The Hero Enkidu: Canto IV: The Return Of Enkidu
By Lewis Turco

When at last
Enkidu returned
To the city of Erech
Was filled with joy.
He did not know
What had become
of his soul-brother
Although he had caused
the realm to be searched
Far afield
and near at home.
He could not ask
Lilitu, for she
Too had vanished.
“O my friend,”
Said Gilgamesh,
“I am determined
To go to your
cedar forest
Where you were born
where I will fight
Fierce Humbaba,
the evil ogre.
I will kill him
and cut down
His trees
so that never
Again will he rise
to raze my kingdom.”
Enkidu, astonished,
replied to his lord,
“Know this, my friend,
when I lived there.
I sometimes explored
a great distance
From the outskirts
of the woodland
Deep into its center.
There I encountered
The sleepless Humbaba
whose roar was a whirlwind,
Whose breath an inferno.
Why do you wish
To beset such a monster?
Enlil has appointed
Him the sentinel
of the Forest of Cedars.
If he hears a mere
tread on the trail
He will cry aloud,
‘Who comes?’
And Humbaba will seize
the poacher in his claws.’”
Gilgamesh spoke
to his friend and henchman,
“I require the rich
yield of the mountains.
I go to the Forest
of Cedars to fell
The trees of Humbaba
with a mighty axe
Forged by the blacksmiths
of my armory.
Who is not
defeated by Death?
Gods and goddesses,
certainly, but mortals
All must fall
and become wind
Whining among
the limbs and boles.
Your own breath
says that you fear
The onslaught of battle.
If I should fail,
My name shall forever
be sung in ballads
That tell it was I
who fought with Humbaba.
When you cry me ‘Caution!’
you grieve my heart,
For I am determined
to fell the forest
And to fight Humbaba
that I may gain
Fame everlasting.
The axes are ready,
As are the weapons
my craftsmen have cast
And made sharp
for battle. The celts
Of the axes weigh
three talents
Each. The glaives
too are monstrous;
Each hilt weighs
two talents –
The blades, thirty
manas apiece;
The golden swordblades
thirty manas.”
Then Gilgamesh
called in his Elders
To counsel with him
at the Seven-Bolt
Portal of Erech.
Hearing the rumor,
The citizens and artisans
gathered in the streets.
addressed the gathering:
“My Eldermen, hear me!
I go against
Humbaba the Fierce
who, when he hears,
Shall say, ‘let me see
this Gilgamesh,
Whose fame fills
many countries.’”
The Elders replied,
“O Gilgamesh,
You are young,
you are filled
With the valor of youth.
You do not know
Fully the danger
of the monster Humbaba.
Enkidu has gone
into the forest
And witnessed Humbaba
in his element.
Listen to his words
to exercise caution.”
But Gilgamesh knelt
before Shamash,
God of the Sun,
lifted his hands
And entreated him,
“I beg that my life
Be spared to return to
the ramparts of Erech.
I place myself
under thy aegis.”
Shamash replied,
“Then take with you
Your companion
the Hero Enkidu,
This I command.
You must obey
If you wish to return.”
Enkidu bowed
Before the altar
of the god Shamash.
He agreed to go
with the expedition
To the Cedar Forest
which he knew and feared.
The Elders said
to Gilgamesh,
“Farewell, our Master.
We have no foreboding
If you will let
Enkidu lead you,
For he knows the way,
and he knows the forest —
With his own eyes
he has seen Humbaba.
Let Enkidu
be in the van
And you will be safe
Shamash has sworn.
Wash thy feet
in a hollow pool
When you make camp,
and fill thy goatskins
With pure water;
pour it in homage
To the Sun-god,
thus to remind
her devotees,
Hetaera and harlots,
of your compact
with great Shamash,
god of the Sun.”
Gilgamesh spoke
to Enkidu, saying,
“Are you fully
sworn to this foray?
Be not afraid
for you may trust me.”
And forth they marched
together, the heroes
And their warrior army
to find the spot
Where Humbaba dwelt
in the Cedar Forest
where Enkidu had been born
among the beasts and meadows
far from the shepherd’s horn
in sunlight and in shadows,
where his wolf-hair had been shorn.

Lewis Turco is the author of “the poet’s Bible” The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics (1968), currently in its fourth edition (2014), and many other books, chapbooks and monographs. The Hero Enkidu will be published by Bordighera Press of New York City in 2015.