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FROM DARKEST ANTIQUITY

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I. Ancient Ritual

A thousand brown feet burn on sand
In Pharaoh’s funeral caravan.
By many a mirage they pass
Of phantom palms and pools of glass.

The princess moves as in a trance
While joining all the gods in dance,
For she on lotus fruit has fed
To walk among the kingly dead.

The shadow of Osiris falls
From lofty, silent, salmon walls.
Oh, what ancestral ghosts be hid
Within that awful pyramid?

The stones are lifted one by one,
And painted eyes blink in the sun,
Dark chambers yawn with mummies’ breath,
Indifferent to another death.

The princess quits the rays of Ra,
Descends into the dismal craw,
As Nubian slaves go down in bands,
Led on by hieroglyphic hands.

A subterranean breeze blows cold
Within the torchlit tomb of gold
Where jeweled statues stand upright,
To greet the flickering firelight.

A priest intones a holy oath
That´s written in the Scroll of Thoth;
He places then a scarab ring
Upon the casket of the king.

Wild shadows leap around the room
As all the living leave the tomb.
A golden cat sits idly by,
And watches with a diamond eye.

Now only one remains behind,
With listless, opiated mind.
The princess thus awaits her doom
Engulfed in everlasting gloom!

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II.  Cries in the Night

By night they come, on rough and rocky paths,
Without the light of stars or moon to guide
Their fearful feet upon this holy tide.
They come with gifts washed clean in cultic baths.

In swelling numbers, climbing winding ways,
The worshippers go up to that one place
Wherein there dwells a god whose dreadful face
Can drive men mad– who on his features gaze.

They come with precious offerings, therefore,
To please this fearsome deity, whose will
Can bless with riches, heal, torment, or kill
All who come near his altar to adore.

All through the night, in breathless awe they come,
From every part of Canaan, they ascend
On unillumined roads their way they wend
By abject terror stricken and struck dumb.

Atop the mount, they see the temple´s walls
As black as pitch, like some fierce beast of prey
Curled on its haunches, poised to pounce and slay
All those who desecrate its sacred halls.

Behold, the trembling couple drawing near!
They pass dark looming columns and behold
A sight inside which makes their blood run cold
And makes them wish they had not ventured here.

Beyond the open doors they can perceive
Through smoky haze a statue made of brass
With open belly through which things can pass
And arms outstretched its presents to receive.

From time to time, great flames of fire leap
Within the belly of the metal idol,
And from its arms, long chains—perhaps to bridle
A fitful gift—hang loosely in a heap.

Just then, a priest approaches from behind
And bids the pair draw nearer without fear
“Bring forth your gift, so prized, beloved and dear,
And know, to those who serve him, he is kind.”

With trembling hands, the mother peels away
The swaddling clothes from her babe´s tender flesh.
So lately bathed, he smells so clean and fresh–
How sweetly his eyes sparkle on this day!

The father takes him, hands him to the priest,
Who says, “I know it hurts to see him die,
But ours is not to question or ask why
When Moloch wants them for his sacred feast!”

With that, the priest draws near the glowing arms
To discharge swiftly Moloch´s cruel will.
That night, loud cries go up on that dark hill
More chilling than a thousand shrill alarms.

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III. The Plain of Dura

Beneath the noonday sun the young lads stand,
Like driftwood floating on an outstretched sea,
Or specks of light lost in a galaxy
Of countless stars; or like three grains of sand
Upon a beach.  They calmly stand and wait
The moment that will soon decide their fate.

Surrounded by a multitude, they feel
Repugnance as their pious eyes behold
That horrid, ugly idol made of gold
Before which all around them soon will kneel
Upon a signal given by the king
To bow in awe before that wretched thing.

It rises up before them like a tower,
Its polished, shining form ablaze with light,
Its ghastly face designed to fill with fright
All who would dare defy its godlike power.
For gleaming fangs make clear the grisly end
Of those who would refuse their knee to bend.

That end is clear, for by the idol looms
A large brick furnace belching out black smoke
So thick and dense as to make armies choke
Upon its burning ash and searing fumes.
The scorching heat waves wafting from that fire
Burn with such force that some, too near, expire.

The fiery cinders swirling in the air
Remind the three young Hebrews of the pain
And terror that the king has vowed to rain
On those who would his royal creed foreswear
Or shun his idol forged by human hands,
Or firmly spurn his tyrannous demands.

The hour draws near when they must stand alone
As free men in a land of passive slaves,
Who by their words, would rather dig their graves
Than with a lying tongue, their God disown.
They will not join the crowds of cowering sheep
Who meekly bow to lies without a peep.

They look around, and feel both joy and grief,
Deep grief to see so many rendered blind
By hellish lies, which like strong fetters, bind
Men´s hearts to fear and give them no relief.
(Held fast by fear, men sooner would comply
With wicked laws, than face the flames and die.)

Their joy springs from the knowledge that their God
Is always with them, so they can stand tall
Before proud kings and call on them to fall
In homage to the Lord, whom all must laud.
Such joy is theirs, despite the twinge of fear
They feel to have the heat of flames so near.

How blessed they are to know the Lord of lords!
To live in freedom from the nameless fears
That hold men hostage, without hope, for years,
Deprived of peace, which faith alone affords.
Thus, in their hearts, they vow, for good or ill,
To die, if needs be, doing their Lord´s will.

Just then a satrap signals with raised arm,
And someone blows a horn with all his might,
At which the crowd with wide eyes, full of fright,
Drop flat upon their faces with alarm,
Cut down, upon the wailing of that horn,
Across the plain, like fallen stalks of corn.

