"The prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel dined with me," says William Blake in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, "and I asked how they dared so roundly to assert that God spoke to them."
While there is something rude about prophets from the cellar to the roof of their being, their worst social failing is that they talk about almost nothing but God, andstill worsenot the God of nice days and pleasant blessings, of infinite patience and automatic forgiveness, but the God of chastisements and catastrophes, of uncompromising demands and outraged love. These are not aspects of divinity that crowds of people are lining up to hear about.
It was Ezekiel's lot to live a double affliction. First he had to endure the siege and defeat of Jerusalem in 597 B.C.E. and to be among the exiles carrying with them nightmarish memories. Then, a captive in Babylonia, he was called to speak on the Creator's behalf and thus to suffer the usual fate of prophets: to be despised and ridiculed.
Yet it was not all loss. Ezekiel was given the rarest of favors. He saw the heavens open and was allowed to gaze on the seraphim, the cherubim, the throne of Godand on the throne "something that seemed like a human form." He was a prophet who not only heard but sawand struggled to put what he saw into words. No other book of prophecies is so visual. Much of the iconography of Christianity has its foundation in Ezekiel's visions.
EZEKIEL'S WITNESS BEGINS with his first vision, and it is here that we are introduced to the prophet as poet: "Like a bow in the clouds on a rainy day, such was the splendor all around." (One of Dan Berrigan's early books of poems was The Bow in the Clouds, evidence that his newest book has been brewing for many years.)