Belshazzar. A Sacred Drama

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Persons of the Drama :--
Belshazzar, King of Babylon.
Nitocris, the Queen-Mother.
Courtiers, Astrologers, Parasites.
Daniel, the Jewish Prophet.
Captive Jews, &c. &c.

SCENE -- Babylon.  Time -- Night.

The Subject is taken from the Fifth Chapter of the Prophet Daniel.


SCENE -- Near the Palace of Babylon.

Daniel and captive Jews.

Parent of Life and Light!  Sole Source of Good!
Whose tender mercies through the tide of time,
In long successive order, have sustain'd,
And saved the sons of Israel!  Thou, whose power
Deliver'd righteous Noah from the flood,
The whelming flood, the grave of humankind!
O, Thou, whose guardian care and outstretch'd hand
Rescued young Isaac from the uplifted arm,
Raised at thy bidding, to devote a son,
An only son doom'd by his sire to die:
(O saving faith, by such obedience proved,
O blest obedience, hallow'd thus by faith!)
Thou, who in mercy savedst the chosen race
In the wild desert, and didst there sustain them
By wonder-working love, though they rebell'd
And murmur'd at the miracles that saved them!
Oh! hear thy servant Daniel! hear and help!
Thou, whose almighty power did after raise
Successive leaders to defend our race:
Who sentest valiant Joshua to the field,
Thy people's champion, to the conquering field,
Suspended in her radiant round, was stay'd,
And the bright sun, arrested in his course,
Stupendously stood still!

Chorus of Jews.
What ail'd thee, that thou stood'st still,
O Sun! nor did thy flaming orb decline?
And thou, O Moon? in Ajalon's low vale,
Why didst thou long before thy period shine?

Was it at Joshua's dread command,
The leader of the Israelitish band?
Yes -- at a mortal bidding both stood still:
'Twas Joshua's word, but 'twas Jehovah's will.

What all-controlling hand had force
To stop eternal Nature's constant course?
The wandering moon to one fix'd spot confine,
But his whose fiat gave them first to shine?

O Thou! who, when thy discontented host
Tired of Jehovah's rule, desired a king,
In anger gav'st them Sau: and then again
Didst wrest the regal sceptre from his hand
To give it David -- David best beloved!
Illustrious David!  poet, prophet, king;
Thou who didst suffer Solomon, the wise,
To build a glorious temple to thy name,--
Oh, hear thy servants, and forgive us too!
If by severe necessity compell'd
We worship here -- we have no temple now:
Altar or sanctuary, none is left.

Chorus of Jews.
O Judah! let thy captive sons deplore
Thy far-famed temple's now no more!
Fallen is thy sacred fane, thy glory gone!
Fallen is thy temple, Solomon!
Ne'er did Barbaric kings behold,
With all their shining gems, their burnish'd gold,
A fane so perfect, bright, and fair;
For God himself was wont t' inhabit there.
Between the Cherubim his glory stood,
While the high-priest alone the dazzling splendour view'd.

How fondly did the Tyrian artist strive
His name to latest time should live!
Such wealth the stranger wonder'd to behold:
Gold were the tablets, and the vases gold.
Of cedar such an ample store,
Exhausted Lebanon could yield no more.
Bending before the Ruler of the sky,
Well might the royal founder cry,
Fill'd with an holy dread, a reverend fear,
Will God in very deed inhabit here?
The heaven of heavens beneath his feet,
Is for the bright inhabitant unmeet:
Archangels prostrate wait his high commands,
And will he deign to dwell in temples made with hands?

Yes, Thou art ever present, Power Supreme!
Not circumscribed by time, nor fix'd to space,
Confined to altars, nor to temples bound.
In wealth, in want, in freedom, or in chains,
In dungeons or in thrones, the faithful find thee!
E'en in the burning cauldron thou was near
To Shadrach and the holy brotherhood:
The unhurt martyrs bless'd thee in the flames;
They sought, and found thee: call'd and thou wast there.

First Jew.
How changed our state! Judah, thy glory's fallen,
Thy joys for hard captivity exchanged;
And thy sad sons breathe the polluted air
Of Babylon, where deities obscene
Insult the living God; and to his servants,
The priests of wretched idols, made with hands,
Show contumelious scorn.

  'Tis Heaven's high will.

Second Jew.
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem!
If I not fondly cherish thy loved image,
E'en in the giddy hour of thoughtless mirth
If I not rather view thy prostrate walls
Than haughty Babylon's imperial towers--
Then may my tongue refuse to frame the strains
Of sweetest harmony; my rude right hand
Forget with sounds symphonious, to accord
The harp of Jesse's son to Sion's songs.

First Jew.
Oft on Euphrates' ever-verdant banks,
Where drooping willows form a mournful shade,
With all the pride which prosperous fortunes give,
And all the unfeeling mirth of happy men,
The insulting Babylonians ask a song;
Such songs as erst in better days were sung
By Korah's sons, or Heaven-taught Asaph set
To loftiest measures: then our bursting hearts
Feel all their woes afresh; the galling chain
Of bondage crushes then the free-born soul
With writhing anguish; from the trembling lip
The unfinish'd cadence falls; and the big tear,
While it relieves, betrays the wo-fraught soul.
For who can view Euphrates' pleasant stream,
Its drooping willows, and its verdant banks,
Ad not to wounded memory recall
The piny groves of fertile Palestine,
The vales of Solyma, and Jordan's stream.

