(or Shelly’s “Ozymandias” Paraphrased)

Oh Babylon, sweet Babylon, how long
your skeleton has rotted in the sun—
your name intoxicates like honeyed wine
& makes me smell your incense in my mind
& see your ziggurats & pleasure domes
& zoos exotic creatures once called home,
& though the Hanging Gardens may have been
in Nineveh, you surely housed their twin.

The desert sands are now the citizens
of Nippur, Uruk, Eridu, Isin,
& Ur, whose temple looks on empty wastes,
a monument to long forgotten days;—
if Hammurabi walked the earth once more,
he’d weep to see his rich empire so poor.



G.M.H. Thompson spent the last year teaching in Ha Noi, Viet Nam. He recently put out a book of illustrated sonnets entitled Quetzalcoatl, available through on Amazon.

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8 Responses

  1. Daniel Kemper

    Fascinating take on Babylon — to my ear poetically ambiguous for whether we should weep its passing or celebrate as ancient Israelites surely did.

  2. Cynthia Erlandson

    This poem is beautifully descriptive, with vivid visual imagery and sharp olfactory phrases. “Your skeleton has rotted in the sun” is just marvelous — as are “You surely housed their twin” and “He’d weep to see his rich empire so poor.” Excellent stuff!

  3. Margaret Coats

    Rich revelry of thoughts about great beauties of the past in the octave. Third quatrain becomes a monument of ancient names, much more than of that one temple in Ur. The figure of Hammurabi in the couplet brings in human historic interest, and unlike Shelley’s Ozymandias, he walks and weeps with or for the reader, who can sympathize with him or not. An enjoyable and effective sonnet.

    • G.M.H. Thompson

      I’m really into Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and there’s that one episode where it ends with The Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future giving a lecture about the importance of going back into the past to kill Carl because he has a hair system that in fact is just a piece of metal crudely grafted to his skull, and then The Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future tries to go back in time to kill Carl, but he can’t because his futuristic time machine is just a cardboard refrigerator box. That scene really inspired that final couplet.

  4. BDW

    Th’ attempt is worthy. It does show you have been stirred by the Romantics. That is a good place to fight through to reach the NewMillennium.

    As you used & here & in “Two Dragon Statues”, I would argue that Cumming’s use of the ampersand is more interesting than Berryman’s…by far. As for approximate rhymes, Dickinson remains supreme.

    • G.M.H. Thompson

      I don’t know, I’m not really one of those people who believes there’s gonna be some kind of apocalypse followed by a golden Aquarian age, although really, from the grand historical perspective, the internet is a huge change & might be the start of some kind of new age, for better or for worse. As far as ampersands are concerned, I don’t really use those based on other poets (& though I read his Dream Songs– I found them quite forgettable– I can’t even remember what they were about, let alone slight minutia like “and” vs. “&”). It’s just, usually, to my eye, although not always, “&” is both more eloquent and more elegant than “and”. That’s the main reason I use them so often– it just looks cooler. If there were more symbols like that in English to shorten words into little symbol blocks, I would use a lot of those, too.


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