by Eric Martin

(From the French of Jean-François Gail, 1795-1845)

(Note: Hector Berlioz set this French text to music for his 1830 prize-winning Prix de Rome cantata, La Mort de Sardanapale. The finale, orchestrating the burning and collapse of Sardanapalus’ palace, was added after the judging, and produced a sensation when it was first performed. This explosive conclusion is the only part of Berlioz’s cantata that has survived in score, and was performed in 1995 by the Orchestre National de Lille. In 2003, Naxos released it on compact disc, along with Berlioz’s other Prix de Rome cantatas. This English translation aims to reproduce in poetry the musical fury of Berlioz’s 1830 composition. It narrates the last hours of Sardanapalus’ reign — its unrestrained sensuality, its political intrigues, and its glorious conclusion, with the monarch perishing at his own hand amid the flames of his burning palace, worldly possessions, and devoted slaves. The verse form is the tetrameter quatrain, entirely in trochaic meter for vocal emphasis. Stage directions supplement the narrative provided by the spoken text.)


Night, at last, bedims the mountains.
Evening’s cool arouses sense.
Murmuring tones from splashing fountains
Chase away our somnolence.
Love, for us a new aurora
Dawns. — But why such anxious eyes? —
Why such frightened tones, Azura? —
Here, amidst such revelries?
Hush! — The clash of arms resounding
In your heart inspires tears.
Nineveh yet stands, confounding
All your vain and worthless fears.
Sing, Azura! — Strum your lyre! —
Blend its soft notes with your own!
None can kindle my desire —
None, excepting you alone!

AZURA, singing.
Arousing winds from India
Incense the streets of Nineveh
With an unfailing scent:
For us, then, here — again this night —
Prolong the pleasures of delight,
Too often transient.
Seductive Bayadères, arise,
Distract the king’s enamored eyes
With dances and allures.
Pour out, incessantly, your charms,
Till he, in turn, with clasping arms
Your sighing heart immures.

Sing, Azura! — Strum your lyre! —
Blend its soft notes with your own!
For none can sate the king’s desire —
None, excepting you alone!


Slave! — You dare disrupt my leisure? —
Who has let you in these rooms? —
Bear you tributary treasure? —
Speak! — Death’s eye upon you looms! —


Doubtless, sir, these slaves have left you
Blind to popular unrest.
We of armies have bereft you —
Throneless, crownless, dispossessed.
Life and liberty we leave you.
All we ask is you lay down
Kingly cares, which do deceive you,
Casting off a faithless crown.

Never! — No! — Though ease may’ve cost me
Scepter, throne, and kingdom wide —
Though this leisure may have lost me
My delights, I’ve still my pride.
Gods, not men, impose damnation
On whomever they despise.
Sol unrivaled rules creation —
Night alone brings his demise.
‘Life and liberty’ you grant me —
These are not the hopes of kings!
You insult and disenchant me,
Offering such worthless things!

‘Life and liberty’ you grant him —
But these are not the hopes of kings.
These insult and disenchant him —
Slaves and women crave such things.


All is fleeting. — Thus let fire
Burn the pomps that fly from me.
Gather near — a living pyre —
Fueling one last revelry.
Mithra, for my forfeit, grant ye
That my name might live always!
With these pleasures, which enchant me,
Take the last of my good days.
Power, glory, worldly pleasures —
All were mine, as King of Kings!
Fate, alas! has spoiled those treasures. —
Think no more upon such things —
That a noble death, befitting
Me, might of my glories sing:
Never bowing, nor submitting —
Ever a courageous king!


Thus, a noble death, befitting
You, shall all your glories sing!
Neither bowing, nor submitting —
Thus you die, courageous king!


© 2007 by Eric Martin



About the Author

Eric Martin's poems and translations have appeared in nearly fifty print and online journals throughout the United States, Canada and Great Britain, including The Barefoot Muse, Calenture, Centrifugal Eye, Contemporary Rhyme, Lucid Rhythms, The Road Not Taken, Trellis Magazine, and forthcoming (May 2008) in the Concelebratory Shoehorn Review. A complimentary copy of his chapbook, The Death of Orpheus, and Other Poems, Original and Translated, can be requested at:


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