Firm faith and deep submission to high Heaven
Will each us to endure, without a murmur,
What seems so hard.  Think what the holy host
Of patriarchs, saints, and prophets have sustain'd
In the blest cause of truth! And shall not we
O men of Judah, dare what these have dared,
And boldly pass through the refining fire
Of fierce affliction?  Yes, be witness, Heaven!
Old as I am, I will not shrink at death,
Come in what shape it may, if God so will,
By peril to confirm and prove my faith.
Oh! I would dare yon den of hungry lions,
Rather than pause to fill the task assign'd
By Wisdom Infinite.  Nor think I boast;
Not in myself, but in thy strength I trust,
Spirit of God!

First Jew.
  Prophet, thy words support
And raise our sinking souls.

  Behold yon palace,
There proud Belshazzar keeps his wanton court!
I knew it once beneath another lord,
His grandsire, who subdu'd Jehoiachin,
And hither brought sad Judah's captive tribes;
And with them brought the rich and precious relics
Of our fam'd temple; all the holy treasure,
The golden vases, and the sacred cups,
Which grac'd, in happier times, the sanctuary.

Second Jew.
May He, to whose blest use they were devoted,
Preserve them from pollution; and once more,
In his own gracious time, restore the temple!

I, with some favour'd youths of Jewish race,
Was lodg'd in the king's palace, and instructed
In all the various learning of the East;
But He, on whose great name our fathers call'd,
Preserv'd us from the perils of a court,
Warn'd us to guard our youthful appetites,
And still with holy fortitude reject
The pamp'ring viands Luxury presented;
Fell Luxury! more perilous to youth
Than storms or quicksands, poverty or chains.

Second Jew.
He who can guard 'gainst the low baits of sense,
Will find Temptation's arrows hurtless strike
Against the brazen shield of Temperance.
For 'tis th' inferior appetites enthral
The man, and quench the immortal light within him;
The senses take the soul an easy prey,
And sink th' immortal spirit into brute.

Twice, by the Spirit of God, did I expound
The visions of the king; his soul was touch'd,
And twice did he repent, and prostrate fell
Before the God of Daniel; yet again,
Pow'r, flatt'ry, and prosperity, undid him,
When, from the lofty ramparts of his palace,
He view'd the splendours of the royal city,
That magazine of wealth, which proud Euphrates
Wafts from each distant corner of the earth;
When he beheld the adamantine towers,
The brazen gates, the bulwarks of his strength,
The pendent gardens,  Art's stupendous work,
The wonder of the world! the proud Chaldean,
Mad with the intoxicating fumes which rise
When uncontroll'd ambition grasps at once
Dominion absolute and boundless wealth,
Forgot he was a man, forgot his God!
"This mighty Babylon is mine," he cried;
"My wondrous pow'r, my godlike arms achiev'd it.
I scorn submission; own no Deity
Above my own." -- While the blasphemer spoke,
The wrath of Heav'n inflicted instant vengeance;
Stripp'd him of that bright reason he abus'd,
And drove him from the cheerful haunts of men,
A naked, wretched, helpless, senseless, thing;
Companion of the brutes, his equals now.

First Jew.
Nor does his impious grandson, proud Belshazzar
Fall short of his offences; nay, he wants
The valiant spirit and the active soul
Of his progenitor; for Pleasure's slave,
Though bound in silken chains, and only tied
In flow'ry fetters, seeming light and loose,
Is more subdu'd than the rash casual victim
Of anger or ambition; these indeed
Burn with a fiercer but a short-liv'd fire;
While Pleasure with a constant flame consumes.
War slays her thousands, but destructive Pleasure,
More fell, more fatal, her ten thousands slays:
The young luxurious king she fondly wooes
In ev'ry shape of am'rous blandishment;
With adulation smooth ensnares his soul;
With love betrays him, and with wine inflames.
She strews her magic poppies o'er his couch,
And with delicious opiates charms him down,
In fatal slumbers bound.  Though Babylon
Is now invested by the warlike troops
Of royal Cyrus, Persia's valiant prince;
Who, in conjunction with the Median king,
Darius, fam'd for conquest, now prepares
To storm the city: not the impending horrors
Which ever wait a siege, have pow'r to wake
To thought or sense the intoxicated king.

E'en in this night of universal dread,
A mighty army threat'ning at the gates;
This very night, as if in scorn of danger,
The dissolute Belshazzar holds a feast
Magnificently impious, meant to honour
Belus, the fav'rite Babylonish idol.
Lewd parasites compose his wanton court,
Whose impious flatt'ries soothe his monstrous crimes:
They justify his vices, and extol
His boastful phrase, as if he were some god.
Whate'er he says, they say; what he commands,
Implicitly they do; they echo back
His blasphemies with shouts of loud acclaim;
And when he wounds the tortur'd ear of Virtue,
They cry, "All hail! Belshazzar, live for ever!"
To-night a thousand nobles fill his hall,
Princes, and all the dames who grace the court:
All but his virtuous mother, sage Nitocris:
Ah! how unlike the impious king her son!
She never mingles in the midnight fray,
Nor crowns the guilty banquet with her presence.
The royal fair is rich in every virtue
Which can adorn the queen, or grace the woman.
But for the wisdom of her prudent counsels
This wretched empire had been long undone.
Not fam'd Semiramis, Assyria's pride,
Could boast a brighter mind or firmer soul;
Beneath the gentle reign of Merodach,
Her royal lord, our nation tasted peace.
Our captive monarch, sad Jehoiachin,
Grown gray in a close prison's horrid gloom,
He freed from bondage; brought the hoary king
To taste once more the long-forgotten sweets
Of liberty and light, sustain'd his age,
Pour'd in his wounds the lenient balm of kindness,
And blest his setting hour of life with peace.
  [Sound of Trumpets is heard at a distance.]

