Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Asia
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII.  1876–79.
Mesopotamia: Babylon
Bryan Waller Procter (1787–1874)
MANY a perilous age hath gone,
Since the walls of Babylon
Chained the broad Euphrates’ tide,
Which the great king in his pride
Turned, and drained its channel bare,—        5
Since the Towers of Belus square,
Where the solid gates were hung
That on brazen hinges swung,
Mountain-sized, arose so high
That their daring shocked the sky.        10
Famous city of the earth,
What magician gave thee birth?
What great prince of sky or air
Built thy floating gardens fair?
Thee the mighty hunter founded:        15
Thee the star-wise king surrounded
With thy mural girdle thick
Of the black bitumen brick,—
Belus, who was Jove, the God:
He who each bright evening trod        20
On thy marble streets, and came
Downwards like a glancing flame,
    Love-allured, as fables tell.
But the last who loved thee well
Was the king whose amorous pride        25
(All to please his Median bride)
Fenced thee round and round so fast,
That, while the crumbling earth should last,
Thou, he thought, shouldst be, and Time
Should not spoil thy look sublime.        30
He is gone, whose spirit spoke
To him in a golden dream:
He who saw the future gleam
On the present, and awoke
Troubled in his princely mind,        35
And bade his magicians blind
From their eyelids strip the scale,
And translate his hidden tale:
He is gone: but ere he died,
He was tumbled from his pride,        40
From his Babylonian throne,
And cast out to feed alone,
Like the wild ox and the ass,
Seven years on the sprinkled grass.
He is dead: his impious deeds        45
Are on the brass; but who succeeds?
Over Babylon’s sandy plains
Belshazzar the Assyrian reigns.
A thousand lords at his kingly call
Have met to feast in a spacious hall,        50
And all the imperial boards are spread,
With dainties whereon the monarch fed.
Rich cates and floods of the purple grape:
And many a dancer’s serpent shape
Steals slowly upon their amorous sights,        55
Or glances beneath the flaunting lights:
And fountains throw up their silver spray,
And cymbals clash, and the trumpets bray
Till the sounds in the arched roof are hung;
And words from the winding horn are flung:        60
And still the carvéd cups go round,
And revel and mirth and wine abound.
But Night has o’ertaken the fading Day;
And Music has raged her soul away:
The light in the Bacchanal’s eye is dim;        65
And faint is the Georgian’s wild love-hymn.
“Bring forth” (on a sudden spoke the king,
And hushed were the lords, loud-rioting),—
“Bring forth the vessels of silver and gold,
Which Nebuchadnezzar, my sire, of old        70
Ravished from proud Jerusalem;
And we and our queens will drink from them.”
And the vessels are brought, of silver and gold,
Of stone, and of brass, and of iron old,
And of wood, whose sides like a bright gem shine,        75
And their mouths are all filled with the sparkling wine.
Hark! the king has proclaimed with a stately nod,
“Let a health be drunk out unto Baal, the god.”
They shout and they drink: but the music moans,
And hushed are the reveller’s loudest tones:        80
For a hand comes forth, and ’t is seen by all
To write strange words on the plastered wall!
The mirth is over; the soft Greek flute
And the voices of women are low,—are mute;
The bacchanal’s eyes are all staring wide;        85
And where ’s the Assyrian’s pomp of pride?—
That night the monarch was stung to pain:
That night Belshazzar, the king, was slain!
    Many a silent age the prow
    Of untiring Time, dividing        90
    Years and days, and ever gliding
    Onwards, has passed by: and now,
    Where ’s thy wealth of streets and towers?
    Where thy gay and dazzling hours?
    Where thy crowds of slaves, and things        95
    That fed on the rich breath of kings?
    Where thy laughter-crownéd times?
    Thou art—what?—a breath, a fame,
    In the shadow of thy name
    Dwelling, like a ghost unseen;        100
    Grander than if laurels green
    Or the massy gold were spread,
    Crown-like, upon thy great head:
    Mighty in thy own undoing,
    Drawing a fresh life from ruin        105
    And eternal prophecy:
    Thou art gone, but cannot die.
    Like a splendor from the sky
    Through the silent ether flung,
    Like a hoar tradition hung        110
    Glittering in the ear of Time,
    Thou art, like a lamp sublime,
    Telling from thy wave-worn tower
    Where the raging floods have power,
    How ruin lives, and how time flies,        115
    And all that on the dial lies.

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