Except for these young lads who stand their ground,
Resolved to bear clear witness to the truth,
Prepared to perish in the flower of youth,
Before they´ll let the truth in lies be drowned.
They stand, assured the Author of all life
Can well sustain them in this hour of strife.

They stand, and by their standing, set men free;
They rip the shroud of darkness that has bound
Whole nations long since buried underground
In pagan fears, deprived of  liberty.
Because God will be with them to the end,
These stand in faith, His fealty to defend!

Their lives, like three bright beacons, shine with light
Their beams point jointly upward to the skies,
To God, whose truth must triumph over lies,
Through brave hearts filled with courage, faith and love.
For God gives hope more glorious and secure,
Than that which any idol can procure.

.

.

Martin Rizley grew up in Oklahoma and in Texas, and has served in pastoral ministry both in the United States and in Europe. He is currently serving as the pastor of a small evangelical church in the city of Málaga on the southern coast of Spain, where he lives with his wife and daughter. Martin has enjoyed writing and reading poetry as a hobby since his early youth.


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16 Responses

  1. Peter Hartley

    Martin – A fascinating trio this, and, taken together, long enough to properly be called an epic. Full of the horror and brutality of live sacrifice, it reminds me of the finds close to the summits of twenty-thousand foot Andean peaks where the corpses of child sacrifices have been found, marched up there “on the hoof” and known to have vomited and suffered from severe diarrhoea on the ascent through the knowledge of what was shortly coming to them. These three are filled with enough archaeological detail to make them read like eye-witness accounts. Well done!

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you, Peter, for your feedback. Truly, it is hard to conceive of the horrors committed in the historical past and even today in societies that live under the thrall of pagan beliefs. It appears that human, and especially, child sacrifice has been a part of pagan religion since ancient times; and such horrors are by no means limited to primitive tribes in remote jungles, but occur in the so-called “progressive” West today, where modern pagans participate in the slaying of their own offspring in the dark chambers of abortuaries– abortion and infanticide serving as the “sacraments” of the pagan religion of sexual libertinism and self-worship.

      Reply
  2. Joe Tessitore

    Pastor Rizley, I don’t think it can get any better than this – poetry and story-telling truly at their best,
    and as relevant and timely as can be.

    Bravo!

    Reply
  3. Cynthia Erlandson

    Martin, you write with a prophet’s understanding, telling historical tales and making them ring with the truth that they are also tales of our own time.

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Thanks, Cynthia, for your reflections. When one considers how the West is departing more and more from its Judeo-Christian roots in favor of pagan beliefs, I think you are right in saying that these are “tales of our own time.”

      Reply
  4. Brian Yapko

    Martin, each one of these poems taken individually is quite marvelous. As a trio they are absolutely stunning! Your imagery skillfully transports the reader to three different times when paganism held sway over men — and you show all of the resulting horrors. Of the three, I most enjoyed “The Plain of Dura” which is overtly biblical and which brings the conflict between paganism and worship of God into direct opposition. The ending couplet “For God gives hope more glorious and secure/Than that which any idol can procure” is just so good! And a very meaningful message to remember. Well done on all three!

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you, Brian, for sharing your thoughts! I´m glad you liked the poems. I am glad that SCP chose to publish all three poems, because I do think the impact of each poem is heightened by seeing them in relation to the other two.

      Reply
  5. Cheryl Corey

    Pastor Rizley, you obviously put considerable research and thought into crafting these intriguing poems. All three – in my opinion – are extremely well done.

    Reply
  6. James Sale

    Fabulous poetry, Martin, I like all of these and especially the first poem – quite hynoptic, and that is not surprising as you seem to sneak in a wonderful allusion to Coleridge with the line, ‘For she on lotus fruit has fed’. Well done.

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Thanks, James. I appreciate your taking the time to read and critique and critique the poems. I assure you, the allusion to Coleridge was quite unintentional!– perhaps I had some lines of Coleridge tucked away in my long-term memory from college days. I did some research for the first poem, and the blue lotus flower of the Nile was used as a drug in various Egyptian rituals.

      Reply
  7. Paul Freeman

    Ancient Ritual and Cries in the Night I particularly enjoyed, Ancient Ritual having an Edgar Allen Poe / Halloween feel to it.

    Thank you for the reads.

    Reply
  8. Margaret Coats

    Martin, these are magnificent stories, long but fast-reading, and enriched with choicely-worded details that reward the reader for slowing down. The group of three poems would be all horror without the heroes in “The Plain of Dura,” where you have offered the sobering thoughts of the three young men who feel grief at the extent of the darkness in the vast crowd surrounding them. This is what I think makes their heroism most human.

    There seem to be a couple of typos in “The Plain of Dura,” stanza 11. Should we not read, “Except for these young lads,” rather than “young lands,” and “They stand, assured” rather than “The stand, assured”?

    Reply
    • Mike Bryant

      Margaret, I agree that these are very fine poems, nicely summed up by the story of those young lads who stood up against what seemed impossible odds. They knew the power of Almighty God. It seems that we are being asked to bow down to the modern idols.
      I have taken care of the two typos.

      Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      I appreciate you comments, Margaret, and your pointing that, without the third poem, the first two alone would be “all horror,” with no note of hope to be found anywhere. It is precisely this contrast between the hopelessness of pagan darkness and the joyful heroism that faith inspires in frail human beings that I wanted to highlight by presenting the three poems as a trilogy.

      Reply

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