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Full text of "The feast of Belshazzar. A prize poem recited in the Theatre, Oxford, June XXIII. M DCCC LII"

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HE FEAST OF BELSHAZZAR 

A PRIZE POEM'..' i '' « 
RECITED IN THE THEATJIIE,. b^^OHb, 

JUNE XXIII. M DCCC LII. 
BY 

EDWIN ARNOLD. 

UNIVERSITY COLLEGE. 




OXFORD: 
FRANCIS MACPHERSON. 

MDCCC LII. 



• '•• • *•* J 


•• 


• *• • 




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THE FEAST OF BELSHAZZAR. 

t * 

• -•,»''' ,' 

A PRIZE POEM '.'^•'•- *' 
RECITED IN THE THEATRE, OXEORD, 

JUNE XXIII. M DCCC LII. 
BY 

EDWIN ARNOLD. 

UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, 




OXFORD: 

FRANCIS MACPHERSON. 

MDCCC LII. 



SYNOPSIS. 

" Belshazzar's impious feast ; a handwriting, unknown to the 
magicians, troubleth the king. At the commendation of the 
queen Daniel is brought ; He, reproving the king of pride and 
idolatry, readeth and interpreteth the writing. The monarchy 
is translated to the Medes." — Daniel, ch. 5, 




THE FEAST OF BELSHAZZAR. 




d\X' Iff^i roi ra (tkXtjp* dyav <}>povr][iaTa 

TTIITTUV fldXlffTa. 

OT by one portal, or one path alone 
God's holy messages to men are known ; 
Waiting the glances of his awful eyes 
Silv^-winged Seraphs do him embassies ; 
And stars interpreting his high behest 
Guide the lone feet and glad the failing breast — 
The rolling thunder and the raging sea 
Speak the stern purpose of the Deity, 
And storms beneath and rainbow hues above 
Herald his anger or proclaim his love : 
The still small voices of the summer day, 
The red Sirocco, and the breath of May, 
The lingering harmony in Ocean shells. 
The fairy music of the meadow bells, 




4; \ - ' <, ',XH'^;F:e4iST of Belshazzar. 

, I^?rt}i ^a^id' TToi^; Aiy-^.Water and wasting Flame 
Have words to wliispef, 'tongues to tell his name. 
Once — with no cloak of careful |nystery 
Himself was herald of his own decree ; 
The hand that edicts on the marble drew 
Graved the stern sentence of their scorner too. — 
Listen and learn ! Tyrants have heard the tale, 
And turned from hearing terror-struck and pale, 
Spiritless captives sinking with the chain 
Have read this page and taken heart again. — 

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 



The Feast of Belshazzar. 

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 Chaldsean 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. 




6 The Feast of Belshazzar. 

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 ; 
No lack of goodly company was there. 
No lack of laughing eyes to light the cheer ; 
From Dara trooped they, from Daremma's grove 
" The suns of battle and the moons of love ; " * 
From where Arsissa's silver waters sleep 

* Hafiz, the Persian Anacreon. 



The Feast of Belshazzar. 

To Imla^s marshes and the inland deep, 

From pleasant Calah and from Sittacene 

The horseman's captain and the Harem's queen. — 

It seemed no summer-cloud of passing woe 
Could fling its shadow on so fair a show — 
It seemed the gallant forms that feasted there 
Were all too grand for woe, too great for care — 
Whence came the anxious eye, the altered tone, 
The dull presentiment no heart would own, 
That ever changed the smiling to a sigh 
Sudden as sea-bird flashing from the sky : — 
It is not that they know the spoiler wails 
Harnessed for battle at the brazen gates, 
It is not that they hear the watchman's call 
Mark the slow minutes on the leaguered wall, 
The clash of quivers and the ring of spears 
Make pleasant music in a soldier's ears : 
And not a scabbard hideth sword to-night 
That hath not glimmered in the front of fight — 
May not the blood in every beating vein 
Have quick foreknowledge of the coming pain ? 
Even as the prisoned silver,* dead and dumb 

* The quicksilver in the tube of the thermometer. 




