Last updated: Oct. 20, 1999
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Georg Friedrich Händel
Words by Charles Jennens
Belshazzar, King of Babylon (tenor)
Nitocris, Mother of Belshazzar (soprano)
Cyrus, Prince of Persia (alto)
Daniel, a Jewish Prophet (alto)
Gobrias, an Assyrian Nobleman, revolted to Cyrus (bass)
Arioch, a Babylonian Lord (tenor)
Chorus of Jews
Chorus of Babylonians
Chorus of Medes & Persians
The Palace in Babylon.
Vain, fluctuating state of human empire!
First, small and weak, it scarcely rears its head,
Scarce stretching out its helpless infant arms,
Implores protection of its neighbour states,
Who nurse it to their hurt. Anon, it strives
For pow'r and wealth, and spurns at opposition.
Arriv'd to full maturity, it grasps
At all within its reach, o'erleaps all bounds,
Robs, ravages and wastes the frighted world.
At length, grown old and swell'd to bulk enormous,
The monster in its proper bowels feeds
Pride, luxury, corruption, perfidy,
Contention, fell diseases of a state,
That prey upon her vitals. Of her weakness
Some other rising pow'r advantage takes,
(Unequal match!) plies with repeated strokes
Her infirm aged trunk: she nods, she totters,
She falls, alas, never to rise again!
The victor state, upon her ruins rais'd,
Runs the same shadowy round of fancied greatness,
Meets the same certain end.
Thou, God most high, and Thou alone,
Unchang'd for ever dost remain:
Through boundless space extends thy throne,
Through all eternity thy reign.
As nothing in thy sight
The reptile man appears,
Howe'er imagin'd great;
Who can impair thy might?
In Heav'n or earth, who dares
Dispute thy pow'r? — Thy will is fate.
Thou, God most high. . . da capo
The fate of Babylon, I fear, is nigh.
I have sought to avert it; small my skill,
Had not the Hebrew prophet with his counsel
Supported my weak steps. See, where he comes:
Wisdom and goodness in his front serene
Conspicuous sit enthron'd.
Oh, much belov'd
Of God and man! Say, is there aught can save
This sinking state?
Great Queen, 'tis not for man
To pry into the counsels of omniscience.
But you have done your duty, I mine.
No more remains but to submit to what
God, only wise and just, ordains.
Lament not thus, O Queen, in vain!
Virtue's part is to resign
All things to the will divine,
Nor of its just decrees complain.
The sins of Babylon urge on her fate;
But virtue still this comfort gives,
On earth she finds a safe retreat,
Or bless'd in Heav'n for ever lives.
Lament not thus. . . da capo
The camp of Cyrus before Babylon. A view of the city, with the River Euphrates running through it. Cyrus, Gobrias, Medes and Persians
6. Chorus of Babylonians
(upon the walls, deriding Cyrus, as engaged in an impractible undertaking)
Behold, by Persia's hero made
In ample form, the strong blockade!
How broad the ditch, how deep it falls!
What lofty tow'rs o'erlook the walls!
Hark, Cyrus! Twenty times the sun
Round the great year his course shall run:
If there so long thy army stay,
Not yet to dogs and birds a prey,
No succour from without arrive,
Within remain no means to live,
We then may think it time to treat,
And Babylon capitulate.
A tedious time! To make it short,
Thy wise attempt will find us sport.
Well may they laugh, from meagre famine safe,
In plenteous stores for more than twenty years;
From all assault secure in gates of brass,
And walls stupendous; in Euphrates' depth
Yet more secure.
'Tis that security
Shall aid me to their ruin. I tell thee, Gobrias,
I will revenge thy wrongs upon the head
Of this inhuman king.
Still bitter to my soul! Methinks I see
My son, the best, the loveliest of mankind,
Whose filial love and duty above all sons
Made me above all other fathers happy,
I see him breathless at the tyrant's feet,
The victim of his envy.
Oppress'd with never-ceasing grief,
I drag a painful, weary life;
Of all that made life sweet bereft,
No hope, but in revenge, is left.
Dry those unavailing tears,
Haste your just revenge to speed;
I'll disperse your gloomy fears,
Dawning hope shall soon succeed.
