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

Syria: Nebo, the Mount

The Burial of Moses

By Cecil Frances Alexander (1818–1895)

  • “And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor; but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.”
  • —Deuteronomy xxxiv. 6.

  • BY Nebo’s lonely mountain,

    On this side Jordan’s wave,

    In a vale in the land of Moab,

    There lies a lonely grave;

    But no man built that sepulchre,

    And no man saw it e’er;

    For the angels of God upturned the sod,

    And laid the dead man there.

    That was the grandest funeral

    That ever passed on earth;

    Yet no man heard the trampling,

    Or saw the train go forth:

    Noiselessly as the daylight

    Comes when the night is done,

    And the crimson streak on Ocean’s cheek

    Grows into the great sun;

    Noiselessly as the spring-time

    Her crown of verdure weaves,

    And all the trees on all the hills

    Unfold their thousand leaves:

    So without sound of music,

    Or voice of them that wept,

    Silently down from the mountain’s crown

    The great procession swept.

    Perchance the bald old eagle

    On gray Beth-peor’s height

    Out of his rocky eyry

    Looked on the wondrous sight;

    Perchance the lion stalking

    Still shuns that hallowed spot;

    For beast and bird have seen and heard

    That which man knoweth not.

    But, when the warrior dieth,

    His comrades of the war,

    With arms reversed and muffled drums,

    Follow the funeral car:

    They show the banners taken;

    They tell his battles won,

    And after him lead his masterless steed,

    While peals the minute-gun.

    Amid the noblest of the land

    Men lay the sage to rest,

    And give the bard an honored place,

    With costly marbles drest,

    In the great minster transept

    Where lights like glories fall,

    And the sweet choir sings, and the organ rings

    Along the emblazoned hall.

    This was the bravest warrior

    That ever buckled sword;

    This the most gifted poet

    That ever breathed a word;

    And never earth’s philosopher

    Traced with his golden pen,

    On the deathless page, truths half so sage

    As he wrote down for men.

    And had he not high honor?

    The hillside for his pall!

    To lie in state while angels wait

    With stars for tapers tall!

    And the dark rock-pines like tossing plumes

    Over his bier to wave,

    And God’s own hand, in that lonely land,

    To lay him in his grave!

    In that deep grave without a name,

    Whence his uncoffined clay

    Shall break again,—O wondrous thought!

    Before the Judgment-Day,

    And stand, with glory wrapped around,

    On the hills he never trod,

    And speak of the strife that won our life

    With the incarnate Son of God.

    O lonely tomb in Moab’s land!

    O dark Beth-peor’s hill!

    Speak to these curious hearts of ours,

    And teach them to be still:

    God hath his mysteries of grace,

    Ways that we cannot tell,

    He hides them deep, like the secret sleep

    Of him he loved so well.