The first line of this poem comes from a poem by Trumbull Stickney. It got stuck in my head the other day, and since I was working on an oratorio or possibly musical about the Hanging Gardens allegedly built by Nebuchadnezzar, I thought I would play around with the ideas some more, and because I am a glutton for punishment, use blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter) to do it. If you are going to go classical antiquities, after all, go all the way.
“Be still. The Hanging Gardens were a dream,”
Just as Eden was a paradise
Where animals could frolic, never die,
And trees provided all the fruit for all
The hungry mouths who had not yet learned pain.
Such dreams are necessary for our hearts
To learn the blueprint of a truer world.
When Babylon, the center of the world,
Was young and shining in the desert sun,
The emperor, it’s said, once came upon
His consort, Amytis, just lingering
Alone and staring eastward toward her home
In far-off Persia–fair, beloved, and green–
And in that moment knew what pity was.
A moment only. (Though that moment was
Enshrined in history. Three thousand years
Have passed and carried with them this one tale,
The birthing of a wonder of the world.
We know such men as emperors do not
Amass empires in order to appease
The heartsick longings of a simple girl,
However regal her paternal price
In dowered lands.) A moment later, he
Envisioned legacy, his glorious name
Forever linked to this vast garden, tiered,
Wild, green and flower-blazoned (built by slaves
In exile, sons of Israel of old),
And fountains blossoming to ward off heat.
Herodotus recorded measurements–
How high the walls, how tall the topmost tree–
But archaeologists, who deal in truth,
The truth that lies in layers of dirt on dirt,
Tell us Herodotus did not see truth
The way we do, that history back then
Was story first and only afterward
A thing of facts. The poet was not wrong:
The Hanging Gardens were a dream. It’s true.
But then, what does it mean that this green dream
Has filled the sleeping minds of women, men,
A thousand generations sharing these
Wild, verdant tendrils of this single dream?
Through this, a need is answered, so be still.