First Jew.
That sound proclaims the banquet is begun.

Second Jew.
Hark! the licentious uproar grows more loud,
The vaulted roof resounds with shouts of mirth,
And the firm palace shakes!  Retire, my friends,
This madness is not meet for sober ears.
If any of our race were found so near,
'Twould but expose us to the rude attack
Of ribaldry obscene, and impious jests,
From these mad sons of Belial, more inflam'd
To deeds of riot by the wanton feast.

Here part we then! but when again to meet,
Who knows, save Heaven. Yet, O my friends! I feel
An impulse more than human stir my breast:
Rapt in prophetic vision, I behold
Things hid as yet from mortal sight.  I see
The dart of vengeance tremble in the air,
Ere long to pierce the impious king.  Even now
The desolating angel stalks abroad,
And brandishes aloft the two-edged sword
Of retribution keen; he soon will strike,
And Babylon shall weep as Sion wept.
Pass but a little while, and you shall see
This queen of cities prostrate on the earth.
This haughty mistress of the kneeling world,
How shall she sit dishonour'd in the dust,
In tarnish'd pomp and solitary wo!
How shall she shroud her glories in the dark,
And in opprobious silence hide her head!
Lament, O virgin daughter of Chaldea!
For thou shalt all! imperial queen, shalt fall!
No more Sidonian robes shall grace thy limbs.
To purple garments sackloth shall succeed!
And sordid dust and ashes shall supply
The odorous nard and cassia.  Thou, who said'st
I Am, and there is none beside Me: thou,
Even thou, imperial Babylon, shalt fall!
Thy glory quite eclips'd! The pleasant sound
Of viol and of harp shall charm no more:
Nor song of Syrian damsels shall be heard,
Responsive to the lute's luxurious note:
But the loud bittern's cry, the raven's croak,
The bat's fell scream, the lonely owl's dull plaint,
And every hideous bird, with ominous shriek,
Shall scarce affrighted Silence from thy walls:
While Desolation, snatching from the hand
Of Time the scythe of ruin, sits aloft,
Or stalks in dreadful majesty abroad.
I see th' exterminating fiend advance,
Even now I see her glare with horrid joy;
See towers imperial mouldering at her touch;
She glances on the broken battlement;
She eyes the crumbling column, and enjoys
The work of ages prostrate in the dust:--
Then pointing to the mischiefs she has made,
Exulting cries, "This once was Babylon!"


SCENE -- The court of Belshazzar.  The King seated on a magnificent Throne.  Princes, Nobles, and Attendants.  Ladies of the Court.  Music -- A superb Banquet.

First Courtier (rises and kneels.)
Hail, mighty king!

Second Courtier.
  Belshazzar, live for ever!

Third Courtier.
Sun of the world, and light of kings, all hail!

Fourth Courtier.
With lowly reverence, such as best becomes
The humblest creatures of imperial power,
Behold a thousand nobles bend before thee!
Princes far fam'd, and dames of high descent;
Yet all this pride of wealth, this boast of beauty,
Shrinks into nought before thine awful eye!
And lives or dies, as the king frowns or smiles!

This is such homage as becomes your love,
And suits the mighty monarch of mankind.

First Courtier.
The bending world should prostrate thus before thee;
And pay not only praise but adoration!

Belshazzar (rises and comes forward).
Let dull Philosophy preach self-denial;
Let envious Poverty and snarling Age
Proudly declaim against the joys they know not.
Let the deluded Jews, who fondly hope
Some fancied heaven hereafter, mortify,
And lose the actual blessings of this world,
To purchase others which may never come.
Our gods may promise less, but give us more.
Ill could my ardent spirit be content
With meagre abstinence and hungry hope.
Let those misjudging Israelites, who want
The nimble spirits and the active soul,
Call their blunt feelings virtue: let them drudge,
In regular progression, through the round
Of formal duty and of daily toil;
And, when they want the genius to be happy,
Believe their harsh austerity is goodness.
If there be gods, they meant we should enjoy:
Why give us else these tastes and appetites?
And why the means to crown them with indulgence?
To burst the feeble bonds which hold the vulgar,
Is noble daring.

First Courtier.
  And is therefore worthy
The high imperial spirit of Belshazzar.

Second Courtier.
Behold a banquet which the gods might share!

