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

Egypt, Nubia, and Abyssinia: Alexandria

Philip the Freed-Man

By Henry Howard Brownell (1820–1872)

IT was a barren beach on Egypt’s strand,

And near the waves, where he had breathed his last,

The form of one slain there by treachery

Lay stripped and mangled. On each manly limb

Somewhat of strength and beauty yet remained,

Though war and toil and travel, and the lapse

Of sixty years save one, had left their marks

Traced visibly.
But the imperial head,

The close-curled locks, and grizzled beard were gone!

Soon to be laid before the feet of one

Who should receive with anguish, horror-struck,

Giver and gift! and, weeping, turn away.

The ruffian task was ended,—the base crowd

Had stared its vulgar fill,—and they were gone,

The murderers and the parasites,—all gone.

But one yet lingered, and beside the dead,

As the last footstep died away, he knelt,

And laved its clotted wounds in the salt sea,

Composed with care the violated frame,

Doffed his own garment, and with reverent hands

Covered the nakedness of those brave limbs.

But for a pile—a few dry boughs of wood

For him, before whose step forests had fallen

And cities blazed!—yet looking, sore perplexed,

He spies the wreck of an old fishing-boat,

Wasted by sun and rain,—yet still enough

For a poor body, naked, unentire.

While yet he laid the ribs and pitchy planks

In such array as might be, decently,

For him, whose giant funeral pyramid

All Rome had raised (could he have died at Rome),

An old man came beside him—
“Who art thou,

That all alone dost tend with this last service

Pompey the Great?” He said, “I am his freedman.”

“Thou shalt not make this honor all thine own!

Since fate affords it, suffer me to share

Thy pious task, though I have undergone

These many years of exile and misfortune,

’T will be one solace to have aided thee

In offering all that now remains to him,

My old commander,—and the greatest, noblest,

That Rome hath ever borne!”
They raised the body,

And tenderly, as we move one in pain,

Laid it upon the pile, in tears and silence.

And one, his friend,—full soon to follow him,—

(Late shipped from Cyprus with Etesian gales,)

Coasting along that desolate shore, beheld

The smoke slow rising, and the funeral pyre

Watched by a single form.
“Who then has ended

His days, and leaves his bones upon this beach?”

He said, and added, with a sigh, “Ah, Pompey!

It may be thou!”