Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  The Trumpets of Doolkarnein

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

Asiatic Russia: Caucasus, the Mountains

The Trumpets of Doolkarnein

By Leigh Hunt (1784–1859)

  • In Eastern history are two Iskanders, or Alexanders, who are sometimes confounded, and both of whom are called Doolkarnein, or the Two-Horned, in allusion to their subjugation of East and West, horns being an Oriental symbol of power.
  • One of these heroes is Alexander of Macedon, the other a conqueror of more ancient times, who built the marvellous series of ramparts on Mount Caucasus, known in fable as the wall of Gog and Magog, that is to say, of the people of the North. It reached from the Euxine Sea to the Caspian, where its flanks originated the subsequent appellation of the Caspian Gates. See (among other passages in the same work) the article entitled “Jagioug et Magioug,” in D’Herbelot’s Bibliothèque Orientale.
  • The story of the Trumpets, on which the present poem is founded, is quoted by Major Price, in his History of the Arabs before the Time of Mahomet, from the old Italian collection of tales entitled The Pecorone, the work of Ser Giovanni Fiorentino.

  • WITH awful walls, far glooming, that possessed

    The passes ’twixt the snow-fed Caspian fountains,

    Doolkarnein, the dread lord of East and West,

    Shut up the northern nations in their mountains;

    And upon platforms where the oak-trees grew,

    Trumpets he set, huge beyond dreams of wonder,

    Craftily purposed, when his arms withdrew,

    To make him thought still housed there, like the thunder;

    And it so fell; for when the winds blew right,

    They woke their trumpets to their calls of might.

    Unseen, but heard, their calls the trumpets blew,

    Ringing the granite rocks, their only bearers,

    Till the long fear into religion grew,

    And nevermore those heights had human darers.

    Dreadful Doolkarnein was an earthly god;

    His walls but shadowed forth his mightier frowning;

    Armies of giants at his bidding trod

    From realm to realm, king after king discrowning.

    When thunder spoke, or when the earthquake stirred,

    Then, muttering in accord, his host was heard.

    But when the winters marred the mountain shelves,

    And softer changes came with vernal mornings,

    Something had touched the trumpets’ lofty selves,

    And less and less rang forth their sovereign warnings:

    Fewer and feebler; as when silence spreads

    In plague-struck tents, where haughty chiefs, left dying,

    Fail by degrees upon their angry beds,

    Till, one by one, ceases the last stern sighing.

    One by one, thus, their breath the trumpets drew,

    Till now no more the imperious music blew.

    Is he then dead? Can great Doolkarnein die?

    Or can his endless hosts elsewhere be needed?

    Were the great breaths that blew his minstrelsy

    Phantoms, that faded as himself receded?

    Or is he angered? Surely he still comes;

    This silence ushers the dread visitation;

    Sudden will burst the torrent of his drums,

    And then will follow bloody desolation.

    So did fear dream; though now, with not a sound

    To scare good hope, summer had twice crept round.

    Then gathered in a band, with lifted eyes,

    The neighbors, and those silent heights ascended.

    Giant, nor aught blasting their bold emprise,

    They met, though twice they halted, breath suspended:

    Once, at a coming like a god’s in rage

    With thunderous leaps; but ’t was the piled snow, falling:

    And once, when in the woods, an oak, for age,

    Fell dead, the silence with its groan appalling.

    At last they came, where still, in dread array,

    As though they still might speak, the trumpets lay.

    Unhurt they lay, like caverns above ground,

    The rifted rocks, for hands, about them clinging,

    Their tubes as straight, their mighty mouths as round

    And firm, as when the rocks were first set ringing.

    Fresh from their unimaginable mould

    They might have seemed, save that the storms had stained them

    With a rich rust, that now, with gloomy gold

    In the bright sunshine, beauteously engrained them.

    Breathless the gazers looked, nigh faint for awe,

    Then leaped, then laughed. What was it now they saw?

    Myriads of birds. Myriads of birds, that filled

    The trumpets all with nests and nestling voices!

    The great, huge, stormy music had been stilled

    By the soft needs that nursed those small, sweet noises!

    O thou Doolkarnein, where is now thy wall?

    Where now thy voice divine and all thy forces?

    Great was thy cunning, but its wit was small

    Compared with Nature’s least and gentlest courses.

    Fears and false creeds may fright the realms awhile;

    But Heaven and Earth abide their time, and smile.