To-night, my friends, your monarch shall be blest
With every various joy; to-night is ours;
Nor shall the envious gods, who view our bliss,
And sicken as they view, to-night disturb us.
Bring all the richest spices of the East;
The odorous cassia and the drooping myrrh,
The liquid amber and the fragrant gums,
Rob Gilead of its balms, Belshazzar bids;
And leave the Arabian groves without an odour.
Bring freshest flowers, exhaust the blooming spring,
Twine the green myrtle with the short-liv'd rose
And ever, as the blushing garland fades,
We'll learn to snatch the fugitive delight,
And grasp the flying joy ere it escape us.
Come -- fill the smiling goblet for the king;
Belshazzar will not let a moment pass
Unmarked by some enjoyment! The full bowl
Let every guest partake!
  [Courtiers kneel and drink.]

First Courtier.
  Here's to the king!
Light of the world and glory of the earth,
Whose word is fate!

  Yes; we are likest gods
When we have pow'r, and use it.  What is wealth
But the rich means to gratify desire?
I will not have a wish, a hope, a thought,
That shall not know fruition.  What is empire?
The privilege to punish and enjoy;
To feel our pow'r in making others fear it;
To take of pleasure's cup till we grow giddy,
And think ourselves immortal!  This is empire!
My ancestors scarce tasted of its joys:
Shut from the sprightly world and all its charms
In cumbrous majesty, in sullen state,
And dull unsocial dignity, they liv'd,
Far from the sight of an admiring world,
That world, whose gaze makes half the charms of greatness;
They nothing knew of empire but the name,
Or saw it in the looks of trembling slaves;
And all they felt of royalty was care.
But I will see and know it of myself;
Youth, Wealth, and Greatness, court me to be blest;
And Power, and Pleasure draw with equal force
And sweet attraction: both I will embrace
In quick succession; this is Pleasure's day;
Ambition will have time to reign hereafter;
It is the proper appetite of age.
The lust of Power shall lord it uncontrolled,
When all the generous feelings grow obtuse,
And stern Dominion holds with rigid hand
His iron rein, and sits and sways alone.
But youth is pleasure's hour!

First Courtier.
  Perish the slave,
Who, with officious counsel, would oppose
The king's desire, whose slightest wish is law!

Now strike the loud-toned lyre and softer lute;
Let me have music, with the nobler aid
Of poesy.  Where are those cunning men
Who boast, by chosen sounds and measured sweetness,
To set the busy spirits in a flame,
And cool them at their will! Who knows the art
To call the hidden powers of numbers forth,
And make that pliant instrument, the Mind,
Yield to the powerful sympathy of sound,
Obedient to the master's artful hand?
Such magic is in song! Then give me song;
Yet not at first such soul-dissolving strains
As melt the soften'd sense; but such bold measures
As may inflame my spirit to despise
The ambitious Persian; that presumptuous boy,
Who rashly dares e'en now invest our city,
And menaces the invincible Belshazzar.

(A grand Concert of Music, after which an Ode.)

In vain shall Persian Cyrus dare
With great Belshazzar wage unequal war:
  In vain Darius shall combine,
  Darius leader of the Median line;
While fair Euphrates' stream out wall protects,
And great Belshazzar's self our fate directs.
  War and famine threat in vain,
  While this demi-god shall reign!
Let Persia's prostrate king confess his power,
And Media's monarch dread his vengeful hour.
  On Dura's ample plain behold
Immortal Belus, whom the nations own;
  Sublime he stands in burnish'd gold,
And richest offerings his bright altars crown.
To-night his deity we here adore,
And due libations speak his mighty power.
  Yet Belus' self not more we own
Than great Belshazzar on Chaldea's throne.
  Great Belshazzar like a god,
  Rules the nations with a nod!
To great Belshazzar be the goblet crown'd!
Belshazzar's name the echoing roofs rebound!

Enough!  the kindling rapture fires my brain,
And my heart dances to the flattering sounds.
I feel myself a god! Why not a god!
What were the deities our fathers worshipp'd?
What was great Nimrod, our imperial founder?
What greater Belus, to whose power divine
We raise to-night the banquet and the song:
But youthful heroes, mortal, like myself,
Who, by their daring, earn'd divinity?
They were but men: nay, some were less than men,
Though now revered as gods.  What was Anubis,
Whom Egypt's sapient sons adore?  A dog!
And shall not I, young, valiant, and a king,
Dare more? do more? exceed the boldest flights
Of my progenitors? -- Fill me more wine,
To cherish and exalt the young idea!  [He drinks]
Ne'er did Olympian Jupiter himself
Quaff such immortal draughts.

First Courtier.
  What could that Canaan,
That heaven in hope, that nothing in possession,
That air-built bliss of the deluded Jews,
That promised land of milk and flowing honey;
What could that fancy'd Paradise bestow
To match these generous juices?

  Hold -- enough!
Thou hast roused a thought.  By Heaven, I will enjoy it;
A glorious thought! which will exalt to rapture
The pleasures of the banquet, and bestow
A yet untasted relish of delight.

First Courtier.
What means the king?

  The Jews! saidst thou the Jews?

First Courtier.
I spoke of that undone, that outcast people,
Those tributary creatures of thy power,
The captives of thy will, whose very breath
Hangs on the sovereign pleasure of the king.

When that abandon'd race was higher brought,
Were not the choicest treasure of their temple
(Devoted to their God, and held most precious)
Among the spoils which graced Nebessar's triumph
And lodged in Babylon?

