Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  The Feast of Belshazzar

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

Mesopotamia: Babylon

The Feast of Belshazzar

By Sir Edwin Arnold (1832–1904)

FROM sunlight unto starlight trumpets told

Her king’s command in Babylon the old,

From sunlight unto starlight west and east

A thousand satraps girt them for the feast,

And reined their chargers to the palace hall

Where King Belshazzar held high festival:

A pleasant palace under pleasant skies,

With cloistered courts and gilded galleries,

And gay kiosk and painted balustrade

For winter terraces and summer shade;

By court and terrace, minaret and dome,

Euphrates, rushing from his mountain home,

Rested his rage, and curbed his crested pride

To belt that palace with his bluest tide;

Broad-fronted bulls with chiselled feathers barred

In silent vigil keeping watch and ward,

Giants of granite wrought by cunning hand

Guard in the gate and frown upon the land:

Not summer’s glow nor yellow autumn’s glare

Pierced the broad tamarisks that blossomed there;

The moonbeam darting through their leafy screen

Lost half its silver in the softened green,

And fell with lessened lustre, broken light,

Tracing quaint arabesque of dark and white;

Or dimly tinting on the graven stones

The pictured annals of Chaldæan thrones.

There, from the rising to the setting day,

Birds of bright feather sang the light away,

And fountain waters on the palace-floor

Made even answer to the river’s roar,

Rising in silver from the crystal well

And breaking into spangles as they fell;

Though now ye heard them not, for far along

Rang the broad chorus of the banquet song,

And sounds as gentle, echoes soft as these,

Died out of hearing from the revelries.

High on a throne of ivory and gold,

From crown to footstool clad in purple fold,

Lord of the east from sea to distant sea,

The king Belshazzar feasteth royally,—

And not that dreamer in the desert cave

Peopled his paradise with pomp as brave:

Vessels of silver, cups of crusted gold

Blush with a brighter red than all they hold;

Pendulous lamps like planets of the night

Flung on the diadems a fragrant light,

Or slowly swinging in the midnight sky

Gilded the ripples as they glided by;

And sweet and sweeter rang the cittern-string

Soft as the beating of a seraph’s wing,

And swift and swifter in the measured dance

The tresses gather and the sandals glance,

And bright and brighter at the festal board

The flagons bubble and the wines are poured.


The last loud answer dies along the line,

The last light bubble bursts upon the wine,

His eager lips are on the jewelled brink,—

Hath the cup poison that he doubts to drink?

Is there a spell upon the sparkling gold,

That so his fevered fingers quit their hold?

Whom sees he where he gazes? what is there

Freezing his vision into fearful stare?

Follow his lifted arm and lighted eye,

And watch with them the wondrous mystery.

There cometh forth a hand, upon the stone

Graving the symbols of a speech unknown;

Fingers like mortal fingers, leaving there

The blank wall flashing characters of fear,

And still it glideth silently and slow,

And still beneath the spectral letters grow,—

Now the scroll endeth, now the seal is set,

The hand is gone, the record tarries yet.

As one who waits the warrant of his death,

With pale lips parted and with bridled breath,

They watch the sign and dare not turn to seek

Their fear reflected in their fellows’ cheek,

But stand as statues where the life is none,

Half the jest uttered, half the laughter done,

Half the flask empty, half the flagon poured,

Each where the phantom found him at the board

Struck into silence, as December’s arm

Curbs the quick ripples into crystal calm.


That night they slew him on his father’s throne,

The deed unnoticed and the hand unknown;

Crownless and sceptreless Belshazzar lay,

A robe of purple, round a form of clay.