Monday, February 04, 2019

Poem Retrospective IV

Mahershalalhashbaz is, of course, the name of the (probably) second son of the prophet Isaiah:

Moreover the Lord said unto me, Take thee a great roll, and write in it with a man's pen concerning Mahershalalhashbaz. And I took unto me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah. And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said the Lord to me, Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz. For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria.

The name is a hendiadys: both the first half (mahershalal) and the second (hasbaz) indicate swift plunder. Mene mene tekel upharsin, of course, is the writing on the wall that Daniel interpreted for Belshazzar as meaning that Babylon was weighed and found wanting, and would be given to the Medes and Persians; each word has a double meaning -- numbered and finished, weighed and lacking, divided and Persian:

And this is the writing that was written, Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. This is the interpretation of the thing: Mene; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. Tekel; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. Peres; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.

If I recall correctly, the image of the horse's hoof has its root in the prophet Nahum, where he talks about the fall of Nineveh.


Mahershalalhashbaz

An angel in heaven was flying
to and fro o'er all the earth;
an angel in loud voice crying,
"How many, O sons of men?"


In starlit skies, bright-shining,
Mars has wandered to work his will;
the wolves on the plain are howling,
carrion-vultures take their fill.

How many men are fallen, sons of men,
how many dead and dying
in great Ascalon and Tyre?
How many widows crying,
where blood flows down like water
from a horse's smashing hoof?

How many youths lie dead, O sons of men?
How many in graves unwed,
where roses grow, and poppies,
on bloody fields of war?
How many, O ye nations?
How many slip to darkness,
each face to be seen no more?
How many men are fallen, sons of men?

The formless hand its word has written;
mene, mene, tekel and parsin,
no longer is it hidden.
With fire you have shown it, sons of men,
branded it on the children's faces
as they laugh and as they play,
new names to them have given, sons of men:
"Quick pickings, easy prey".

An angel in heaven was soaring
o'er sea and all the earth,
an angel in heaven roaring,
"How many, O sons of men?"

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