Inanna and the Land of No Return, by Rachel Nora Greene

Rachel Nora Greene wrote this poem at the age of nine in response to a request from her grandfather, Samuel Noah Kramer, to render the epic tale of “Inan­na’s Descent to the Nether World” in a way less “stilted, stylistic and formal­istic” (as Professor Kramer put it) than he had done. He also was curious as to how the myth would be seen through the eyes of his poet grandchild.

Once there lived a goddess of love,
Her name was Inanna; she ruled the heavens above.
And would you believe her greatest desire
Was also to rule the land of death, hatred and fire;
“To my sister, Queen of the Nether World, I shall descend,
For Ereshkigal’s cruel and evil ways I must mend.
I shall desert my holy temples and cities
For the world below, with its sorrows and pities.
And when I go to those dark and dismal lands,
I shall glorify my body, my feet and my hands
With jewels and garments and a gown made of lace,
And the heavens’ regulations will be in their place.”

To Ninshubur, her messenger, Inanna then said,
“If I am not back in three days, you will know I am dead.
If I am put to death in the land below,
All heaven above will be in deep woe.
So if death comes to me, Ninshubur, go to Enlil and weep,
‘Our dear heavens’ Queen we surely must keep.’
If to your request Enlil says no,
To the house of Nanna you then must go.
What you said to Enlil to Nanna you must repeat,
If Nanna says no, your mission is not yet complete.
You must then go to Enki, who will surely say yes,
For all water and food of life does Enki possess.
Then, dear Ninshubur, you will at last be through,
For that is all I shall ask of you. ”

When Inanna arrived at the Nether World, to the gatekeeper she proclaimed,
“I am Queen of the Heavens, up there are my domains.”
Suspiciously the gatekeeper inquired,
“Why are you here? What are your desires?”
“My sister’s husband is dead, his funeral I wish to see,”
Was her false response. “Please open the gates for me.”
“Pray, not so fast,” he quickly replied,
Staring at Inanna with a strange look in his eyes.
The gatekeeper then left and told Inanna to wait,

“You must remain standing at that large gate.”
He described to Ereshkigal the stranger’s jewels and garments,
Her breast plate and bracelets and gown with bright ornaments.
Ereshkigal recognized her sister and was enraged,
An appointment for Inanna’s trial was immediately arranged.
The seven judges of the Nether World soon made their decision
To have Inanna killed under Ereshkigal’s supervision.
Inanna, Queen of the Heavens, was put to death then and there,
And hung by a nail with little care.

In the heavens above Ninshubur awaited her mistress’s return,
When Inanna didn’t come, her heart began to burn.
So to Enlil’s house she went to give the word
In case he had not already heard.
To Father Enlil Ninshubur said
Exactly what her mistress had bid.
Enlil said, “Inanna is far too ambitious,
If I spoil her more, I may make her vicious.”
Ninshubur then went to Nanna’s house to give the word
In case he had not already heard.
To Father Nanna Ninshubur said
Exactly what her mistress had bid.
Nanna said, “Inanna is far too ambitious,
If I spoil her more, I may make her vicious.”
With sadness in her heart, Ninshubur went on
Even though she thought all hope was gone.
Then by Father Enki she was received,
And Ninshubur was extremely relieved.
Her longed-for wish was at last accepted,
Said Enki, “Your ambitious mistress for years I have respected.”
Then from his fingernail he brought forth dirt,
Creating two sexless creatures, quick and alert.
Enki commanded the creatures thus: “Flatter Ereshkigal the Queen,
She who has been so cruel and fiendish and mean.
Then when Ereshkigal says, ‘Ask of me anything you want,’
You must reply without tease or taunt.
‘We want your sister’s body so dear Inanna may awaken,
Revived by the water and food of life we have taken.’
‘Oh, anything, anything but that,’ she will say
And you must answer firmly, ‘Our command you must obey.”‘
With no more speech the creatures departed,
Dear Ninshubur was no longer downhearted.
The little creatures in their mission did succeed,
So Inanna’s life could now proceed.

But those who descend to the Nether World can only leave it
If they find a substitute, which can be most difficult.
So accompanied by devils, Inanna ascended to find a replacement,
Although it was very hard for her to make such an arrangement.
First they met Ninshubur who began to cry,
“Why must those little devils be with you, why?”
lnanna then spoke to the devils thus: “Ninshubur loves me through and through,
She is not the substitute for you.”
They then met Inanna ‘s son who began to cry,
“Why are those creatures with you, Mother, why?”
Tnanna spoke to the devils thus: “My son loves me through and through,
He is not the substitute for you.”
They then met Inanna’s second son: “Oh Mother, let me see no more!”
He wept, covering his eyes in horror.
For the third time, lnanna spoke: “My son loves me through and through,
He is not the substitute for you.”
They next met Inanna’s husband, who was making merry and drinking wine,
To Dumuzi everything seemed perfectly fine.
Inanna turned to the devils and cried: “He does not love me through and through,
There is the substitute for you!”

Upon hearing this, the demons seized Dumuzi and tortured him,
For Inanna’s husband things looked very dim.

 

To Utu his brother-in-law, Dumuzi did say,
“Dear Utu, oh please be merciful, let me stay.”
Having pity on him, Utu turned him into a snake,
Whereupon a path over the meadows Dumuzi did take.
To his sister’s house he fled and human again, his wounds he did show,
He told her his story and she cried out, “Oh, no!”
So when the devils at his sister’s house arrived,
Dumuzi was gone, again he had survived.
But the devils then looked for him in his holy stall,
Where they found him and beat him, and that’s not all.
With Dumuzi beside them they prepared to make their descent,
When his sister arrived, her strength nearly spent.
Seeing her brother who was almost dead,
She pleaded, “Take me, take me, take me instead.”
The girl wept, it was a pathetic sight,
Inanna said, “Oh, you may go all right,
But there is one condition: You may go for only half the year,

The other half you must return up here.
The half she is up, Dumuzi, you are to go down,
For only then can it be the other way around.”
Thus ends the story of the goddess of love
Named Inanna, who ruled the heavens above. ♦

From Parabola Volume 4, No. 3, “The Child,” Summer 1980. This issue is available to purchase here. If you have enjoyed this piece, consider subscribing