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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.

The Seaside and the Fireside

By the Fireside. Sand of the Desert in an Hour-Glass

A HANDFUL of red sand, from the hot clime

Of Arab deserts brought,

Within this glass becomes the spy of Time,

The minister of Thought.

How many weary centuries has it been

About those deserts blown!

How many strange vicissitudes has seen,

How many histories known!

Perhaps the camels of the Ishmaelite

Trampled and passed it o’er,

When into Egypt from the patriarch’s sight

His favorite son they bore.

Perhaps the feet of Moses, burnt and bare,

Crushed it beneath their tread,

Or Pharaoh’s flashing wheels into the air

Scattered it as they sped;

Or Mary, with the Christ of Nazareth

Held close in her caress,

Whose pilgrimage of hope and love and faith

Illumed the wilderness;

Or anchorites beneath Engaddi’s palms

Pacing the Dead Sea beach,

And singing slow their old Armenian psalms

In half-articulate speech;

Or caravans, that from Bassora’s gate

With westward steps depart;

Or Mecca’s pilgrims, confident of Fate,

And resolute in heart!

These have passed over it, or may have passed!

Now in this crystal tower

Imprisoned by some curious hand at last,

It counts the passing hour.

And as I gaze, these narrow walls expand;—

Before my dreamy eye

Stretches the desert with its shifting sand,

Its unimpeded sky.

And borne aloft by the sustaining blast,

This little golden thread

Dilates into a column high and vast,

A form of fear and dread.

And onward, and across the setting sun,

Across the boundless plain,

The column and its broader shadow run,

Till thought pursues in vain.

The vision vanishes! These walls again

Shut out the lurid sun,

Shut out the hot, immeasurable plain;

The half-hour’s sand is run!