John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton
jheaton

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Poet's Corner: Belshazzar's Feast

from Belshazzar's Feast

Babylon was a great city,
Her merchandise was of gold and silver,
Of precious stones, of pearls, of fine linen,
Of purple, silk and scarlet,
All manner vessels of ivory,
All manner vessels of most precious wood,
Of brass, iron and marble,
Cinnamon, odours and ointments,
Of frankincense, wine and oil,
Fine flour, wheat and beasts,
Sheep, horses, chariots, slaves
And the souls of men.

In Babylon
        Belshazzar the King
        Made a great feast,
Made a feast to a thousand of his lords,
And drank wine before the thousand.

Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine,
Commanded us to bring the gold and silver vessels:
Yea! the golden vessels, which his father, Nebuchadnezzar,
Had taken out of the temple that was in Jerusalem.

He commanded us to bring the golden vessels
Of the temple of the house of God,
That the King, his Princes, his wives
And his concubines might drink therein.

Then the King commanded us:
Bring ye the cornet, flute, sackbut, psaltery
And all kinds of music: they drank wine again,
Yea, drank from the sacred vessels,
And then spake the King:

Praise ye
        The God of Gold
Praise ye
        The God of Silver
Praise ye
        The God of Iron
Praise ye
        The God of Wood
Praise ye
        The God of Stone
Praise ye
        The God of Brass
Praise ye the Gods!

Thus in Babylon, the mighty city,
Belshazzar the King made a great feast,
Made a feast to a thousand of his lords
And drank wine before the thousand.

Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine,
Commanded us to bring the gold and silver vessels
That his Princes, his wives and his concubines
Might rejoice and drink therein.

After they had praised their strange gods,
The idols and the devils,
False gods who can neither see nor hear,
Called they for the timbrel and the pleasant harp
To extol the glory of the King.
Then they pledged the King before the people,
Crying, Thou, O King, art King of Kings:
O King, live for ever…

And in that same hour, as they feasted
Came forth fingers of a man's hand
And the King saw
The part of the hand that wrote.

And this was the writing that was written:
'MENE, MENE, TEKEL UPHARSIN'

'THOU ART WEIGHED IN THE BALANCE
        AND FOUND WANTING'.

In that night was Belshazzar the King slain
And his Kingdom divided.

Adapted from biblical sources by Sir Osbert Sitwell (1892–1969)

This is of course part of the text of William Walton's great oratorio, Belshazzar's Feast. The text is actually quite a lot longer that this (the full text may be found at williamwalton.net) but this is the part I like best. I especially like the first stanza, which is pretty much copied word for word from Revelations 18:12-13. (The rest is adapted from Daniel 5, if you care.) And someday I hope to be able to work "thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting" into a performance review. I mean, that's a pretty cool put-down.

Tags: poet's corner
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