BELSHAZZAR’S FEAST

I

I watch the Sacrament, and think how deep
The signature of God scores into things;
Holiness wakes the earthly out of sleep
And gives it life beyond our reckonings.

So was it with each gold or silver chalice
Torn from the Temple by invading hosts,
When King Belshazzar, feasting in his palace,
Used sacred treasures for his pagan toasts.

The sudden writings of a human hand
Under the lamplight opposite his throne
Spelt the response out to his challenge, planned
Against a power greater than his own.

It took a holier man than he to know
The meaning and the truth of what he read;
Daniel was summoned, who in measured flow
Spoke of God’s judgment. This is what he said:

 

II

MENE

"Hurry now, for time is beckoning:
After feasting comes the reckoning.
Dine on peacock, swan, and oyster,
Play the King, and rule and roister,

But remember, time grows leaner,
Shrinking like a concertina,
Squeezing into tiny compass
All this revelling and rumpus.

‘Mene’ – ‘numbered’ – thus implying
King Belshazzar’s hopes are dying.

 

TEKEL

"Blind Justice holds her scales:
All other judgment fails.
Her Master lets us see He blesses her decree.
Beside her, holy three,

Faith, Hope, and Charity,
Will one day add their voice
And help her in her choice,
For now, Courage and Care
With Temperance are there
Sad-eyed, to watch the scales
As light Belshazzar fails.

 

PHERES

"Two holy words, and now the third,
Almost too complex for a word.
It was a word that made all space
And brought us humans to this place.
The Lord of threefold mystery
Commands respect for sanctity,
No more, no less; but that being lost
The word Pheres records the cost.
By this, the sentence we have said,
Your proud imperium is dead,
Passed on to Persians and to Medes.
Death is the price of all your deeds."

 

He spoke, and great Belshazzar sat in thought,
Feeling the nature of the truth he brought.
Outside, beneath the stars, which ruled his life,
A muffled figure waited with a knife.
"I have no time; but I believe your story,
And in what now remains, yours is the glory.
Bring robes and chains of gold for Daniel’s sake!
Here is what restitution I can make
To Him and to His prophet rightly sent
Against my acts, which I do now repent."

Later the knife descended, and he died
Under the mercy which he once defied.

 

III

I watch the Sacrament again, and brood
On how the Maker waits upon the hour,
Calling upon a word or thing, imbued
With the bright essence of eternal power.

The Baptist found it in the Jordan’s flow,
Peter, and James, and John, upon the hill,
A link with kingdoms that they came to know,
The outward sign that masks the inward will.

The holy waits within us and without,
In the besieged and the besiegers’ lines;
It is for man to set aside his doubt
About deliverance, and watch the signs.

When with the holy cups he played the thief,
Death, judgment, mercy, in Belshazzar met.
Here is the age-old way of our relief
The Cup and Bread are ours, and holy yet.

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