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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Africa: Vol. XXIV. 1876–79.

Introductory to Egypt, Nubia, and Abyssinia

A Vision of Old Egypt

By Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel (1834–1894)

(From Mencheres)

METHOUGHT I floated on the ancient Nile

’Neath an abrupt and weird craggy pile,

Its flame-hued cliffs caverned with many a tomb,

Haunt of lone winds and birds of dusky plume.

A boat with monks that chanted floated nigh;

But when they paused, some awful far reply

Came ever from the mountain’s heart: one said,

“A voice from old-world priests of ages dead,

Who slumbering in their stupendous fane

Deep in yon mountain’s heart are roused again

With a faint consciousness that stirs and dies

To breathe a note of hoary litanies,

Erewhile they chanted while impassive Death

Quenched ever some poor heart’s weak flame of faith.”

A tone it seemed bereft of life, unblest,

Emptied of thought and joy, vaguely opprest

A moment with the living voice of prayer

They have proved wasted on the lifeless air.

Embers of old hope wake to feel the doom

Of smothered souls in everlasting gloom.

Then changed the scene,—for it was dark around:

Methought I lay in silence drear profound

On some hot sand; the close incumbent air

Reeked faint as from some dismal creature’s lair,

Some presence nigh of bird or beast obscene,

Hyena, bat, that loves to lurk unseen.

And yet a dubious glimmer near me lay

Upon the sand, and slow the space to gray

Opened about me till I dim defined

Columnar masses pale gigantic-lined

Rude, huge and lofty, with no capital

Or fretted moulding wrought fantastical,

Titanic blocks each horizontal laid

From pier to pier, bridging abysmal shade.

And lo! I saw each giant pillar bulged

With form stupendous as of man, divulged,

Standing each speechless, vast along the stone,

Each to the full height of his pillar grown,—

A colonnade of these on either hand

My twilit nave; afar they vague expand,

To my rapt vision dwindling infinite,

Phantoms assembling in the halls of Night!

And then I noted nigh a crevice small;

Through this I deemed that Day into the Hall

Passed half in awe to melt the shroud of gloom

That broods o’er these in their eternal tomb.

These then in pauses of the living prayer

Wailed that antistrophe of Death’s despair!

And still Night jealous claims them for her own,

Nor may her shadow free from them be thrown,

But silent like black water it abides

Forever resting down their mighty sides.

Their mummied forms are like their faces pale,

Each in vast crossing hands the crook and flail

Of an Osirian on his bosom broad

Holds folded close, each mitred like the god.

Their presence weighs upon the mortal sense,

Informs with fear the solitude intense,

Voiceless and moveless pale forever there,

In some unguessed unhuman-wise aware.

But calm serene is every countenance,

Unvexéd more of any human chance,

Sublime unearthly in its restfulness,

Quiet in destiny the passionless.

Fond fool! to dream that hopes or joys or woes

Of ours may ruffle this immense repose!

Can ever these have been of mortal race,

Crushing for pelf or fame with eager face,

Throbbing for pleasure, flushed elate with gain,

Sullen or blank with loss and lit again?

Yea, these were mortal, even as thyself,

And thou shalt be as they, O wildered elf!

Blown tossed like sere leaves, little comforted,

Thou shalt be tranquil calm as are the dead!

Even thy vain bubble-turmoil in the flood

Viewed from the still height very grand and good!

Kindred with twilight now my vision grows,

And straight between each pillared phantom shows

Sunk in the darkness a sarcophagus,

Heart of the darkness, solid, ponderous;

The massy lid of each, prodigious, shoved

Awry as though the dread inmate had moved.

Then I knew these were Pharaohs of the Sun,

Ramses-Sesostris, Amunoph-Memnon,

Sesortasen, and many a power beside,

Priest-kings imperial, who strode in pride

Over dwarfed continents astonished pale

Making the hearts of all the nations fail—

Then every breath bore rumors of their fame:

What are they now? the shadow of a name!


’T is noon, relentless rules the blaze

Of our Sun-god that ne’er a breeze allays.

Far, far away the windless river burning

Through wan sand-levels dimly banked

Of distant yellow hills, but nearer flanked

With palm-girt, loam-built thorps at every turning,

And oft a huge stone temple spread

With obelisk and sphinx and banner red;

Silent from heat our swarthy sailors towing

The boat becalmed with rope on land;

Anon some baked wave-minded mass at hand

From yon loam-ridge is loosened in their going,

Falling with sudden splash and thud,

Nor mars my soul’s luxurious mood

Enhanced of distant water-wheels’ long droning,

For dreamy listlessness akin

To hazy light the lulled world swooneth in.

I know the hind in midst of that intoning

Sits in the centre of the wheel

While hemp-slung jars tilt ever and refill,

A yoke of patient circling oxen guiding,

Roofed from the scorching glare

By large leaves of the melons trellised there.

On yon low sandflat motionless abiding,

Behold a crocodile, and nigh

Upon the neighbor bank one may espy

Some ibis white with pink flamingoes resting;

But when day waneth we shall hear

Clangor of wild geese in the crystal clear,

Their living chain wedgewise the glory breasting.