First Courtier.
  O king! they were ---------------

Second Courtier.
The Jews, with superstitious awe, behold
These sacred symbols of their ancient faith:
Nor has captivity abated aught
The reverend love they bear these holy relics.
Though we deride their law, and scorn their persons,
Yet never have we yet to human use
Devoted these rich vessels, set apart
To sacred purpose.

  I joy to hear it!
Go -- fetch them hither.  They shall grace our banquet.
Does no one stir? Belshazzar disobey'd!
And yet you live? Whence comes this strange reluctance?
This new-born reverence for the helpless Jews,
This fear to injure those who can't revenge it?
Send to the sacred treasury in haste,
Let all be hither brought ;-- who answers dies. 
  [They go out.]
The mantling wine a higher joy will yield,
Pour'd from the precious flagons which adorn'd
Their far-famed temple, now in ashes laid.
Oh!  'twill exalt the pleasure into transport,
To gall those whining, praying Israelites!
I laugh to think what wild dismay will seize them
When they shall learn the use that has been made,
Of all their holy trumpery!
  [The vessels are brought in.]

Second Courtier.
  It comes;
A goodly show! how bright with gold and gems!
Far fitter for a youthful monarch's board
Than the cold shrine of an unheeding God.

Fill me that massy goblet to the brim.
Now, Abraham!  let thy wretched race expect
The fable of their race to be fulfill'd:
Their second temple and their promised king!
Now will they see the God they vainly serve
Is impotent to help; for had he power
To hear and grant their prayer, he would prevent
This profanation.

[As the King is going to drink, Thunder is heard, he starts from the Throne, spies a Hand, which writes on the Wall these Words,  MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.  He lets fall the Goblet and stands in an attitude of speechless horror. All start and seem terrified.]

First Courtier. (after a long pause.)
  Oh transcendent horror!

Second Courtier.
What may this mean.  The king is greatly moved!

Third Courtier.
Nor is it strange -- who unappalled can view it?
Those sacred cups!  I doubt we've gone too far.

First Courtier.
Observe the fear-struck king! his staring eyes
Roll horribly.  Thrice he essay'd to speak,
And thrice his tongue refused.

Belshazzar. (in a low trembling Voice.)
  Ye mystic words;
Thou semblance of an hand; illusive forms;
Ye wild fantastic images; what are ye?
Dread shadows, speak! Explain your dark intent!
Ye will not answer me -- Alas! I feel
I am a mortal now -- my failing limbs
Refuse to bear me up.  I am no god;
Gods do not tremble thus -- Support me; hold me;
These loosen'd joints, these knees which smite each other,
Betray I'm but a man -- a weak one too!

First Courtier.
In truth 'tis passing strange, and full of horror!

Send for the learn'd magicians, every sage
Who deals in wizard spells and magic charms.
  [Some go out.]

First Courtier.
How fares my lord the king?

  Am I a king?
What power have I? Ye lying slaves, I am not,
Oh, soul-distracting sight! but is it real?
Perhaps 'tis fancy all, or the wild dream
Of mad distemperature, the fumes of wine!
I'll look upon't no more! -- So -- now I'm well!
I am a king again, and know not fear:
And yet my eyes will seek that fatal spot,
And fondly dwell upon the sight that blasts them!
Again, 'tis there! it is not Fancy's work --
I see it still!  'tis written on the wall!
I see the writing, but the viewless writer,
Who? what is he?  Oh, horror! horror! horror!
It cannot be the God of these poor Jews;
For what is he, that he can thus afflict?

Second Courtier.
Let not my lord the king be thus dismay'd.

Third Courtier.
Let not a phantom, an illusive shade,
Disturb the peace of him who rules the world.

No more, ye wretched sycophants! no more!
The sweetest note which flattery now can strike,
Harsh and discordant grates upon my soul.
Talk not of power to one so full of fear,
So weak, so impotent!  Look on that wall;
If thou would'st soothe my soul, explain the writing,
And thou shalt be my oracle, my god!
Oh, tell me whence it came, and what it means,
And I'll believe I am again a king!
Friends, princes, ease my troubled breast, and say,
What do the mystic characters portend?

First Courtier.
'Tis not in us, O king, to ease thy spirit;
We are not skill'd in those mysterious arts
Which wait the midnight's studies of the sage;
But of the deep diviners thou shalt learn,
The wise astrologers, the sage magicians,
Who, of events unborn, take secret note,
And hold deep commerce with the unseen world.

Enter Astrologers, Magicians, &c. &c.

Approach, ye sages, 'tis the king commands.
  [They kneel.]

Hail, mighty king of Babylon!

  Nay, rise;
I do not need your homage but your help:
The world may worship, you must counsel me.
He who declares the secret of the king,
No common honours shall await his skill;
Our empire shall be tax'd for his reward,
And he himself shall name the gift he wishes.
A splendid scarlet robe shall grace his limbs,
His neck a princely chain of gold adorn;
Meet honours for such wisdom: he shall rule
The third in rank throughout our Babylon.

Second Astrologer.
Such recompense becomes Belshazzar's bounty.
Let the king speak the secret of his soul;
Which heard, his humble creatures shall unfold.

