Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  Moses on Mount Sinai

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

Arabia: Sinai, the Mount

Moses on Mount Sinai

By Richard Monckton Milnes, Lord Houghton (1809–1885)

UP a rough peak, that toward the stormy sky

From Sinai’s sandy ridges rose aloft,

Osarsiph, priest of Hieropolis,

Now Moses named, ascended reverently

To meet and hear the bidding of the Lord.

But, though he knew that all his ancient lore

Traditionary from the birth of Time,

And all that power which waited on his hand,

Even from the day his just instinctive wrath

Had smote the Egyptian ravisher, and all

The wisdom of his calm and ordered mind

Were nothing in the presence of his God,

Yet was there left a certain seed of pride,

Vague consciousness of some self-centred strength,

That made him cry, “Why, Lord, com’st thou to me,

Only a voice, a motion of the air,

A thing invisible, impalpable,

Leaving a void, an unreality,

Within my heart? I would, with every sense,

Know thou wert there,—I would be all in thee!

Let me at least behold thee as thou art;

Disperse this corporal darkness by thy light;

Hallow my vision by thy glorious form,

So that my sense be blest forevermore!”

Thus spoke the Prophet, and the Voice replied,

As in low thunders over distant seas:

“Beneath the height to which thy feet have striven,

A hollow trench divides the cliffs of sand,

Widened by rains and deepened every year.

Gaze straight across it, for there opposite

To where thou standest I will place myself,

And then, if such remain thy fixed desire,

I will descend to side by side with thee.”

So Moses gazed across the rocky vale;

And the air darkened, and a lordly bird

Poised in the midst of its long-journeying flight,

And touched his feet with limp and fluttering wings,

And all the air around, above, below,

Was metamorphosed into sound,—such sound

That separate tones were undistinguishable,

And Moses fell upon his face, as dead.

Yet life and consciousness of life returned;

And, when he raised his head, he saw no more

The deep ravine and mountain opposite,

But one large level of distracted rocks,

With the wide desert quaking all around.

Then Moses fell upon his face again,

And prayed,—“O, pardon the presumptuous thought,

That I could look upon thy face and live:

Wonder of wonders! that mine ear has heard

Thy voice unpalsied, and let such great grace

Excuse the audacious blindness that o’erleaps

Nature’s just bounds and thy discerning will!”