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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII. 1876–79.

Syria: Syrian Desert

Hagar in the Wilderness

By Sir Edwin Arnold (1832–1904)

A WEARY waste of blank and barren land,

A lonely, lonely sea of shifting sand,

A golden furnace gleaming overhead,

Scorching the blue sky into bloody red;

And not a breath to cool, and not a breeze

To stir one feather of the drooping trees;

Only the desert wind with hungry moan,

Seeking for life to slay, and finding none;

Only the hot Sirocco’s burning breath,

Spangled with sulphur-flame, and winged with death;

No sound, no step, no voice, no echo heard,

No cry of beast, no whirring wing of bird;

The silver-crested snake hath crept away

From the fell fury of that Eastern day;

The famished vultures by the failing spring

Droop the foul beak and fold the ragged wing;

And lordly lions, ere the chase be done,

Leave the blank desert to the desert-sun.

Ah! not alone to him,—turn thee and see

Beneath the shadow of yon balsam tree

A failing mother of a fainting son

Resting to die deserted and alone.

Turn thee and mark the mother’s gentle care

Stripping the fillet from her silken hair,

So it may fall to shade his feeble frame,

A glossy curtain from the noonday flame;

See,—at her feet the shrivelled flagon cast,

The last drop drained, the sweetest and the last.

Drained at her darling’s lip to still his cries,

A mother’s free and final sacrifice.

Look,—she hath taken it, and yet again

Presses the flagon,—presses—but in vain.

The scrip is emptied and the flagon dry,

And nothing left them but the leave to die.

To die,—and one so young and one so true,

And both so beautiful and brave to view:

She,—with her braided locks more black than night,

And eye so darkly, deeply, wildly bright;

He,—with his slender limbs and body bare,

And small hands tangled in his mother’s hair,

And there to whiten on the desert-sands,

A landmark for the laden desert bands!

That thought is stamping anguish on her brow,

That dread hath taught her what she utters now.

“Son of my soul! the happy days are done;

Thy little course and mine are nearly run;

The white tents wave on Kirjath-Arba’s plain,

No home for us,—no resting-place again:

Before yon orb is sunken from the sky

Together in the desert we must die.”


Yet was she speaking; but the cry of joy

Burst from the bosom of the dying boy.

His eager finger pointed to the plain,

His eye had light, his cheek its life again.

“Look, mother! look! we will not die to-day;

Look where the water glistens! come away!”

She turned,—O, fairest sight, if sight it be,

The sleeping silver of that inland sea.

She gazed,—O gaze of hope and life and light!

Those crystal waters glancing pure and bright;

From Seir’s red crags and Hazargaddah’s heath,

Eastward to Eder and the Sea of Death.

The dismal wilderness was past and gone,

The waves were streaming where the sands had shone;

Streaming o’er tree and crag, by bush and brake,

The silent splendor of a windless lake,

In whose broad wave so radiantly blue

Each feathered palm, each lonely plant that grew,

Each mountain on the distant desert-side

Shone double, shadowed in the sleeping tide.

Yet was it strange! no dream so passing strange,

As the quick phantom of that fairy change;

And stranger still, that ever as they came

To lave the burning lip, and brow of flame,

The waters fading far and farther still,

Cheated their chase and mocked their baffled will.

Alas! no pleasant waters rippled there;

The lying mirage lured them to despair.

She saw it fading, and there came a cry

Out from her heart of wildest agony;

She knew it gone, and strove to stand and speak

While the life withered in her whitened cheek.

Then her lip quivered, and her lashes fell,

And her tongue faltered in its faint farewell,

“Man had no mercy,—God will show us none,—

Ishmael! I dare not see thee die, my son!”

Tenderly, lovingly, her load she laid

Where no sun glistened in the grateful shade;

Softly she pillowed on the sands his head,

And spread her mantle for his dying bed;

No gems were there to deck the lowly bier,

But the pure lustre of a mother’s tear;

No fragrant spices for the sleep of death,

But the soft fragrance of a mother’s breath;

No tearful eye, no tributary tongue,

To tell his fate who died so fair and young;

No better mourner for the boy than she

Who weeps to see him what herself shall be:

Than she who sits apart with sidelong eye

Waiting till he hath died that she may die;

And buries all her forehead in her hair,

Weeping the bitter tears of black despair.

So is the desert-sand their death and grave,

No hope of help, no pitying hand to save!

None! was it then the icy lip of death

Or low winds laden with the roses’ breath

That kissed her forehead? was it earthly sound,

Floating like fairy voice above, around;

Or splendid symphonies of seraph-kings

Striking the music from unearthly strings,

Whose touch hath startled her? what inward strife

Stirs the still apathy of parting life?

What sense of power unseen, of presence hid,

Lifts from her lightless eyes the unwilling lid?

She rose,—she turned,—there in that lonely place

God’s glory flashed upon her lifted face.

And with the glory came an angel voice,

“Hagar, what ailest? rouse thee, and rejoice!

Look up, and live! God’s ever-opened ear

Hath patient hearing for a mother’s prayer.

Arise, take up the boy,—his pleading cry

Came up to God, and had its end on high;

And God shall make him, in his own good time,

A mighty people, in a pleasant clime.”

Then was her sight unsealed, and lo! at hand

A spring was sparkling in the desert sand;

Sparkling with crystal water to the brim,

Fringed with the date, and rimmed with lilied rim.

Swiftly she speeded to the fountain’s brink,

And drew a draught, and gave her boy to drink,

And watched the little lips that lingered still,

Nor tasted drop till he had drunk his fill.

Then on bent knees, with tear and smile at strife,

Mother and child, they quaffed the liquid life;

And stayed to smile, and drank to smile again,

Till sweet and cheerful seemed the silent plain;

And young leaves dancing on the desert trees

To the low music of the passing breeze,

And birds of passage with their homeward wings,

And fireflies wheeling in their lighted rings,

And flowers unfolding where the glare was gone

Spake but one tale,—Hope ever, and Hope on!