Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  The Palace of Omartes

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Russia: Vol. XX. 1876–79.


The Palace of Omartes

By Edward, Lord Lytton (1803–1873)

(From The Secret Way)

OMARTES, king of the wide plains which, north

Of Tanais, pasture steeds for Scythian Mars,

Forsook the simple ways

And nomad tents of his unconquered fathers;

And in the fashion of the neighboring Medes,

Built a great city girt with moat and wall,

And in the midst thereof

A regal palace dwarfing piles in Susa,

With vast foundations rooted into earth,

And crested summits soaring into heaven,

And gates of triple brass,

Siege-proof as portals wielded by the Cyclops.

One day Omartes, in his pride of heart,

Led his high priest, Telentias, through his halls,

And chilled by frigid looks,

When counting on warm praise, asked, “What is wanting?

“Where is beheld the palace of a king,

So stored with all that doth a king beseem;

The woofs of Phrygian looms,

The gold of Colchis, and the pearls of Ormus,

“Couches of ivory sent from farthest Ind,

Sidonian crystal, and Corinthian bronze,

Egypt’s vast symbol gods,

And those imagined unto men by Hellas;

“Stored not in tents that tremble to a gale,

But chambers firm-based as the Pyramids,

And breaking into spray

The surge of Time as Gades breaks the ocean?”

“Nor thou nor I the worth of these things now

Can judge; we stand too near them,” said the sage.

“None till they reach the tomb

Scan with just eye the treasures of the palace.

“But for thy building,—as we speak, I feel

Through all the crannies pierce an icy wind

More bitter than the blasts

Which howled without the tents of thy rude fathers.

“Thou hast forgot to bid thy masons close

The chinks of stone against Calamity.”

The sage inclined his brow,

Shivered, and, parting, round him wrapt his mantle.