Belshazzar (points to the Wall.)
Be't so -- look there -- behold those characters;
Nay, do not start, for I will know their meaning!
Ha!  answer; speak, or instant death awaits you!
What, dumb! all dumb!  where is your boasted skill?
  [They confer together.]
Keep them asunder -- no confederacy --
No secret plots to make your tales agree.
Speak, slaves, and dare to let me know the worst!
  [They kneel.]

First Astrologer.
Oh, let the king forgive his faithful servants!

Second Astrologer.
Oh, mitigate our threaten'd doom of death,
If we declare, with mingled grief and shame,
We cannot tell the secret of the king,
Nor what these mystic characters portend!

Off with their heads! ye shall not live an hour!
Curse on your shallow arts, your lying science!
'Tis thus you pratise on the credulous world,
Who think you wise because themselves are weak.
But, miscreants, ye shall die! the power to punish
Is all that I have left me of a king.

First Courtier.
Great sire, suspend their punishment awhile,
Behold Nitocris comes, thy royal mother.

Enter Queen Nitocris.

  O my misguided son:
Well may'st thou wonder to behold me here:
For I have never shunn'd this scene of riot,
Where wild intemperance and dishonour'd mirth
Hold festival impure.  Yet, O Belshazzar!
I could not hear the wonders which befell,
And leave thee to the workings of despair;
For spite of all the anguish of my soul
At thy offences, I'm thy mother stilL!
Against the solemn purpose I had form'd
Never to mix in this unhallow'd crowd,
The wondrous story of the mystic writing,
Of strange and awful import, brings me here;
If haply I may show some likely means
To fathom this dark mystery.

  Speak, O queen!
My listening soul shall hang upon thy words,
And prompt obedience follow them.

  Then hear me.
Among the captive tribes which hither came
To grace Nebassar's triumph, there was brought
A youth named Daniel, favour'd by high Heaven
With power to look into the secret page
Of dim Futurity's mysterious volume.
The spirit of the holy gods is in him;
No vision, so obscure, so deeply hid,
No sentence so perplex'd, but he can solve it;
He can unfold the dark decrees of Fate,
Can trace each crooked labyrinth of thought,
Each winding maze of doubt, and make it clear
And palpable to sense.  He twice explain'd
The monarch's mystic dreams.  The holy seer
Saw, with prophetic spirit, what befell
The king long after.  For his wondrous skill
He was rewarded, honour'd, and caress'd,
And with the rulers of Chaldea rank'd:
Though now, alas! thrown by, his services
Forgotten or neglected.

  Send with speed
A message, to command the holy man
To meet us on the instant.

  I already
Have sent to ask his presence at the palace;
And, lo! in happy season, see he comes.

Enter Daniel.

Welcome, thrice venerable sage! approach.
Art thou that Daniel whom my great forefather
Brought hither with the captive tribes of Judah?

I am, O king!

  Then pardon, holy prophet,
Nor let a just resentment of thy wrongs,
And long neglected merit, shut thy heart
Against a king's request, a suppliant king.

The God I worship teaches to forgive.

Then let thy words bring comfort to my soul.
I've heard the spirit of the gods is in thee;
That thou canst look into the fates of men,
With prescience more than human!

  Hold, O king!
Wisdom is from above; 'tis God's own gift;
I of myself am nothing; but from him,
The little knowledge I possess, I hold:
To him be all the glory!

  Then, O Daniel!
If thou indeed dost boast that wondrous gift,
That faculty divine; look there, and tell me!
O say, what mean those mystic characters?
Remove this load of terror from my soul,
And honours, such as kings can give, await thee.
Thou shalt be great beyond thy soul's ambition,
And rich above thy wildest dream of wealth:
Clad in the scarlet robe our nobles wear,
And graced with princely ensigns, thou shalt stand
Near our own throne, and third within our empire.

O mighty king, thy gifts with thee remain,
And let thy high rewards on others fall.
The princely ensign, nor the scarlet robe,
Nor yet to be the third within thy realm,
Can touch the soul of Daniel.  Honour, fame,
All that the world calls great, thy crown itself,
Can never satisfy the vast ambition
Of an immortal spirit; I aspire
Beyond thy power of giving; my high hopes
Reach also to a crown -- but 'tis a crown
Unfading and eternal.

First Courtier.
  Wondrous man!
Our priests teach no such notions.

  Yet, O king!
Though all unmoved by grandeur or by gift,
I will unfold the high decrees of Heaven,
And straight declare the mystery.

  Speak, O prophet.

Prepare to hear what kings have seldom heard;
Prepare to hear what courtiers seldom tell;
Prepare to hear -- the truth.  The mighty God,
Who rules the sceptres and the hearts of kings,
Gave thy renown'd forefather here to reign,
With such extant of empire, weight of power,
And greatness of dominion, the wide earth
Trembled beneath the terror of his name,
And kingdoms stood or fell as he decreed.
Oh!  dangerous pinnacle of power supreme!
Who can stand safe upon its treacherous top,
Behold the gazing prostrate world below,
Whom depth and distance into pigmies shrink,
And not grow giddy?  Babylon's great king
Forgot he was a man, a helpless man,
Subject to pain, and sin, and death like others?
But who shall fight against Omnipotence?
Or, who hath harden'd his obdurate heart
Against the Majesty of Heaven, and prosper'd?
The God he had insulted was avenged;
From empire, from the joys of social life,
He drove him forth; extinguish'd reason's lamp;
Quench'd that bright spark of deity within;
Compell'd him with the forest brutes to roam
For scanty pasture; and the mountain dews
Fell cold and wet, on his defenceless head,
Till he confess'd -- let men, let monarchs hear!
Till he confess'd, pride was not made for man!

