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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Sphinx

By Henry Howard Brownell (1820–1872)

[From War-Lyrics, and Other Poems. 1866.]

THEY glare—those stony eyes!

That in the fierce sun-rays

Showered from these burning skies,

Through untold centuries

Have kept their sleepless and unwinking gaze.

Since what unnumbered year

Hast thou kept watch and ward,

And o’er the buried Land of Fear

So grimly held thy guard?

No faithless slumber snatching,

Still couched in silence brave,

Like some fierce hound long watching

Above her master’s grave.

No fabled Shape art thou!

On that thought-freighted brow

And in those smooth weird lineaments we find,

Though traced all darkly, even now,

The relics of a Mind:

And gather dimly thence

A vague, half-human sense—

The strange and sad Intelligence

That sorrow leaves behind.

Dost thou in anguish thus

Still brood o’er Œdipus?

And weave enigmas to mislead anew,

And stultify the blind

Dull heads of human kind,

And inly make thy moan

That ’mid the hated crew,

Whom thou so long couldst vex,

Bewilder, and perplex,

Thou yet couldst find a subtler than thine own?

Even now, methinks that those

Dark, heavy lips, which close

In such a stern repose,

Seem burdened with some Thought unsaid,

And hoard within their portals dread

Some fearful Secret there,—

Which to the listening earth

She may not whisper forth,00

Not even to the air!

Of awful wonders hid

In yon dread pyramid,

The home of magic Fears,

Of chambers vast and lonely,

Watched by the Genii only,

Who tend their Masters’ long-forgotten biers;

And treasures that have shone

On cavern walls alone

For thousand, thousand years.

Those sullen orbs wouldst thou eclipse,

And ope those massy, tomb-like lips,

Many a riddle thou couldst solve

Which all blindly men revolve.

Would She but tell! She knows

Of the old Pharaohs,

Could count the Ptolemies’ long line;

Each mighty Myth’s original hath seen,

Apis, Anubis—Ghosts that haunt between

The Bestial and Divine—

(Such, He that sleeps in Philœ—He that stands

In gloom, unworshipped, ’neath his rock-hewn fane—

And They who, sitting on Memnonian sands,

Cast their long shadows o’er the desert plain:)

Hath marked Nitocris pass,

And Ozymandias

Deep-versed in many a dark Egyptian wile;

The Hebrew Boy hath eyed

Cold to the master’s bride;

And that Medusan stare hath frozen the smile

Of Her all love and guile,

For whom the Cæsar sighed,

And the World-Loser died—

The Darling of the Nile.