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Q: Identifying a poem ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   6 Comments )
Subject: Identifying a poem
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Books and Literature
Asked by: bhasks-ga
List Price: $7.00
Posted: 21 Jun 2002 09:25 PDT
Expires: 21 Jun 2003 09:25 PDT
Question ID: 31207
I would like to get the full text of a poem I once heard. 
Unfortunately, I don't know the title or the author.  Here's what I do
remember about it.  Judging by the style, it was probably written at
least a hundred years go.  Basically, what happens in the poem is :
there is a powerful king, sitting on his throne, when one day a
disembodied hand appears in his court and writes something on the
wall.  Nobody can understand what was written.  Then this young man
appears, who does understand.  He reads the message, which predicts
the downfall of the king and his empire (as I recall, there's
something about 'the Assyrian... at the gate').  Various google
searches have all failed me on this one, and if somebody can give me a
link to this poem, it would be much appreciated.
Subject: Re: Identifying a poem
Answered By: j_philipp-ga on 21 Jun 2002 11:35 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello Bhasks,

The poem in question is likely to be "Vision Of Belshazzar" by english
romantic poet Lord Byron (George Gordon Noel Byron, 1788-1824), from
"Hebrew Melodies" (1815):
"The King was on his throne, 
     The Satraps throng’d the hall
A thousand bright lamps shone 
     O’er that high festival. 
  A thousand cups of gold, 
     In Judah deem’d divine--
  Jehovah’s vessels hold 
     The godless Heathen’s wine! 
  In that same hour and hall, 
     The fingers of a hand 
  Came forth against the wall, 
     And wrote as if on sand: 
  The fingers of a man;--
     A solitary hand 
  Along the letters ran, 
     And traced them like a wand.

A different version is by german poet Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), here
in german and english (translation by Emily Ezust):
"(...) And behold! behold! on the white wall 
there appeared something like a human hand; 

and it wrote and wrote on the white wall 
letters of fire; it wrote and disappeared. 

The king sat staring there,
with knocking knees, pale as death. (...)" 

I hope this was indeed what you were looking for!
(Thanks go out to the one I called who pointed me in the right

More on Lord Byron:

    A painting of Lord Byron (at age 25) by
    Richard Westall*:

    Lord Byron's principal works:

    *Image from:
bhasks-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
That was indeed the poem I was looking for.  Thank you!

Subject: Re: Identifying a poem
From: fluffydluna-ga on 21 Jun 2002 11:39 PDT
I dunno if that's the full copy of it all, but it seems to all be
based on chapter 5 of Daniel in the bible, a link to which is here:
I hope that's what you're lookin for, it seemed interesting to me so I
spent about 2 minutes on Google lookin for stuff and that's what I
came up with.
Good Luck
Subject: Re: Identifying a poem
From: rhansenne-ga on 21 Jun 2002 11:39 PDT
Just some side information: Rubens also made a famous painting on the
story of Belshazzar's Feast:

More on the story:

And on Lord Byron:

Kind regards,

Subject: Re: Identifying a poem
From: grimace-ga on 21 Jun 2002 11:39 PDT
Good stuff - I love Byron.

Your memory of "the Assyrian" is probably a confusion with another,
more famous Byron poem: "The Destruction of Sennacherib".

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold, 
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold; 
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea, 
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee. 
Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green, 
That host with their banners at sunset were seen: 
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown, 
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown. 

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, 
And breathed in the face of the foe as he pass'd,
And the eyes of the sleepers wax'd deadly and chill, 
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still! 
And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide, 
But through it there roll'd not the breath of his pride; 
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf, 
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf. 

And there lay the rider distorted and pale, 
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail: 
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone, 
The lances unlifted, the trumpets unblown. 
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail, 
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal; 
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword, 
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord! 

Wonderful stuff, eh?
Subject: Re: Identifying a poem
From: katebessette-ga on 21 Jun 2002 12:23 PDT
A similar story is also told in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.  There is
a passage in the Monk's Tale that starts with "His sone, which that
highte Balthasar," that appears to tell the same story.  Try this


Subject: Re: Identifying a poem
From: tehuti-ga on 21 Jun 2002 15:20 PDT
There is also "The Impious Feast" by Robert Eyres Landor(1781-1869),
but it does not appear to be available on the web.

Also, Osbert Sitwell's text for William Walton's oratorio Belshazzar's
Feast (1931), with words rearranged from biblical texts:

"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:
Subject: Re: Identifying a poem
From: sparky4ca-ga on 22 Jun 2002 03:10 PDT
I'd just like to say that right away that sounded like one of the
stories about Daniel from the Bible. I read a book recently abour
"codes" in the Bible, and it discussed this story. Because the
prisoner Daniel was able to read "the writing on the wall" (this is
where the phrase comes from) he was given gifts and not killed, etc.
etc. check out the link in the first comment for more.

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