Enheduanna: “Something never before created . . .”

On the eve of the publication of Blueshift Road, my latest collection of poetry, I’ve decided to post a series of poems by others, poems that I feel close to. I’m always influenced by poems that emerge and vanish and breathe again, always startling, never the same.

It occurs to me to start at the beginning (c. 2300 BCE) with the first poet in history whose name has come down to us: the high priestess Enheduanna – daughter of the Akkadian emperor Sargon, who conquered Sumer and ensconced Enheduanna as head priestess of the main temple in the city of Ur. One of her most important roles as priestess was the writing of temple hymns, in which she celebrated each town’s temple and resident god or goddess within the Sumerian pantheon.

In addition to writing temple hymns, Enheduanna records her own story in an autobiographical poem bemoaning a rebel’s banishing her from the Temple and her subsequent exile. It’s a gripping narrative, not least due to the urgency and presence of the thinking and feeling self.

And it is Enheduanna’s practice of writing herself into some of her poetry that characterizes, in a startling way, the last lines of her last (42nd) Temple Hymn. In those lines, Enheduanna announces consciousness of herself as creator, and creator as being who gives birth to things that have never before existed. Here are the lines ending her 42nd hymn:

“the person who bound this tablet together
is Enheduanna
my king something never before created
did not this one give birth to it”

It’s as if a light bulb has snapped on. Here is poetry as something to make (poiein), and as a space where the maker becomes engaged in the drama of the poem.

–Translation from Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart: Poems of the Sumerian High Priestess Enheduanna by Betty de Shong Meador

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