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

Persia: Susa (Shooster)


By Nicholas Michell (1807–1880)

(From Ruins of Many Lands)

FAR south of Ctesiphon, where Ulai flows,

That heard of old the song of Israel’s woes,

Ye meet a shapeless building, low and rude,

Wild as the scene, where all is solitude;

Who owned in other days this moss-clad cell?

Here, Allah’s child, did some blessed dervish dwell,

Hoping, by scorning pleasure, hating man,

And dragging on in woe life’s wretched span,

To win his prophet’s praises in the skies,

Sit in bright bowers, and bask in houris’ eyes?—

No, yon small ruin marks the ancient dead;

Hushed be thy voice, and walk with reverent tread;

Towers near a mighty mound,—’t is all ye see

Of Persia’s boast, of Susa’s majesty;

Wild fern and rue around thee whispering wave,

Meet to adorn a perished people’s grave.

Now on that tomb sleep evening’s mellow rays,

Its dark sides softening in the golden haze;

The heart throbs high, yet solemn feeling steeps

The awe-struck soul, for here famed Daniel sleeps!

Mighty of eld! interpreter of dreams!

Stern, mystic, awful, as his sacred themes!

We pause, and doubt his very bones can rest

Beneath this heathy turf, the wild-bird’s nest;

Yet here stood Susa,—there those waters roll,

Where heaven-born visions burst on Daniel’s soul;

Yes, he, the favored of Chaldea’s kings,

Who swept the future’s depths on prophet-wings,

Hath oft, perchance, roamed here in thought sublime,

Mused by these murmuring waves, unchanged by time,

At night’s deep hour yon lonely mountains trod,

Mourned for his captive race, and called on God.


Susa! that held the wealth of Persia’s kings,

Gold, silver, gems, and luxury’s sweetest things;

Susa! the pleasant city of delight,

With groves so shady, and with streams so bright,

Where sang the bulbul to his blushing rose,

Half matched by Beauty’s lyre at evening’s close;

Where spread those lily-gardens far and near,

Like carpets of soft snow through half the year,

Save that they breathed perfumes as purely sweet

As wreaths of angels, when the blessed they meet;

Save that their tall green stems hid frolic Love,

Who laughed and played, and still would peep above,

Crowning the maid he lured amid their flowers

With blooms all fresh as those in Eden’s bowers.

Alas for Susa! Climb we thoughtful, slow,

The giant mound, the Hebrew’s grave below.

The eye looks east and west, but all is bare,

A drear expanse, a savage desert there;

And other mounds in wild confusion sweep,

Like waves heaped high, then frozen on the deep.

The joyous city, and the murmuring crowd,

The lily-garden, and the palace proud,

The lutes of maids, the bulbul’s melting song,

The happy groups that danced the meads along,—

All now have mingled with the eternal past,

A lamp gone out, a dream that might not last,

And o’er these heaps Oblivion waves her wing,

And the poor grasshopper will scarce be king!

Yet interest haloes still fair Susa’s name,

And hearts unborn shall treasure up her fame,

Shall thrill sweet Esther’s varied tale to hear,

And for the wrongs of Vashti ask a tear.

Pilgrims, when we are dust, shall climb this mound,

And gaze like us, and sink in thought profound.

Here, too, when day along the desert dies,

And sunset glories slowly quit the skies,

Will lean the dreamer, and in fancy see

Gay sights of old, and pomp no more to be.

High on yon pile where rays of violet fall,

Will feast Darius, throned amidst his hall,

In deeper shade sad Vashti wander by,

Weep for her lord, and breathe her fruitless sigh.

There Mordecai will watch the palace gate,

And proud Hamán defy approaching fate;

While, as the stars peep out, and silvery beams

Light sacred Ulai, and Choaspes’ streams,

And desert flowers their dewy eyelids close,

And all but elves and peris seek repose,

That group of chosen maids will seem to shine,

Sweet as the flowers, and as the stars divine,—

The maids from every country gathered there,

The pale, the rosy-cheeked, the dark, the fair,

The bright, the languid-eyed, the short, the tall,

And Hebrew Esther,—loveliest of them all!