Home > 3. My Poetry & Translations > The Imperial Inscriptions at Calah

The Imperial Inscriptions at Calah

File:Transport cedar Dur Sharrukin Louvre AO19890.jpg

RT will allow as how he has a gift for names; they pop up on a regular basis and some just do not go away. One of these bits of inspiration is “The Imperial Inscriptions at Calah,” which has bounced around inside RT’s skull for years.

Now, sooner or later, RT yields to temptation and uses these gift titles in one or another of his poems. This is the reason that one of his most prized inspirations has remained neglected until now: RT has found only bits and pieces of the royal inscriptions from Calah (and other Assyrian cities), and the inscriptions RT did find recorded wars and conquest, often in graphic detail. This is the Assyria that people are familiar with: fearsome adversary, ruthless conqueror.

(And readers, please note: Calah and Nimrud are the same city.)

But there was another side to the Assyrian monarchs. The “Treasure of Nimrud,” which comprises 613 pieces of gold jewelry and precious stone–reflects the nation’s peacetime pursuits. Items, for instance, include many ivory carvings, which depict sphinxes, lions, serpents, people, flowers, geometric motifs, and female heads. This is the gentler side of the Assyrians, and one which RT wanted to convey in a poem.

At last, inspiration came when RT ran across the relief carving above, which was actually discovered in Dur Sarrukin, not Nimrud. But this image has such an exuberance to it, with its river waters filled with all manner of creatures, that it seemed the place to start writing about Calah. Here is RT’s first effort:

The Imperial Inscriptions at Calah


…the ladies in their silk tunics

the colors of apricots bobbing

on the branch, the rivers

full of turtles round as shields,

firsh swimming upside down,

dragon- and horse-prowed ships,

towing the dark-cedar,

the pale-pine logs…


…the great merman pulsing

through the river waters, his long

silver tail flashing in the sun,

his hair tied in a careful knot,

beads of pearl and shell about

his wrists—oh, child of wise

Enki, genius of the pure and

fathomless waters, guide us

to our harbor!


…the teeming shore, the men

muscled thick like rope, straining

at the oars, hoving into the

wharves, and the women veiled

in blue, hauling and wheeling

the carven and shapely jar,

the boxes and bolts of cloth,

the clatter of silver and lapis

stone, the shouting and singing,

the wind rushing through

the streets…


…garden and more gardens, the high,

clean air and the perfume of

every flower, the lights hanging

in dusk…

© copyright 2013, The Rag Tree


PhotoTransport of Lebanese cedar. Low-relief from the North wall of the main court, palace of Sargon II at Dur Sharrukin in Assyria (now Khorsabad in Iraq), ca. 713–716 BC. Louvre Museum, Department of Oriental Antiquities. WikiCmns; Public Domain.


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