Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women

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9780060169879: Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women

"Hirshfield's current collection brings together . . . an astonishing array of women writers from the 22nd century BC poet Enheduanna to Nelly Sachs and Anna Akhmatova."-- Library Journal

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About the Author:

The author of five previous poetry collections and a book of essays, Jane Hirshfield has been a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and England’s T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry, and she is the winner of the Poetry Center Book Award, the California Book Award, and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, the Los Angeles Times, and multiple volumes of The Best American Poetry and Pushcart Prize anthologies.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Enheduanna(ca. 2300.B.C.E.)

Enheduanna is the earliest identified author of either sex in world literature. Daughter of the Sumerian king Sargon (whose domain lay in what is now southern Iraq), she was a high priestess in the service of the moon-god and moon-goddess, Nanna and Inanna. A number of Enheduanna's hymns have survived on cuneiform-inscribed table is, and her portrait was found on a limestone disc during excavations of the city of Ur.

The Nin-me-sar-ra, excerpted here, tells the story of a time of political unrest when Enheduanna was cast into exile. Although the priestess appealed first to the god Nanna for help, it was his daughter Inanna who ultimately restored her to her fightful position; while other material about Inanna (see pages 8-10) depicts a goddess of eros and fertility, this hymn praises the moon-goddess primarily for the fierceness that accompanies her power and beauty. The hymn is believed to describe a shift in Inanna's rank to a higher position within the Sumerian pantheon, as well as a shift in power relations between human rulers. It is also the sole representation in this book of the fierce female energy found in spiritual traditions throughout the world. In figures ranging from the Hindu destroyer-goddess Kali to the Hawaiian Pele, we see how this destructive goddess-energy creates a necessary balance--for if the entrance to life is through the maternal feminine, the gates of death (dependent on prior earthly existence) must also he an aspect of engendering female power. There can be no genuine beauty or harmony that does not acknowledge the opposite powers of anger, fierceness, and destruction, the plot of this hymn tells us: a true spirituality includes all of life's aspects, not only those we find pleasing or simple.

fromThe Hymn to Inanna

Lady of all powers,
In whom light appears,
Radiant one
Beloved of Heaven and Earth,
Tiara-crowned
Priestess of the Highest God,
My Lady, you are the guardian
Of all greatness.
Your hand holds the seven powers:
You lift the powers of being,
You have hung them over your fingers,
You have gathered the many powers,
You have clasped them now
Like necklaces onto your breast.

Like a dragon,
You poisoned the land--
When you roared at the earth
In your thunder,
Nothing green could live.
A flood fell from the mountain:
You, Inanna,
Foremost in Heaven and Earth.
Lady riding a beast,
You rained fire on the heads of men.
Taking your power from the Highest,
Following the commands of the Highest,
Lady of all the great rites,
Who can understand all that is yours?

In the forefront
Of the battle,
All is struck down by you--
O winged Lady,
Like a bird
You scavenge the land.
Like a charging storm
You charge,
Like a roaring storm
You roar,
You thunder in thunder,
Snort in rampaging winds.
Your feet are continually restless.
Carrying your harp of sighs,
You breathe out the music of mourning.

It was in your service
That I first entered
The holy temple,
I, Enheduanna,
The highest priestess.
I carried the ritual basket,
I chanted your praise.
Now I have been cast out
To the place of lepers.
Day comes,
And the brightness
Is hidden around me.
Shadows cover the light,
Drape it in sandstorms.
My beautiful mouth knows only confusion.
Even my sex is dust.

What once was chanted of Nanna,
Let it now be yours-
That you are as lofty as Heaven,
Let it be known!
That you are as wide as the Earth,
Let it be known!
That you devastate the rebellious,
Let it be known!
That you roar at the land,
Let it be known!
That you rain your blows on their heads,
Let it be known!
That you feast on corpses like a dog,
Let it be known!
That your glance is lifting toward them,
Let it be known!
That your glance is like striking lightning,
Let it be known!
That you are victorious,
Let it be known!
That this is not said of Nanna,
It is said of you-
This is your greatness.
You alone are the High One.

0 my Lady,
Beloved of Heaven,
I have told your fury truly.
Now that her priestess
Has returned to her place,
Inanna's heart is restored.
The day is auspicious,
The priestess is clothed
In beautiful robes,
In womanly beauty,
As if in the light of the rising moon.
The gods have appeared
In their rightful places,
The doorsill of Heaven cries "Hail!"
Praise to the destroyer endowed with power,
To my Lady enfolded in
beauty. Praise to Inanna.

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