Oh, awful instance of Divine displeasure!

Proceed!  My soul is wrapt in fix'd attention!

O king!  thy grandsire not in vain had sinn'd,
If from his error, thou hadst learnt the truth.
The story of his fall thou oft hast heard,
But has it taught thee wisdom?  Thou, like him,
Hast been elate with power and mad with pride;
Like him, thou hast defy'd the living God;
Nay, to bold thoughts hast added deeds more bold.
Thou hast outwrought the pattern he bequeath'd thee,
And quite outgone example; hast prophaned,
With impious hand, the vessels of the temple!
Those vessels sanctified to holiest use,
Thou hast polluted with unhallow'd lips,
And made the instruments of foul debauch.
Thou hast adored the gods of wood and stone,
Vile, senseless deities, the work of hands;
But He the King of kings, and Lord of lords,
In whom exists thy life, thy soul, thy breath,
On whom thy being hangs, thou hast denied.

First Courtier (aside to the others.)
With what an holy boldness he reproves him!

Second Courtier.
Such is the fearless confidence of virtue,
And such the righteous courage those maintain
Who plead the cause of truth; the smallest word
He utters had been death to half the court.

Now let the mystic writing be explain'd,
Thrice venerable sage!

  O mighty king!
Hear then its awful import: Heaven has number'd
Thy days of royalty, and soon will end them.
Our God has weigh'd thee in the even balance
Of his own holy law, and finds thee wanting:
And last, thy kingdom shall be wrested from thee;
And know, the Mede and Persian shall possess it.

Belshazzar (starts up.)
Prophet, when shall this be?

  In God's own time.
Here my commission ends; I may not utter
More than thou'st heard; but oh! remember, king,
Thy days are number'd : hear, repent, and live!

Say, prophet, what can penitence avail?
If Heaven's decrees immutably are fix'd,
Can prayers avert our fate?

  They change our hearts,
And thus dispose Omnipotence to mercy!
'Tis man that alters; God is still the same.
Conditional are all Heaven's covenants;
And when the uplifted thunder is withheld,
'Tis prayer that deprecates the impending bolt.
Good Hezekiah's days were number'd too;
But penitence and faith were mighty pleas:
At Mercy's throne they never plead in vain.
  [He is going.]

Stay, prophet, and receive thy promised gift;
The scarlet robe and princely chain are thine;
And let my heralds publish through the land,
That Daniel stands, in dignity and power,
The third in Babylon.  These just rewards
Thou well may'st claim, tho' sad thy prophecy!

Be not deceived, my son; nor let thy soul
Snatch an uncertain moment's treacherous rest,
On the dread brink of that tremendous gulf
Which yawns beneath thee.

  O unhappy king!
Know what must happen once may happen soon.
Remember that 'tis terrible to meet
Great evils unprepar'd! and, O Belshazzar,
In the wild moment of dismay and death,
Remember thou wast warn'd! and, oh remember,
Warnings despis'd are condemnation then!
  [Exeunt Daniel and Queen.]

'Tis well -- my soul shakes off its load of care:
'Tis only the obscure is terrible.
Imagination frames events unknown,
In wild fantastic shapes of hideous ruin;
And what it fears, creates :-- I know the worst;
And awful is that worst as fear could feign:
But distant are the ills I have to dread!
What is remote may be uncertain too!
Ha! princes! hope breaks in! -- This may not be!

First Courtier.
Perhaps this Daniel is in league with Persia;
And brib'd by Cyrus to report these horrors,
To weaken and impede the mighty plans
Of thy imperial mind!

  'Tis very like.

Second Courtier.
Return we to the banquet?

  Dare we venture?

Third Courtier.
Let not this dreaming seer disturb the king.
Against the power of Cyrus and the Mede,
Is Babylon secure.  Her brazen gates
Mock all attempts to force them.  Proud Euphrates,
A watery bulwark, guards our ample city
From all assailants.  And within the walls
Of this stupendous capital are lodg'd
Such vast provisions, such exhaustless stores,
As are twice ten years siege could never waste.

Belshazzar (embraces him.)
My better genius!  Safe in such resources,
I mock the prophet. -- Turn we to the banquet.

[As they are going to resume their Places at the Banquet, a dreadful Uproar is heard, tumultuous Cries and warlike Sounds.  All stand terrified.  Enter Soldiers, with their Swords drawn; and wounded.]

Oh, helpless Babylon! oh, wretched king
Chaldea is no more; the Mede has conquer'd!
The victor, Cyrus, like a mighty torrent,
Comes rushing on, and marks his way with ruin;
Destruction is at hand; escape or perish!

Impossible! Villain and slave, thou ly'st;
Euphrates and the brazen gates secure us.
While those remain, Belshazzar laughs at dange.r.

Euphrates is diverted from its course;
The brazen gates are burst, the city's taken,
Thyself a pris'ner, and thy empire lost.

