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

Mesopotamia: Babylon

Belshazzar’s Feast

By Nicholas Michell (1807–1880)

(From Ruins of Many Lands)

’T WAS here, beneath this dark and silent mound,

Where ages heap their nameless wrecks around,

That he, the last great king, before his fall,

Spread his famed feast, and lit his gorgeous hall.

Oh, ne’er in Babylon did blaze a sight

More richly grand, magnificently bright!

Bearing his crown, and dressed in robe of state,

High on his throne of gold Belshazzar sate.

In shining robes, and stretching far away,

Like billows quivering ’neath the sunset ray,

Chiefs, nobles stood, the red lamps flashing o’er

The golden chains and purple robes they wore;

In gilded galleries damsels, too, were seen,

Like night thick-set with stars, their jewels’ sheen,

With rose-crowned locks, white hands, and radiant eyes,

Too fair for earth, too earthly for the skies.

The banquet speeds; the harp and psaltery sound,

And all is splendor, joy, enchantment round.

Wreathed with rich flowers, and crowned with rosy wine,

The golden cups from Salem’s Temple shine.

Joined by his chiefs, the exulting monarch drinks,

Nor at thy voice, condemning conscience! shrinks,

But mocks the Hebrews’ God, and, with vain boast,

Extols their Bel, and Heaven’s unnumbered host.

’T was then, while pleasure held each heart in thrall,

A sudden light illumed the pillared hall;

No lamp, no earthly fire, could pour such beams,—

From sun or comet no such splendor streams.

Up sprang the king, and backward swayed the crowd

Mute was the harp, and hushed their laughter loud.

See! where in flame, yet dazzling, strong and clear,

That shadowy hand doth trace its words of fear!

It writes!—the king still stands with lips apart,

While terror’s thrill runs shivering to his heart;

It writes!—and all veil there, in dread amaze,

Their dazzled eyes from that portentous blaze!

No sage was found to read those words of flame,

Till he, the exile, Salem’s prophet came.

He stood before them all, with noble mien,

Bold as unshrinking, lofty as serene.

Age marked his brow, but in his deep clear eye

Still burned the fire of glorious days gone by.

So hushed each voice, that hall appeared a tomb,—

He stretched his hand, and spoke the monarch’s doom!

Yes, on that night the foe, whose hosts in vain

Had fought so long those stately towers to gain,

Bowed deep Euphrates from his wonted course,

Poured to the city’s heart with whirlwind force,

Slew the last king,—Assyria’s rule was o’er!

And Babylon, the mighty, was no more!