Be comforted: safe though the tyrant seem
Within those walls, I have a stratagem,
Inspir'd by Heav'n (dreams oft descend from Heav'n)
Shall baffle all his strength; so strong my mind
Th'impression bears, I cannot think it less.
Methought, as on the bank of deep Euphrates
I stood, revolving in my anxious mind
Our arduous enterprise, a voice divine,
In thunder utter'd, to the bottom seem'd
To pierce the river's depth. The lofty tow'rs
Of yon proud city trembling bow'd their heads,
As they would kiss the ground. "Thou deep," it said,
"Be dry". No more; but instant at the word,
The stream forsook its bank, and in a moment
Left bare his oozy bed. Amaz'd I stood:
Horror, till then unknown, uprais'd my hair,
And froze my falt'ring tongue. The voice renew'd:
"Cyrus, go on, and conquer: 'tis I that rais'd thee,
I will direct thy way. Build thou my city,
And without ransom set my captives free."
Now tell me, Gobrias, does not this Euphrates
Flow through the midst of Babylon?
And I have heard you say, that on the west
A monstrous lake, on ev'ry side extended,
Four hundred furlongs, while the banks were made,
Receiv'd th'exhausted river?
'Tis most true.
Might we not then
By the same means now drain Euphrates dry,
And through its channel march into the city?
Suppose this done: yet still the brazen gates,
Which from the city to the river lead,
Will bar our passage, always shut by night,
When we must make th'attempt. Could we suppose
Those gates unshut, we might indeed ascend
With ease into the city.
Said you not
This is the feast to Sesach consecrate?
And that the Babylonians spend the night
In drunken revels, and in loose disorder?
They do; and 'tis religion to be drunk
On this occasion.
Behold the monstrous human beast
Wallowing in excessive feast!
No more his Maker's image found:
But, self-degraded to a swine,
He fixes grov'ling on the ground
His portion of the breath Divine.
Behold the monstrous human beast
Behold. . . da capo
Can you then think it strange, if drown'd in wine,
And from above infatuate, they neglect
The means of their own safety?
Great God, who, yet but darkly known,
Thus far hast deign'd my arms to bring;
Support me still, while I pull down
Assyria's proud, injurious king.
So shall this hand thy altars raise,
This tongue for ever sing thy praise;
And all thy will, when clearly shown,
By thy glad servant shall be done.
My friends, be confident, and boldly enter
Upon this high exploit. No little cause
We have to hope success; since not unjustly
We have attack'd, but being first attack'd,
We have pursu'd th'aggressor. Add to this,
That I proceed in nothing with neglect
Of pow'r divine: whate'er I undertake,
I still begin with God, and gain His favour
With sacrifice and pray'r.
All empires upon God depend;
Begun by his command, at his command they end.
Look up to him in all your ways,
Begin with pray'r and end with praise.
Daniel's house. Daniel, with the Prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah open before him. Other Jews.
O sacred oracles of truth,
O living spring of purest joy!
By day be ever in my mouth,
And all my nightly thoughts employ.
Whoe'er withhold attention due,
Neglect themselves, despising you.
O sacred oracles. . . da capo
Rejoice, my countrymen! The time draws near,
The long-expected time herein foretold:
"Seek now the Lord your God with all your heart,
And you shall surely find him. He shall turn
Your long captivity: he shall gather you
From all the nations whither you are driven,
And to your native land in peace restore you."
For long ago,
Whole ages ere this Cyrus yet was born
Or thought of, great Jehovah, by His Prophet,
In words of comfort to his captive people
Foretold, and call'd by name the wond'rous man.
"Thus saith the Lord to Cyrus, his anointed,
Whose right hand I have holden, to subdue
Nations before him: I will go before thee,
To loose the strong-knit loins of mighty kings,
Make straight the crooked places, break in pieces
The gates of solid brass, and cut in sunder
The bars of iron, for my servant's sake,
Israel my chosen. Though thou hast not known me,
I have surnam'd thee: I have girded thee:
That from the rising to the setting sun
The nations may confess, I am the Lord,
There is none else, there is no God besides me.
Thou shalt perform my pleasure, to Jerusalem
Saying, Thou shalt be built; and to the Temple,
Thy raz'd foundation shall again be laid."
|after Isaiah 45: 1-6; 44: 28|| |
Sing, O ye Heav'ns, for the Lord hath done it!
