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

Persia: Persepolis (Istakar)

The Hall of Eblis

By Bryan Waller Procter (1787–1874)

THEY took their way (Vathek and his young bride,

The sweet Nouronihar) through summer fields

Of flowers, by sparkling rivers, fountains that

Splashed o’er the turf, by palm and tamarisk trees,

And where the dark pines talked to solitudes;

And oft beguiled the way with amorous songs,

Kisses and looks voluptuous; and they quaffed

At midday icéd waters which had grown

Cool in the valley of Roenabad. One thing

Did intervene to mar those quiet hours,

Which was ambition.
But these days passed by:

And then they journeyed among perilous sands,

Which the hot blast of the desert swept at times

To figures columnar; these subsiding, left

Open to view the wide horizon, where,

Lifting their heads, like mountains, to the skies,

Rose the dark towers of Istakar. The moon

Hid her pale face eclipsed, and sore afraid

Lest that the baleful atmosphere might shroud

Her light forever; and interlunar stars

Shrank and grew dim, as when the morning shows

His gray eye in the East. Forward they passed

Midst crumbling walls, and shaking minarets,

Where even the ivy grew not, and at last

Stood ’neath the mighty palace of those kings

Who ruled before the flood. It seemed as built

For all eternity; and its pillars threw

On the black platform long, large lines of shadow,

That lay upon the marble, like to things

Substantial,—countless and sky-touching towers

(“Whose architecture was unknown amidst

The records of the earth”) stood there, like that

Vast pile our ancestry once dared to raise

In old Chaldea, whence they met the wrath

Of God, and nature’s own sweet language fled

The lips of men forever. Silence reigned;

And glimmering darkness in the middle air

Brooded, but shifting aye her shadowy wings,

Let horror creep between, and doubtful light;

And chill, sepulchral airs, that had no sound,

Touched the pale cheek of young Nouronihar:

And Vathek felt his heart grow cold, and stayed

His breath to listen, and he graspéd hard

Her trembling hand for mere companionship.

The stars now shone anew; and right against

The palace, carvéd curiously, were seen

Leopards and wingéd hippogriffs, and shapes

Unknown but to the bottoms of the deep,

And there, by all sea-monsters that we fear,

Dreaded, and left alone; above these forms

Were traced mysterious characters, that did yield

A welcome to the pair. Scarce had they read

When from amongst the ruins came a sound

Like anguish, and the yawning ground gave out

Blue subterranean fires, that showed a door

Whose barréd labyrinths’ led to Hell. There stood

The dwarféd Indian, grinning like a fiend;

“Welcome!” he cried, “both welcome! Ye are come

To see the prince of morning! Ye deserve

To see, and ye shall see him.” Then he touched

The charméd lock, round which, invisibly,

A hundred watchful demons wheeled, and kept

Sacred the homes of starry Eblis. Wide

It opened with a horrid sound, and shut

(When Vathek and his bride had entered there)

Midst laughs, and shrieks exulting, like the noise

Of mountainous thunder, or the withering voice

Of him who from Vesuvius calls abroad

In madness, and casts out his blazing foam

Like rivers toward the sea.
At last they saw

The Hall of Eblis: vaulted ’t was and high,

So none might mark the roofs! The pillars that

Stood like supporting giants, verged away

In long innumerable avenues, but

Met at a point bright as the sun, when he

Looks flaming on the sands of Palestine.

Each column bore a different character,

And by the lambent flames that played about

Like snakes, and pointed their ethereal spires

Towards the stupendous capitals (which seemed

Wrought in the finer times of Greece, when men

Struck arméd Pallas from a senseless stone

To life, and shaped those matchless deities,

Venus, and stern Apollo, and the rest)

Strange letters might be seen,—their import known

To none but the immortals. The sad pair

Traversed a scene of luxury and woe;

They trod on gold and flowers, while from the ground

Voluptuous odors steamed, whose breath was sweet

As hers whom story fabled once the Queen

Of Beauty; there saffron, and citron boughs,

Cedar, and sweet perfuming sandalwoods

Were burning; and distilled and fragrant waters

Sparkled in crystal; but around them stalked

Figures like men,—all silent,—with despair

On every face, and each did press his hand

Against his heart, and shunned his fellow-wretch.

Upon a globe of fire sat Eblis. He

Was prince of all the spirits that rebelled

’Gainst God and met perdition. He was young

Still; and, but that some pride burned in his eye,

You might have pitied him. His flowing hair,

Streaming like sunbeams, told he must have been

An angel once, and fair, and beautiful;

Nay, in his fallen station, he retained

A relic of his old nobility;

And though he fell, you would have said he fell

For aiming at—a world. “Creatures,” he said,

“Creatures of clay! I number ye amongst

My subjects and adorers: live ye here

Forever and forever.” Then his orb,

Receding from the presence of the damned,

Shrunk to a point of light, and as it shrunk

The hearts of his believers withered, and burned

Internally (as he had left behind

A portion of his fire), and on their souls

Came darkness and dismay; and all knew then

The unconsuming flame was come; and each

Hated himself and fellow. Thus they lived

For ages and for ages, a sad prey

To fires perpetual, and endless fear;

Sorrow, although they loved not; hot desires,

That never could be quelled; hunger and thirst,

Fierce jealousy, and groundless doubt, and hate,

And blasting envy, and (midst other ills)

Sense of contempt in others. Thus they lived:

And not one creature ever after knew

What ’t was to—hope.