Oh, prophet! I remember thee indeed,
  [Runs out.  They follow in the utmost Confusion.]

Enter several Jews, Medes, & Babylonians.

First Jew.
He comes, he comes! the long predicted prince,
Cyrus! the destined instument of Heaven,
To free our captive nation, and restore
Jehovah's temple.  Carnage marks his way,
And conquest sits upon his plume-crown'd helm.

Second Jew.
What noise is that?

First Jew.
  Hark! 'tis Belshazzar's voice.

Belshazzar (without.)
O soldier, spare my life, and aid my flight!
Such treasures shall reward the gentle deed
As Persia never saw.  I'll be thy slave;
I'll yield my crown to Cyrus; I'll adore
His gods and thine; I'll kneel and kiss thy feet,
And worship thee.  It is not much I ask --
I'll live in bondage, beggary, and pain,
So thou but let me live.

  Die, tyrant, die!  [Stabs him.]

O Daniel! Daniel! Daniel!  [Dies.]

Enter Soldier.

  Belshazzar's dead.
The wretched king breathed out his furious soul
In that tremendous groan.

First Jew.
  Belshazzar's dead!
Then, Judah, thou art free! The tyrant's fall'n!
Jerusalem, Jerusalem is free!


Enter Daniel and Jews.

Bel boweth down, and haughty Nebo stoops:
The idols fal; the god and worshipper
Together fall; together they bow down;
Each other, or themselves, they cannot save.
O Babylon, where is thy refuge now?
Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, meant to save,
Pervert thee, and thy blessing is thy bane.
Where are thy brutish deities, Chaldea?
Where are thy gods of gold? -- O Lord of life
Thou very God, so fall thy foes before thee.

First Jew.
So fell beneath the terrors of thy name
The idol Chemosh, Moab's empty trust;
So Ammonitish Moloch sunk before thee;
So fell Philistine Dagon: so shall fall,
To Time's remotest period, all thy foes,
Triumphant Lord of Hosts!

  How chang'd our fate!
Not for myself, O Judah! but for thee,
I shed these tears of joy.  For I no more
Must view the cedars which adorn the brow
Of Syrian Lebanon; no more shall see
Thy pleasant stream, O Jordan; nor the flocks
Which whiten all the mountains of Judea;
No more these eyes delighted shall review
Or Carmel's heights, or Sharon's flow'ry vales.
I must remain in Babylon; so Heaven,
To whose awards I bow me, has decreed.
I ne'er shall see thee, Salem : I am old;
And few and toilsome are my days to come.
But we shall meet in those celestial climes,
Compared with which created glories sink;
Where sinners shall have pow'r to harm no more,
And martyr'd Virtue rests her weary head.
Tho' ere my day of promis'd grace shall come,
I shall be tried by perils strange and new;
Nor shall I taste of death, so have I learn'd,
Till I have seen the captive tribes restor'd.

First Jew.
And shall we view once more thy hallow'd tow'rs,
Imperial Salem?

  Yes, my youthful friends!
You shall behold the second temple rise,
With grateful ecstacy; but we, your sires,
Now bent with hoary age; we, whose charm'd eyes
Beheld the matchless glories of the first,
Should weep, remembering what we once had seen,
That model of perfection!

Second Jew.
  Never more
Shall such a wondrous structure grace the earth.

Well have you borne affliction, men of Judah!
Well have sustain'd your portion of distress;
And, unrepining drank the bitter dregs
Of averse fortune! Happier days await you.
O guard against the perils of success!
Prosperity dissolves the yielding soul,
And the bright sun of shining fortune melts
The firmest virtue down.  Beware, my friends,
Be greatly cautious of prosperity!
Defend your sliding hearts; and, trembling, think
How those, who buffeted Affliction's wave
With vigorous virtue, sunk in Pleasure's calm.
He, who of special grace had been allow'd
To rear the hallow'd fane to Israel's God,
By wealth corrupted, and by ease debauch'd,
Forsook the God to whom he rais'd the fane;
And, sunk in sensual sloth, consumed his days
In vile idolatrous rites! -- Nor think, my sons,
That virtue in sequester'd solitude
Is always found.  Within the inmost soul
The hidden tempter lurks; nor less betrays
In the still seeming safety of retreat,
Than where the world her snares entangling spreads,
More visible to sense.  Guard every thought:
Who thinks himself secure is half undone;
For sin, unwatch'd, may reach the santuary:
'Tis not the place preserves us.  Righteous Lot
Stemm'd the strong current of corruption's tide,
E'en in polluted Sodom; safe he lived,
While circumspective Virtue's watchful eye
Was anxiously awake; but in the shade,
Far from the obvious perils which alarm
With palpable temptation, secret sin
Ensnar'd his soul: he trusted in himself!
Security betray'd him, and he fell.

Second Jew.
Thy prudent counsels in our hearts shall live,
As if a pen of adamant had grav'd them.

First Jew.
The dawn approaches; let us part, my friend,
Secure of peace, since tyranny is fall'n.

So perish all thine enemies, O Lord.
So, mighty God! shall perish all who seek
Corrupted pleasures in the turbid waves
Of life's polluted stream, and madly quit
The living fountain of perennial grace!

© Hannah More