Earth, from thy centre shout!
Break forth, ye mountains, into songs of joy,
O forest, and each tree therein, for the Lord hath done it!
Jehovah hath redeemed Jacob,
And glorified himself in Israel.
Hallelujah! Amen, Hallelujah!
The Palace. Belshazzar, Nitocris, Babylonians and Jews.
Let festal joy triumphant reign,
Glad ev'ry heart, in ev'ry face appear!
Free flow the wine, nor flow in vain;
Far fly corroding care.
Each hand the chime melodious raise,
Each voice exult in Sesach's praise;
Let order vanish! Liberty alone,
Unbounded liberty the night shall crown.
Let festal joy. . . da capo
For you my friends, the nobles of my court,
I have prepar'd a feast magnificent,
Worthy of you and me. Let all my wives
And concubines attend. Our royal mother —
I must prevent thee, son. Who can endure
Th'unbridled license of this festival,
Miscall'd by the licentious, liberty?
Where nought prevails but riotous excess,
The noisy idiot laugh, the jest obscene,
The scurril taunt, and drunken midnight brawl.
My soul starts back at such brutality,
Asserting reason's empire.
The leafy honours of the field,
Before the furious driving wind,
In giddy dissipation fly.
To noise and folly forc'd to yield,
The fair ideas quit the mind,
And lost in wild confusion lie.
The leafy honours. . . da capo
It is the custom, I may say, the law,
By long prescription fix'd.
(looking round and spying the Jews)
These captive Jews!
What do they here? They low'r upon our joys,
And envy liberty they cannot taste.
Yet something your perverse and wayward nation
Shall to our mirth contribute. Bring those vessels,
Those costly vessels my victorious grandsire
Took from the Temple of Jerusalem,
And in the temple of Bel laid up,
But us'd them not: — 'tis fit they should be us'd.
And let their God, whose pow'r was found too weak
To save his people, serve the conquerors
Of him and them. We'll revel in his cups:
Their rich materials and choice workmanship
Shall well augment the splendor of our feast.
And as we drink, we'll praise our country gods,
To whom we owe the prize.
Unheard of profanation!
27. Chorus of Jews
Recall, O king, thy rash command!
Nor prostitute with impious hand
To uses vile the holy things
Of great Jehovah, king of kings.
Thy grandsire trembled at his name,
And doom'd to death who durst blaspheme;
For he, like us, his pow'r had tried,
Confess'd him just in all his ways,
Confess'd him able to abase
The sons of men that walk in pride.
They tell you true; nor can you be to learn
(Though ease and pleasure have engross'd you all)
Things done in public view. I'll not repeat
The seven-fold heated furnace, by that God
Whom you defy, made to his faithful servants
A walk of recreation; nor the king,
In height of all his pride, drove from his throne,
And from the first of men, in thought a god,
Reduc'd to brutal rank: all this, and more,
Thou knows't as well as I, and shoulds't consider.
Away! Is then my mother convert grown
To Jewish superstition? Apostate queen!
These idle tales might well become the dotage
Of palsied eld, but not a queen like you,
In prime of life, for wisdon far renown'd.
On to the feast! I waste my time too long
In frivolous dispute, time, due of right
To pleasure and the gods.
O dearer than my life, forbear!
Profane not, O my son,
With impious rites Jehovah's Name.
Remember what His arm has done,
The earth contains not half his fame:
Remember, and his vengeance fear!
O queen, this hateful theme forbear!
Join not against your son
With captive slaves, your country's foes.
Remember what our gods have done
To those who durst their pow'r oppose.
Remember, and their vengeance fear.
Alas! Then must I see my son
Headlong to sure destruction run?
Not to destruction but delight
I fly, and all once more invite
To reign with me this happy night.
O dearer than my life. . . da capo
30. Chorus of Jews
By slow degress the wrath of God to its meridian height ascends;
There mercy long the dreadful bolt suspends,
Ere it offending man annoy;
Long patient for repentance waits, reluctant to destroy.
At length the wretch, obdurate grown,
The ruin all his own;
And ev'ry step he takes,
On his devoted head
Precipitates the thunder down.
