“That night he wound Enkidu had received
in his struggle with Humbaba grew worse.
He tossed with fever and was filled with dreams.
He woke his friend to tell him what he heard and saw:
The gods have said that one of us must die
because we killed Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven.
Enlil said I must die, for you are two-thirds god
and should not die. But Shamash spoke
for me and called me “innocent.”
They all began to argue, as if that word
touched off a universal rage.
I know that they have chosen me.
The tears flowed from his eyes.
My brother, it is fever only,
said Gilgamesh. Enkidu cursed the gate
into Humbaba’s forest that had lamed his hand
and cursed the hunter and the prostitute
who had led him from his friends, not sensing
Gilgamesh’s fear at the thought of his own solitude:
I can’t imagine being left alone,
I’m less a man without my friend.
Gilgamesh did not let himself believe
the gods had chosen one of them to die.
The fever reached its height
and like a madman talking to a wall
in an asylum Enkidu cursed the gate
as if it were the person he could blame:
I would have split you with my ax
if I had known that you could wound.
Shamash, who called me “innocent,” I curse
your heart for bringing me to suffer this.
He thought he heard Shamash arguing
that if the prostitute had never come
to him he never would have known his friend
who sat beside him now trying to find
the gesture to reverse the gods’
decision or relieve
a close companion’s pain.
Gilgamesh, though he was king,
had never looked at death before.
Enkidu saw in him a helplessness
to understand or speak, as if this were
the thing the other had to learn
and he to teach. But visions from his sickness
made him also helpless as a teacher.
All he had to give was being weak and rage
about the kings and elders and the animals
in the underworld that crowded sleep,
about the feathers that grew from his arms
in the house of dust whose occupants
sat in the dark devoid of light
with clay as food, the fluttering of wings
as substitutes for life.
The priest and the ecstatic sat there too,
their spirits gone, each body like an old recluse
no longer inhabiting its island.
Like shells one finds among shore rocks,
only the slightest evidence
of life survived.
Gilgamesh knew his friend was close to death.
He tried to recollect aloud their life together
that had been so brief, so empty of gestures
they never felt they had to make. Tears filled his eyes
as he appealed to Ninsun, his mother, and to the Elders
not to explain but to save his friend
who had run among the animals
the wild horses of the range, the panther of the steppe.
He had run and drunk with them
as if they were his brothers.
Just now he went with me into the forest of Humbaba
and killed the Bull of Heaven.
Everything had life to me, he heard Enkidu murmur,
the sky, the storm, the earth, water, wandering,
the moon and its three children, salt, even my hand
had life. It’s gone. It’s gone. I have seen death
as a total stranger sees another person’s world,
or as a freak sees whom the gods created
when they were drunk on too much wine
and had a contest to show off
the greatness of the harm that they could do,
creating a man who had no balls or a woman
without a womb, a crippled
or deliberately maimed child
or old age itself, blind eyes, trembling hands
contorted in continual pain,
a starving dog too weak to eat,
a doe caught in a trap
wincing for help,
The contest rules the one who makes
the greatest wretchedness wins.
For all of these can never fit
into the perfect slate they made
when they were sober.
These are the things I have witnessed
as a man and weep for now
for they will have no witness if friends die.
I see them so alone and helpless,
who will be kind to them?
He looked at Gilgamesh, and said:
You will be left alone, unable to understand
in a world where nothing lives anymore
as you thought it did.
Nothing like yourself, everything like dead
clay before the river makes the plants
burst out along its beds, dead and…
he became bitter in his tone again:
Because of her. She made me see
things as a man, and a man sees death in things.
That is what it is to be a man. You’ll know
when you have lost the strength to see
the way you once did. You’ll be alone and wander
looking for that life that’s gone or some
eternal life you have to find.
He drew closer to his friend’s face.
My pain is that my eyes and ears
no longer see and hear the same.
As yours do. Your eyes have changed.
You are crying. You never cried before.
It’s not like you.
Why am I to die,
you to wander alone?
Is that the way it is with friends?
Gilgamesh sat hushed as his friends eyes stilled.
In his silence he reached out
to touch the friend whom he had lost.”
— Gilgamesh, a verse narrative