Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Asia
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII.  1876–79.
 
Persia: Persepolis (Istakar)
The Hall of Eblis
Bryan Waller Procter (1787–1874)
 
THEY took their way (Vathek and his young bride,
The sweet Nouronihar) through summer fields
Of flowers, by sparkling rivers, fountains that
Splashed o’er the turf, by palm and tamarisk trees,
And where the dark pines talked to solitudes;        5
And oft beguiled the way with amorous songs,
Kisses and looks voluptuous; and they quaffed
At midday icéd waters which had grown
Cool in the valley of Roenabad. One thing
Did intervene to mar those quiet hours,        10
Which was ambition.
                    But these days passed by:
And then they journeyed among perilous sands,
Which the hot blast of the desert swept at times
To figures columnar; these subsiding, left
Open to view the wide horizon, where,        15
Lifting their heads, like mountains, to the skies,
Rose the dark towers of Istakar. The moon
Hid her pale face eclipsed, and sore afraid
Lest that the baleful atmosphere might shroud
Her light forever; and interlunar stars        20
Shrank and grew dim, as when the morning shows
His gray eye in the East. Forward they passed
Midst crumbling walls, and shaking minarets,
Where even the ivy grew not, and at last
Stood ’neath the mighty palace of those kings        25
Who ruled before the flood. It seemed as built
For all eternity; and its pillars threw
On the black platform long, large lines of shadow,
That lay upon the marble, like to things
Substantial,—countless and sky-touching towers        30
(“Whose architecture was unknown amidst
The records of the earth”) stood there, like that
Vast pile our ancestry once dared to raise
In old Chaldea, whence they met the wrath
Of God, and nature’s own sweet language fled        35
The lips of men forever. Silence reigned;
And glimmering darkness in the middle air
Brooded, but shifting aye her shadowy wings,
Let horror creep between, and doubtful light;
And chill, sepulchral airs, that had no sound,        40
Touched the pale cheek of young Nouronihar:
And Vathek felt his heart grow cold, and stayed
His breath to listen, and he graspéd hard
Her trembling hand for mere companionship.
 
The stars now shone anew; and right against        45
The palace, carvéd curiously, were seen
Leopards and wingéd hippogriffs, and shapes
Unknown but to the bottoms of the deep,
And there, by all sea-monsters that we fear,
Dreaded, and left alone; above these forms        50
Were traced mysterious characters, that did yield
A welcome to the pair. Scarce had they read
When from amongst the ruins came a sound
Like anguish, and the yawning ground gave out
Blue subterranean fires, that showed a door        55
Whose barréd labyrinths’ led to Hell. There stood
The dwarféd Indian, grinning like a fiend;
“Welcome!” he cried, “both welcome! Ye are come
To see the prince of morning! Ye deserve
To see, and ye shall see him.” Then he touched        60
The charméd lock, round which, invisibly,
A hundred watchful demons wheeled, and kept
Sacred the homes of starry Eblis. Wide
It opened with a horrid sound, and shut
(When Vathek and his bride had entered there)        65
Midst laughs, and shrieks exulting, like the noise
Of mountainous thunder, or the withering voice
Of him who from Vesuvius calls abroad
In madness, and casts out his blazing foam
Like rivers toward the sea.
                    At last they saw
        70
The Hall of Eblis: vaulted ’t was and high,
So none might mark the roofs! The pillars that
Stood like supporting giants, verged away
In long innumerable avenues, but
Met at a point bright as the sun, when he        75
Looks flaming on the sands of Palestine.
Each column bore a different character,
And by the lambent flames that played about
Like snakes, and pointed their ethereal spires
Towards the stupendous capitals (which seemed        80
Wrought in the finer times of Greece, when men
Struck arméd Pallas from a senseless stone
To life, and shaped those matchless deities,
Venus, and stern Apollo, and the rest)
Strange letters might be seen,—their import known        85
To none but the immortals. The sad pair
Traversed a scene of luxury and woe;
They trod on gold and flowers, while from the ground
Voluptuous odors steamed, whose breath was sweet
As hers whom story fabled once the Queen        90
Of Beauty; there saffron, and citron boughs,
Cedar, and sweet perfuming sandalwoods
Were burning; and distilled and fragrant waters
Sparkled in crystal; but around them stalked
Figures like men,—all silent,—with despair        95
On every face, and each did press his hand
Against his heart, and shunned his fellow-wretch.
 
Upon a globe of fire sat Eblis. He
Was prince of all the spirits that rebelled
’Gainst God and met perdition. He was young        100
Still; and, but that some pride burned in his eye,
You might have pitied him. His flowing hair,
Streaming like sunbeams, told he must have been
An angel once, and fair, and beautiful;
Nay, in his fallen station, he retained        105
A relic of his old nobility;
And though he fell, you would have said he fell
For aiming at—a world. “Creatures,” he said,
“Creatures of clay! I number ye amongst
My subjects and adorers: live ye here        110
Forever and forever.” Then his orb,
Receding from the presence of the damned,
Shrunk to a point of light, and as it shrunk
The hearts of his believers withered, and burned
Internally (as he had left behind        115
A portion of his fire), and on their souls
Came darkness and dismay; and all knew then
The unconsuming flame was come; and each
Hated himself and fellow. Thus they lived
For ages and for ages, a sad prey        120
To fires perpetual, and endless fear;
Sorrow, although they loved not; hot desires,
That never could be quelled; hunger and thirst,
Fierce jealousy, and groundless doubt, and hate,
And blasting envy, and (midst other ills)        125
Sense of contempt in others. Thus they lived:
And not one creature ever after knew
What ’t was to—hope.
 
 
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