8 The Feast of Belshazzar. 

Shrinks at cold Winter's footfall ere he come. — 

The king hath felt it and the heart's unrest 
Heaved the broad purple of his belted breast ; 
Sudden he speaks — " What ! doth the beaded juice 
" Savour like hyssop that ye scorn its use ? 
" Wear ye so pitiful and sad a soul 
" That tramp of foemen scares ye from the bowl ? 
" Think ye the gods on yonder starry floor 
" Tremble for terror, when the thunders roar ? 
" Are we not gods ? have we not fought with God ? 
" And shall we shiver at a robber's nod ? 
" No — let them batter till the brazen bars 
" Ring merry mocking of their idle wars — 
^' Their fall is fated for to-morrow's sun, 
" The lion rouses when his feast is done — 
" Crown me a cup— and fill the bowls we brought 
" From Judah's temple when the fight was fought — 
" Drink, till the merry madness fill the soul 
" To Salem's conqueror in Salem's bowl — 
" Each from the goblet of a God shall sip 
" And Judah's gold tread heavy on the lip." * 

* " He never drinks 
But Timon's silver treads upon his lip." Shak. Tit, Andr. 



The Feast of Belshazzar. 

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 



10 The Feast of Belshazzar. 

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. — 

With wand of ebony and sable stole 
Chaldsea's wisest scan the spectral scroll — 
Strong in the lessons of a lying art 
Each comes to gaze, but gazes to depart — 
And still for mystic sign and muttered spell 
The graven letters guard their secret well — 
Gleam they for warning — glare they to condemn — 
God speaketh, — but he speaketh not for them. — 

Oh ! ever, when the happy laugh is dumb 
All the joy gone, and all the anguish come — 
When strong adversity and subtle pain 
Wring the sad soul and rack the throbbing brain — 
When friends once faithful, hearts once all our own 
Leave us to weep, to bleed and die alone — 
When fears and cares the lonely thought employ. 



The Feast of Belshazzar. 11 

And clouds of sorrow hide the sun of joy — 

When weary life, breathing reluctant breath 

Hath no hope sweeter than the hope of death — 

Then the best counsel and the last relief 

To cheer the spirit or to cheat the grief, 

The only calm, the only comfort heard 

Comes in the music of a woman's word — 

Like beacon-bell on some wild island-shore, 

Silverly ringing in the tempest's roar. 

Whose sound borne shipward through the midnight 

gloom 
Tells of the path, and turns her from her doom. 

So in the silence of that awful hour 
When baffled magic mourned its parted power — 
When kings were pale and satraps shook for fear, 
A woman speaketh—and the wisest hear — 
She — the high daughter of a thousand thrones 
Telling with trembling lip and timid tones 
Of him the Captive, in the feast forgot, 
Who readeth visions — him, whose wondrous lot 
Sends him to lighten doubt and lessen gloom, 
And gaze undazzled on the days to come — 
Daniel the Hebrew, such his name and race, 



12 The Feast of Belshazzar. 

Held by a monarcli highest in his grace, 

He may declare — Oh! — bid them quickly send, 

So may the mystery have happy end ! — 

Calmly and silent as the fair full moon 
Comes sailing upward in the sky of June — 
Fearfully as the troubled clouds of night 
Shrink from before the coming of its light — 
So through the hall the Prophet passed along. 
So from before him fell the festal throng — 
By broken wassail-cup, and wine o'erthrown 
Pressed he still onward for the monarch's throne — 
His spirit failed him not — his quiet eye 
Lost not its light for earthly majesty ; 
His lip was steady and his accent clear, 
" The king hath needed me, — and I am here." — 

" Art thou the Prophet ? read me yonder scroll 
" Whose undeciphered horror daunts my soul — 
" There shall be guerdon for the grateful task, 
" Fitted for me to give, for thee to ask — 
" A chain to deck thee — and a robe to grace, 
" Thine the third throne and thou the third in place.'* 



The Feast of Belshazzar. 13 

He heard — and turned him where the lighted wall 
Dimmed the red torches of the festival, 
Gazed on the sign with steady gaze and set, 
And he who quailed not at a kingly threat 
Bent the true knee and bowed the silver hair. 
For that he knew the King of kings was there — 
Then nerved his soul the sentence to unfold. 
While his tongue trembled at the tale it told — 
And never tongue shall echo tale as strange 
Till that change cometh which must never change. 