Without the city, the river almost empty. Cyrus and Chorus of Persians and Medes.
31. Chorus of Persians and Medes
See, from his post Euphrates flies,
The stream withdraws his guardian wave,
Fenceless the queen of city lies!
Why, faithless river, dost thou leave
Thy charge to hostile arms a prey,
Expose the lives thou ought'st to save,
Prepare the fierce invader's way,
And, like false man, thy trust betray?
Euphrates hath his task fulfill'd,
But to divine decree must yield.
While Babel queen of cities reign'd,
The flood her guardian was ordain'd;
Now to superior pow'r gives place,
And but the doom of Heav'n obeys.
Of things on earth, proud man must own,
Falsehood is found in man alone.
You see, my friends, a path into the city
Lies open. Fearless let us enter, knowing
That those we are to cope with are the same
We have already conquer'd, strengthen'd then
With aid of great and numerous allies,
Wakeful and sober, rank'd in just array;
Now all asleep, or drunk, at best disorder'd —
A helpless state! Still worse, when they shall hear
We are within their walls.
Amaz'd to find the foe so near,
When sleep and wine their senses drown,
All hearts shall faint, and melt with fear,
All hands unnerv'd fall feebly down.
Useless the hero's valour lies,
Useless the counsel of the wise.
Amaz'd to find. . . da capo
34. Chorus of Persians and Medes
To arms, to arms, no more delay!
God and Cyrus lead the way.
A banquet-room, adorned with the images of the Babylonian gods. Belshazzar, his wives, concubines, and lords, drinking out of the Jewish temple-vessels, and singing the praises of their gods.
35. Chorus of Babylonians
Ye tutelar gods of our empire, look down,
And see what rich trophies your victory crown.
Let our bounteous gifts, which our gratitude raise,
Wine, gold, merry notes, pay our tributes of praise.
Sesach, this night is chiefly thine,
Kind donor of the sparkling wine!
Let the deep bowl thy praise confess,
Thy gifts the gracious giver bless!
Thy gifts, of all the gods bestow,
Improve by use, and sweeter grow.
Another bowl! 'Tis gen'rous wine,
Exalts the human to divine.
Where is the God of Judah's boasted pow'r?
Let him reclaim his lost magnificence,
Assert his rights, prov'd ours by long possession,
And vindicate his injur'd honour! — Ah!
As he is going to drink, a hand appears writing upon the wall over against him: he sees it, turns pale with fear, drops the bowl of wine, falls back in his seat, trembling from head to foot, and his knees knocking against each other.
Help, help the king! He faints, he dies!
What envious demon blasts our joys,
And into sorrow turns?
Look up, O king! Speak, cheer thy friends!
Say, why our mirth thus sudden ends,
And the gay circle mourns?
Behold! See there!
Pointing to the hand upon the wall, which, while they gaze at it with astonishment, finishes the writing, and vanishes.
Oh, dire portentous signt! But see, 'tis gone,
And leaves behind it types unknown,
Perhaps some stern decree of fate,
Big with the ruin of our state!
What God, or godlike man, can tell
The sense of this mysterious spell?
Call all my Wise Men, Sorcerers, Chaldeans,
Astrologers, Magicians, Soothsayers:
They can perhaps unfold the mystic words,
Dispel our doubts, and ease us of our fears.
Enter Wise Men of Babylon.
Ye sages, welcome always to your king,
Most welcome now, since needed most! Oh, minister
To my sick mind the med'cine of your art.
Whoe'er shall read this writing and interpret,
A splendid purple robe behind him flows,
A chain of gold his honour'd neck shall grace,
And in the kingdom he shall rule the third.
Alas, too hard a task the king imposes,
To read the characters we never learn'd!
41. Chorus of Babylonians
Oh, misery! Oh terror, hopeless grief!
Nor God nor man affords relief!
Who can this mystery unveil,
When all our wise diviners fail?
O king, live for ever!
Let not thy heart its wonted courage lose,
Nor let thy countenance be chang'd with fear,
Though all thy wise men fail thee, in the kingdom
There is a man, among the Jewish captives,
In whom the Holy Spirit of God resides,
And in thy grandsire Nebuchadnezzar's day
Wisdom, like that of God, was found in him,
By which he could interpret mystic dreams,
Explain hard sentences, dissolve all doubts:
Daniel his native name, but by the king
Nam'd Belteshazzar. Let him now be call'd,
He'll read the writing, and interpret it.
