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

Introductory to Egypt, Nubia, and Abyssinia


By Richard Henry Stoddard (1825–1903)

(From Guests of the State)

A VISION of a River, and a Land

Where no rain falls, which is the river’s bed,

Through which it flows from waters far away,

Great lakes, and springs unknown, increasing slow,

Till the midsummer currents, rushing red,

Come overflowing the banks day after day,

Like ocean billows that devour the strand,

Till, lo! there is no land,

Save the cliffs of granite that enclose their flow,

And the waste sands beyond; subsiding then

Till land comes up again, and the husbandmen

(Chanting hymns the while)

Sow their sure crops, which till midwinter be

Green, gladdening the old Nile

As he goes on his gracious journey to the Sea!

Land of strange gods, human, and beast, and bird,

Where animals were sacred and adored,

The great bull Apis being of these the chief;

Pasth, with her woman’s breast and lion face,

Maned, with her long arms stretching down her thighs;

Dog-faced Anubis, haler of the dead

To judgment; Nu, with the ram’s head and curled horns;

And Athor, whom a templed crown adorns;

And Mut, the vulture; and the higher Three,—

The goddess-mother Isis, and her lord,

Divine Osiris, whom dark Typhon slew,

For whom, in her great grief

(Leading unfathered Horus, weeping too),

She wandered up and down, lamenting sore,

Searching for lost Osiris: Libya heard

Her lamentations, and her rainy eyes

Flooded the shuddering Nile from shore to shore,

Till she had found, in many a secret place,

The poor dismembered body (can it be

These are supreme Osiris?) whereat she

Gathered the dear remains that Typhon hid,

And builded over each a Pyramid

In thirty cities, and was queen no more;

For Horus governed in his father’s stead,

The crowns of Earth and Heaven on his anointed head!

From out the mists of hoar Antiquity

Straggle uncertain figures, gods or men—

Menes, Athothis, Cheops, and Khafren;

No matter who these last were, what they did,

Save that each raised a monstrous Pyramid

To house his mummy, and they rise to-day

Rifled thereof! And she—

Colossal Woman, couchant in the sands,

Who has a lion’s body, paws for hands

(If she was wingéd, like the Theban one,

The wide-spread wings are gone):

Nations have fallen round her, but she stands;

Dynasties came and went, but she went not:

She saw the Pharaohs and the Shepherd Kings,

Chariots and horsemen in their dread array—

Cambyses, Alexander, Anthony,

The hosts of standards, and the eagle wings,

Whom, to her ruinous sorrow, Egypt drew:

She saw, and she forgot—

Remembered not the old gods nor the new,

Which were to her as though they had not been;

Remembered not the opulent, great Queen,

Whom riotous misbecomings so became—

Temptress, whom none could tame,

Splendor and danger, fatal to beguile;

Remembered not the serpent of old Nile,

Nor the Herculean Roman she loved and overthrew!

Half buried in the sand it lies:

It neither questions nor replies;

And what is coming, what is gone,

Disturbs it not: it looks straight on,

Under the everlasting skies,

In what eternal Eyes!

Out of all this a Presence comes, and stands

Full-fronted, as who turns upon the Past,

Modern among the ancients, and the last

Of re-born, risen nations: in her hands,

That once so many sceptres held, and rods,

A palm leaf set with jewels: Princess, she—

She has her palaces along the Nile,

Her navies on the sea;

And in the temples of her fallen gods

(Not hers—she knows but the One God over all),

She hears from holy mosques the muezzin’s call,

“Lo, Allah is most great!” And when the dawn

Is drawing near, “Prayer better is than Sleep.”

She rides abroad; her curtains are undrawn—

She walks with lifted veil, nor hides her smile,

Nor the sweet, luminous eyes, where languors creep

No more: she is no more Circassian girl,

But Princess, woman with the mother breast;

No Cleopatra to dissolve the pearl

And take the asp—the East become the West!

Honor to Egypt—honor;

May Allah smile upon her!