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

Persia: Persepolis (Istakar)


By Nicholas Michell (1807–1880)

(From Ruins of Many Lands)

BUT where the forky lightning fiercest plays,

What shadowy columns meet the straining gaze?

Now wrapped in gloom, and now in light they stand,

As swift between them darts the fiery brand.

It seems as Ruin, revelling in high mirth

O’er fallen things, the beautiful of earth,

Led to this spot the demons of the storm,

To show and mock each lonely column’s form:

Yet tower they still, though fierce, as now, the skies

Have launched their lightnings countless centuries,

Gazing upon the mountains, and on heaven,

As endless years to them were also given,

High raised above that wild and mournful plain,

Where pomp and pageant ne’er must shine again,

But the green turf wraps cities, and the waves

Of winding Kur sweep past a million graves:

Throned on their rock, they look like kings afar,

The columned pride of glorious Chil Minar!

Yes, storms! rage on!—at such an hour as this,

Grand is the scene at dark Persepolis.

We leave far west the ancient city’s site,

And mount by marble steps the platform’s height;

Here frowns a massive gateway, such as Nile

Sees on his banks, a strange and solemn pile,

And still another lifts its giant head,

The ground between with polished marbles spread.

There figures stand, of earth that scarcely seem,

Like those which filled the Apostle’s wondrous dream,

The bull, the unicorn, and beauteous things,

Angels with starry wreaths, and high-spread wings;

While on each sweeping terrace’ lofty face,

A countless host of human forms ye trace;

Kings, warriors, captives, from the granite start,

But rude the genius, coarse the sculptor’s art.

Here, too, is carved that writing Europe’s sage

Half fails to read in Wisdom’s boasted age.

Strange, mystic, as those words once seen to fall

In spectral light on Babylonia’s wall.


Here, too, came one who bartered all for power,

The dread Napoleon of earth’s younger hour;

Ay, the same spot we calmly muse on now

Saw chiefs and kings to Alexander bow;

A conqueror,—yes, men praise and bend the knee,

Who spreads most woe, the greatest hero he.

But lo! that night on fancy casts its gloom,

That fearful night of revelry and doom,

When perished all things costly, bright, and fair,

And left, as now, these pillars stern and bare.

The feast is spread; around the monarch shine

Those earth-born pomps weak mortals deem divine;

High sits he on his throne of gems and gold,

Bright-starred and purple robes his limbs enfold;

No crown adorns his brow, for festive hours

Have wreathed his head with Bacchus’ bloomy flowers;

Lamps, hung in silver chains, a softened glow

Shed on the warrior chiefs that group below.

There prince and noble round the board are met,

Who fought those fights embalmed in history yet;

But thoughts of slaughter past, and blood-stained fields,

Mar not the joys that gorgeous banquet yields;

Sparkles in cups of gold rich Cyprian wine,

Melts the Greek fig, the grapes of Ora shine;

Pears from far Bactria vie with Kerman’s peach,

And fruit from climes e’en Greeks have failed to reach,

Hot Indian Isles, to Scythia’s mountain snows,—

Each luscious orb on plates of crystal glows.

Hark! in the gilded gallery flute and lyre!

Strains soft as sighs of streaming love respire;

Then harp and sackbut bolder notes ring out,

Like victory’s pæan o’er some army’s rout.

And thus they revel; mirth and joy control

The sterner thoughts, the high aspiring soul;

And e’en the slaves, in sumptuous garments dressed,

Forget their toils to see their lords so blessed.

But what young beauty leans beside the king,

With form so graceful, air so languishing?

While other maids are glittering down that hall,

A moon mid earth’s sweet stars, she dims them all.

Her mask is off, unveiled her radiant head,

A lovelier veil those flower-bound tresses spread;

A spangled zone her Grecian robe confines,

Bright on her breast a costly diamond shines,

But oh, more bright, that eye’s entrancing ray

Melts where it falls, and steals the soul away!

Who looks must look again, and sighing own

Earth boasts, than tyrant Love’s, no mightier throne:

Woman was born to vanquish,—he, the brave,

The nation-trampler, bowed, her veriest slave;

Yes, beauteous Thais, with Love’s flag unfurled,

Conquered the blood-stained conqueror of the world!