" Keep for thyself the guerdon and the gold- - 
" What God hath graved, God's prophet must unfold ; 
" Could not thy father's crime, thy father's fate 
" Teach thee the terror thou hast learnt too late — 
" Hast thou not read the lesson of his life, 
" Who wars with God shall strive a losing strife ? 
" His was a kingdom mighty as thine own, 
" The sword his sceptre and the earth his throne — 
" The nations trembled when his awful eye 
" Gave to them leave to live or doom to die — 
" The Lord of Life — the Keeper of the grave, 
" His frown could wither and his smile could save — 
" Yet when his heart was hard, his spirit high 



14 The Feast of Belshazzar. 

" God drave him from his kingly majesty, 

" Far from the brotherhood of fellow men 

" To seek for dwelling in the desert den ; 

" Where the wild asses feed and oxen roam 

" He sought his pasture and he made his home, 

" And bitter-biting frost and dews of night 

" Schooled him in sorrow till he knew the right, 

" That God is ruler of the rulers still 

" And setteth up the sovereign that he will : — 

" Oh ! hadst thou treasured in repentant breast 

" His pride and fall, his penitence and rest, 

" And bowed submissive to Jehovah's will, 

" Then had thy sceptre been a sceptre still — 

" But thou hast mocked the majesty of heaven, 

" And shamed the vessels to its service given, 

*' And thou hast fashioned idols of thine own 

" Idols of gold, of silver, and of stone ; 

" To them hast bowed the knee, and breathed the breath, 

" And they must help thee in the hour of death. 

" Woe for the sign unseen, the sin forgot, 

" God was among ye, and ye knew it not ! 

" Hear what he sayeth now, ^ Thy race is run, 

" The years are numbered and the days are done, 

" Thy soul hath mounted in the scale of fate, 



The Feast of Belshazzar. 15 

" The Lord hath weighed thee and thou lackest weight ; 
" Now in thy palace porch the spoilers stand, 
" To seize thy sceptre, to divide thy land/ *' — 

He ended — and his passing foot was heard. 
But none made answer, not a lip was stirred — 
Mute the free tongue and bent the fearless brow, — 
The mystic letters had their meaning now ! 
Soon came there other sound — the clash of steel, 
The heavy ringing of the iron heel — 
The curse in dying, and the cry for life. 
The bloody voices of the battle strife. — 

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. 

EDWIN ARNOLD. 



C. Wliittingham, Tooks Court, Chancery Lane. 



I. The Refults of Comparative Philology ij 

reference to Claffical Scholarfhip, by Dr. G. CurtiuI 
Tranflated from the German by Dr. F. H. Trithei 
Poft 8vo. cloth, y, 

" Comparative Philology is not confined, in its refults, to t^ 
organization and hiftory of languages, but it fheds alfo 
light over the hiftory of nations. If it is once recognized x\ 
the Latin ftands to the Greek not in the relation of a daughte 
but of a fifter, it follows that the hiftorical relation of Ita 
and Greece particularly w^ith regard to the oldeft time, 
have to be viewed in the fame light. This point has beJ 
well illuftrated in a fmall but very interefting Eflay ' On t| 
Refults of Comparative Philology in reference to Claffic 
Scholarfhip,* by Dr. G. Curtius, lately tranflated into Englif 
— Edinburgh Re-vU'zv, Oftober, 1851. 

II. The Logic of Science ; a Tranflation 

The Pofterior Analytics of Ariftotle, with Notes ai 
an Introduftion, by Edward Poste, M.A. Fellow 
Oriel College. Poft 8vo. c/oth, 4/. 

III. The Bothie of Toper-na-Fuoiich, a Loi 

Vacation Paftoral, in Hexameter Verfe, by A. 
Clough, late Fellow and Tutor of Oriel College. Ii 
perial 8vo. fezve^, zs, ; cloth, zs, 6d. 

IV. Bp. Henry King's Poems and Pfalms, ne 

edited by the Rev. J. Hannah, Redor of the Edi 
burgh Academy, and late Fellow of Lincoln Colle^ 
Foolfcap, cloth, js. 

V. St. Paul at Athens. A Poem which ol 

tained the Univerlity prize for " the beft poem 01 
facred fubjed." Oxford 1851. By John G. She! 
pard, M.A. F.R.L.S. Late Fellow of Wadhs 
College, and Head Mafter of Kidderminfter School 



OXFORD: FRANCIS MACPHERSONJ 
LONDON: G. BELL, 186, FLEET STREET. 



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