nearer still;
While in Chaldea an altitude of god
Being mooted, and a saurian unearthed
Upon a mountain stirring a surmise
Of floods and alterations of the sea,
A round-walled tower must rise upon Senaar
Temple and escape to god the ascertained.
These are decayed like Time's teeth in his mouth,
Black cavities and gaps, yet earth is darkened
By their deep-sunken and unfounded shadows
And memories of man's earliest theme of towers.
 
Space, the old source of time, should be undone,
Eternity defined, by men who trusted
Another tier would equal them with god.
A city of grimed brick-kilns, squat truncations,
Hunched like spread toads yet high beneath their circles
Of low packed smoke, assemblages of thunder
That glowed upon their under sides by night
And lit like storm small shadowless workmen's toil.
Meaningless stumps, upturned bare roots, remained
In fields of mashy mud and trampled leaves;
While, if a horse died hauling, plasterers
Knelt on a flank to clip its sweaty coat.
 
A builder leans across the last wide courses;
His unadjustable unreaching eyes
Fail under him before his glances sink
On the clouds' upper layers of sooty curls
Where some long lightning goes like swallows downward,
But at the wider gallery next below
Recognise master-masons with pricked parchments:
That builder then, as one who condescends
Unto the sea and all that is beneath him,
His hairy breast on the wet mortar, calls
'How many fathoms is it yet to heaven!'
On the next eminence the orgulous king
Nimroud stands up conceiving he shall live
To conquer god, now that he knows where god is:
His eager hands push up the tower in thought ...
Again, his shaggy inhuman height strides down
Among the carpenters because he has seen
One shape an eagle-woman on a door-post:
He drives his spear-beam through him for wasted day.
 
Little men hurrying, running here and there,
Within the dark and stifling walls, dissent
From every sound, and shoulder empty hods:
'The god's great altar should stand in the crypt
Among our earth's foundations', 'The god's great altar
Must be the last far coping of our work',
It should inaugurate the broad main stair',
'Or end it', 'It must stand toward the East!'
But here a grave contemptuous youth cries out
'Womanish babblers, how can we build god's altar
Ere we divine its foreordained true shape?'
Then one 'It is a pedestal for deeds',
''Tis more and should be hewn like the king's brow',
'It has the nature of a woman's bosom',
'The tortoise, first created, signifies it',
'A blind and rudimentary navel shows
The source of worship better than horned moons.'
Then a lean giant 'Is not a calyx needful?',
'Because round grapes on statues well expressed
Become the nadir of incense, nodal lamps,
Yet apes have hands that cut and carved red crystal',
'Birds molten, touchly talc veins bronze buds crumble
Ablid ublai ghan isz rad eighar ghaurl ...'
Words said too often seemed such ancient sounds
That men forgot them or were lost in them;
The guttural glottis-chasms of language reached,
A rhythm, a gasp, were curves of immortal thought.
 
Man with his bricks was building, building yet,
Where dawn and midnight mingled and woke no birds,
In the last courses, building past his knowledge
A wall that swung, for towers can have no tops,
No chord can mete the universal segment,
Earth has not basis. Yet the yielding sky,
Invincible vacancy, was there discovered,
Though piled-up bricks should pulp the sappy balks,
Weight generate a secrecy of heat,
Cankerous charring, crevices' fronds of flame.
 
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Submitted on August 03, 2020

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Gordon Bottomley

Gordon Bottomley was an English poet, known particularly for his verse dramas. He was partly disabled by tubercular illness. His main influences were the later Victorian Romantic poets, the Pre-Raphaelites and William Morris. more…

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