Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII. 1876–79.

Mesopotamia: Babylon


By Heinrich Heine (1797–1856)

Translated by C. G. Leland

MIDNIGHT came slowly sweeping on;

In silent rest lay Babylon.

But in the royal castle high

Red torches gleam and courtiers cry.

Belshazzar there in kingly hall

Is holding kingly festival.

The vassals sat in glittering line,

And emptied the goblets with glowing wine.

The goblets rattle, the choruses swell,

And it pleased the stiff-necked monarch well.

In the monarch’s cheeks a wild fire glowed,

And the wine awoke his daring mood.

And, onward still by his madness spurred,

He blasphemes the Lord with a sinful word;

And he brazenly boasts, blaspheming wild,

While the servile courtiers cheered and smiled.

Quick the king spoke, while his proud glance burned,

Quickly the servant went and returned.

He bore on his head the vessels of gold,

Of Jehovah’s temple the plunder bold.

With daring hand, in his frenzy grim,

The king seized a beaker and filled to the brim,

And drained to the dregs the sacred cup,

And foaming he cried, as he drank it up,

“Jehovah, eternal scorn I own

To thee. I am monarch of Babylon.”

Scarce had the terrible blasphemy rolled

From his lips, ere the monarch at heart was cold.

The yelling laughter was hushed, and all

Was still as death in the royal hall.

And see! and see! on the white wall high

The form of a hand went slowly by,

And wrote,—and wrote, on the broad wall white,

Letters of fire, and vanished in night.

Pale as death, with a steady stare,

And with trembling knees, the king sat there;

The horde of slaves sat shuddering chill;

No word they spoke, but were deathlike still.

The Magians came, but of them all,

None could read the flame-script on the wall.

But that same night, in all his pride,

By the hands of his servants Belshazzar died.