Art thou that Daniel of the Jewish captives?
I have heard of thee.
That thou canst find interpretations deep,
And dissolve knotty doubts. If thou canst read
This writing, and explain, a purple robe
Adorns thy body, a gold chain thy neck,
And in the kingdom thou shalt rule the third.
No, to thyself thy trifles be,
Or takes thy rich rewards who will!
Such glitt'ring trash affects not me,
Intent on greater matters still.
Yet, to obey His dread command,
Who vindicates His honour now,
I'll read this oracle, and thou,
But to thy cost, shalt understand.
Thou, O king,
Hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of Heav'n,
Whose vessels they have brought before thee,
And thou, thy lords, thy wives, and concubines,
Have drunk wine in them! Thou hast prais'd the gods
Of gold and silver, brass, iron, wood and stone,
Which neither see, nor hear, nor aught perceive!
But Him, the God whose hands upholds thy life,
And in whose high dispose are all thy ways,
Thou hast not glorified, but hast blasphem'd.
From Him the hand was sent, by His appointment
These words were written:
MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN, which I thus interpret.
MENE: the God, whom thou hast dishonour'd,
The days hath number'd of thy reign, and finish'd it.
TEKEL: thou in the balances art weigh'd,
And art found wanting.
PERES: thy kingdom is divided,
And to the Medes and Persians given.
Oh, sentence too severe, and yet too sure,
Unless repentance may reverse the doom!
Regard, O son, my flowing tears,
Proofs of maternal love!
Regard thyself; to cure thy fears,
Regard the God above.
Repentance sure will mercy find,
But wrath pursues th'obdurate mind.
Regard, O son. . . da capo
Cyrus, Gobrias and Chorus of Persians and Medes, within the City.
O God of truth, O faithful guide,
Well hast thou kept thy word!
Deep waves at my approach subside,
The brazen portals open wide,
Glad to receive their lord.
The hostile nations scatter'd fly,
Nor dare my presence stay.
Where'er I go, sure victory
Attends, for God is always nigh,
And He prepares my way.
You, Gobrias, lead directly to the palace,
For you best know the way. This revelling herd
Cannot oppose our passage; those who would,
Fall easy victims. For the rest, they fly,
Or take us for their friends, and reeling shout
For joy. We'll be their friends, and join the shout.
I seek no enemy except the tyrant;
When he is slain, our task is at an end.
My worthy friends, let us not stain our swords
With needless slaughter! I begin already
To count this people mine, myself their shepherd,
Whose office is to feed and to protect them,
Not to destroy.
O glorious prince, thrice happy they
Born to enjoy thy future sway!
To all like thee were sceptres giv'n,
Kings were like gods, and earth like Heav'n.
Subjection free, unforc'd, would prove
Obedience is the child of love;
The jars of nation soon would cease,
Sweet liberty, beatific peace
Would stretch their reign from shore to shore,
And war and slav'ry be no more.
The Palace. Nitocris, Daniel, Jews.
Alternate hopes and fears distract my mind,
My weary soul no rest can find.
My busy fancy now presents
A gracious scene: my son repents
And God recalls his doom.
Now to false shame he quits his fears,
False courage takes, and madly dares
His impious feast resume.
Then arms and dying groans resound,
And streams of blood gush out around.
Alternate hopes and fears distract my mind,
My weary soul no rest can find.
Fain would I hope. It cannot surely be.
Oh, that it could not! But if I may judge
The future by the past, it were vain flatt'ry
To bid you hope for his conversion.
Can the black AEthiop change his skin,
His native spots the leopard lose?
Then may the heart obdur'd in sin
Grow soft, repent, and virtue choose!
Threats or advice but move disdain,
And signs and wonders glare in vain.
Can the black. . . da capo
My hopes revive, here Arioch comes! By this
'Tis plain the revels are broke up. Say, Arioch,
Where is the king?
When you had left the room,
A while deep silence reign'd; the king sat pensive,
As doubting whether to break up the banquet,
Or to continue. At length some parasites,
Those insects vile that still infest a court,
Began to minister false comfort to him.
