By Heinrich Heine

The midnight hour drew closer on;
In mute repose lay Babylon.

But up in the castle of the king
There's noise, and torches flickering.

Up there in the kingly hall so vast
Belshazzar held his king's repast.

The lackeys sat in a shimmering line,
And emptied their beakers of sparkling wine.

The beakers were klinking, the lackeys were loud,
It did the stiff-necked monarch proud.

The king's cheeks glowed with a fervent shine;
And boldness quickened with the wine,

And by this boldness blindly spurred,
He blasphemed God with a sinful word.

And he boasted and mocked the holy name;
The lackey troop roared its acclaim.

The king called out with a haughty face;
The servant flew and returned apace.

He bore on his head much golden ware;
From Jehovah's temple, plundered there.

And the monarch seized, with outrageous whim,
A holy beaker, filled to the brim.

And he drained it rashly to the drips
And cried aloud with foaming lips:

Jehovah! I scorn Thee from now on -
I am the king of Babylon!

Yet scarcely were the words expressed,
But a secret trembling began in his breast.

No laughter rang out loud and shrill;
The hall became cadaver-still.

Behold! Behold! upon the wall
A thing -- a hand -- came in the hall;

And wrote in fire upon the wall,
And wrote, and vanished in the pall.

The king just sat there, goggle-eyed,
With knocking knees, pale, terrified.

The lackey troop, by horror bound,
Sat cold and still, without a sound.

Magicians came, yet none at all
Could decipher the flame-script on the wall.

But Belshazzar, that very night
By his own men was killed outright.

 Posted by permission of the translator ~ © 2004

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