Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Asia
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII.  1876–79.
 
Mesopotamia: Babylon
The Feast of Belshazzar
Sir Edwin Arnold (1832–1904)
 
*        *        *        *        *
FROM sunlight unto starlight trumpets told
Her king’s command in Babylon the old,
From sunlight unto starlight west and east
A thousand satraps girt them for the feast,
And reined their chargers to the palace hall        5
Where King Belshazzar held high festival:
A pleasant palace under pleasant skies,
With cloistered courts and gilded galleries,
And gay kiosk and painted balustrade
For winter terraces and summer shade;        10
By court and terrace, minaret and dome,
Euphrates, rushing from his mountain home,
Rested his rage, and curbed his crested pride
To belt that palace with his bluest tide;
Broad-fronted bulls with chiselled feathers barred        15
In silent vigil keeping watch and ward,
Giants of granite wrought by cunning hand
Guard in the gate and frown upon the land:
Not summer’s glow nor yellow autumn’s glare
Pierced the broad tamarisks that blossomed there;        20
The moonbeam darting through their leafy screen
Lost half its silver in the softened green,
And fell with lessened lustre, broken light,
Tracing quaint arabesque of dark and white;
Or dimly tinting on the graven stones        25
The pictured annals of Chaldæan thrones.
There, from the rising to the setting day,
Birds of bright feather sang the light away,
And fountain waters on the palace-floor
Made even answer to the river’s roar,        30
Rising in silver from the crystal well
And breaking into spangles as they fell;
Though now ye heard them not, for far along
Rang the broad chorus of the banquet song,
And sounds as gentle, echoes soft as these,        35
Died out of hearing from the revelries.
 
  High on a throne of ivory and gold,
From crown to footstool clad in purple fold,
Lord of the east from sea to distant sea,
The king Belshazzar feasteth royally,—        40
And not that dreamer in the desert cave
Peopled his paradise with pomp as brave:
Vessels of silver, cups of crusted gold
Blush with a brighter red than all they hold;
Pendulous lamps like planets of the night        45
Flung on the diadems a fragrant light,
Or slowly swinging in the midnight sky
Gilded the ripples as they glided by;
And sweet and sweeter rang the cittern-string
Soft as the beating of a seraph’s wing,        50
And swift and swifter in the measured dance
The tresses gather and the sandals glance,
And bright and brighter at the festal board
The flagons bubble and the wines are poured.
*        *        *        *        *
  The last loud answer dies along the line,        55
The last light bubble bursts upon the wine,
His eager lips are on the jewelled brink,—
Hath the cup poison that he doubts to drink?
Is there a spell upon the sparkling gold,
That so his fevered fingers quit their hold?        60
Whom sees he where he gazes? what is there
Freezing his vision into fearful stare?
Follow his lifted arm and lighted eye,
And watch with them the wondrous mystery.
 
  There cometh forth a hand, upon the stone        65
Graving the symbols of a speech unknown;
Fingers like mortal fingers, leaving there
The blank wall flashing characters of fear,
And still it glideth silently and slow,
And still beneath the spectral letters grow,—        70
Now the scroll endeth, now the seal is set,
The hand is gone, the record tarries yet.
 
  As one who waits the warrant of his death,
With pale lips parted and with bridled breath,
They watch the sign and dare not turn to seek        75
Their fear reflected in their fellows’ cheek,
But stand as statues where the life is none,
Half the jest uttered, half the laughter done,
Half the flask empty, half the flagon poured,
Each where the phantom found him at the board        80
Struck into silence, as December’s arm
Curbs the quick ripples into crystal calm.
*        *        *        *        *
  That night they slew him on his father’s throne,
The deed unnoticed and the hand unknown;
Crownless and sceptreless Belshazzar lay,        85
A robe of purple, round a form of clay.
 
 
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