With this, again
They sat them down to drink. The bowl went round,
The king forgot his fears, the wine inspir'd him,
And he blasphem'd again. Not long we sat,
When from without the gates a noise tumultuous
Was heard, loud shouts and cries, and clashing arms.
The king deputed some to learn the cause.
I gladly seiz'd the opportunity,
And fled a place to swift destruction doom'd.
Enter a Messenger.
All's lost, the fate of Babylon is come!
Cyrus is here, ev'n within the palace!
It is too true;
A tumult heard without, the gates unbarr'd,
Disclos'd a dreadful scene: the guards overpow'rd
By numbers far superior, fell before them
With faint resistance. The victorious foe
No sooner saw the gates set open wide,
But rush'd at once, and easy entrance gain'd.
54. Chorus of Jews
Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth!
How is Sesach taken,
And how is the praise of the whole earth surpris'd!
Thy counsel stands, O Lord,
And thou dost all thy pleasure!
Belshazzar, his lords, and other Babylonians, with their swords drawn.
I thank thee, Sesach! Thy sweet pow'r
Does to myself myself restore.
Thy plenteous heart-inspiring juice
All my courage lost renews.
I blush to think I shadows fear'd.
Cyrus, come on, I'm now prepar'd!
Exeunt to meet Cyrus.
56. A Martial Symphony
(during which a battle is supposed, in which Belshazzar and his attendants are slain)
Cyrus, Gobrias and Chorus.
To pow'r immortal my first thanks are due;
My next, great Cyrus, let me pay to you,
Whose arm this impious king laid low,
The bitter source of all my woe.
Tears, sure, will all my life employ,
E'en now I weep, but weep for joy.
Be it thy care, good Gobrias, to find out
The queen, and that great Jew, of whom thou tolds't me.
Guard them in safety hither; if harm befall them
I shall repent, and curse my victory.
Destructive war, thy limits know;
Here, tyrant death, thy terrors end.
To tyrants only I'm a foe,
To virtue and her friends, a friend.
Destructive war. . . da capo
Re-enter Gobrias, with Nitocris, Daniel, and Jews.
Great victor, at your feet I bow,
No more a queen, your vassal now!
My people spare! Forgive my fears,
I mourn a son, indulge my tears,
Resistless nature bids them flow.
Rise, virtuous queen, compose your mind,
Give fear and sorrow to the wind.
Safe are your people if they will;
Be still a queen, a mother still,
A son in Cyrus you shall find.
Cyrus (to Daniel)
Say, venerable prophet, is there aught
In Cyrus' pow'r by which he can oblige
Thee, or thy people?
O victorious prince,
The God of Israel, Lord of Heav'n and earth,
Long ere thy birth, foretold thee by thy name,
And shew'd thy conquests! 'Tis to Him thou ow'st,
To Him thou must ascribe them. Read those lines,
The great prediction which thou hast already
In part accomplish'd, and, we trust, will soon
Fulfil the rest.
62. Soli & Chorus
Tell it out among the heathen,
That the Lord is King.
Yes, I will rebuild thy city, God of Israel!
I will release thy captives, not for price,
Not for reward, but to perform thy pleasure.
Thus prostrate I confess, Thou art the Lord,
There is none else, there is no God beside Thee.
Thou condescendest to call me thy shepherd,
And I will feed thy flock. To me Thou hast giv'n
The kingdoms of the earth; and shall I suffer
Thy kingdom to lie waste, Thy chosen people
In exile and captivity to wander?
Far be from Cyrus such ingratitude!
Hear, holy people! Hear, elect of God!
The God of Israel (he alone is God)
Hath charg'd me to rebuild his house and city,
And let his exil'd captive people go.
With transport I obey! Be free, ye captives,
And to your native land in peace return.
Thou, O Jerusalem, shalt be rebuilt;
O Temple, thy foundation shall be laid.
No thanks to me; to God return your thanks,
As I do mine! We all are to his goodness
Indebted deep, to Him be all the praise.
64. Soli & Chorus
I will magnify Thee, O God my king!
And I will praise thy name for ever and ever.
My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord,
And let all flesh give thanks
Unto His holy name for ever and ever.
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