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

Introductory to Egypt, Nubia, and Abyssinia

The Egyptian Princess

By Sir Edwin Arnold (1832–1904)

THERE was fear and desolation over swarthy Egypt’s land,

From the holy city of the sun to hot Syené’s sand;

The sistrum and the cymbal slept, the merry dance no more

Trampled the evening river-buds by Nile’s embroidered shore,

For the daughter of the king must die, the dark magician said,

Before the red sun sank to rest that day in ocean’s bed.

And all that day the temple-smoke loaded the heavy air,

But they prayed to one who heedeth none, nor heareth earnest prayer.

That day the gonfalons were down, the silver lamps untrimmed,

Sad at their oars the rowers sat, silent the Nile-boat skimmed,

And through the land there went a wail of bitterest agony,

From the iron hills of Nubia to the islands of the sea.

There in that very hall where once her laugh had loudest been,

Where but that morning she had worn the wreath of Beauty’s Queen,

She lay a lost and lovely thing—the wreath was on her brow,

Alas! the lotus might not match its chilling paleness now;

And ever as that golden light sank lower in the sky,

Her breath came fainter, and the beam seemed fading in her eye.

Her coal-black hair was tangled, and the sigh of parting day

Stirred tremblingly its silky folds as on her breast they lay;

How heavily her rounded arm lay buried by her side!

How droopingly her lashes seemed those star-bright eyes to hide!

And once there played upon her lips a smile like summer air,

As though Death came with gentle face, and she mocked her idle fear.

Low o’er the dying maiden’s form the king and father bows,

Stern anguish holds the place of pride upon the monarch’s brows.

“My daughter, in the world thou leav’st so dark without thy smile,

Hast thou one care a father’s love, a king’s word, may beguile,—

Hast thou one last bright wish, ’t is thine, by Isis’ throne on high,

If Egypt’s blood can win it thee, or Egypt’s treasure buy.”

How anxiously he waits her words; upon the painted wall

In long gold lines the dying lights between the columns fall;

It lends her sinking limbs a glow, her pallid cheek a blush,

And on her lifted lashes throws a fitful, lingering flush,

And on her parting lips it plays: O, how they crowd to hear

The words that will be iron chains to bind them to her prayer.

“Father, dear father, it is hard to die so very young.

Summer was coming, and I thought to see the flowers sprung.

Must it be always dark like this? I cannot see thy face—

I am dying, hold me, father, in thy kind and close embrace;

O, let them sometimes bear me where the merry sunbeams lie,

I know thou wilt, farewell, farewell! ’t is easier now to die!”

Small need of bearded leeches there; not all Arabia’s store

Of precious balm could purchase her one ray of sunlight more;

Was it strange that tears were glistening where tears should never be,

When Death had smitten down to dust the beautiful and free?

Was it strange that warriors should raise a woman’s earnest cry

For help and hope to Heaven’s throne, when such as she must die?

And ever when the shining sun has brought the summer round,

And the Nile rises fast and full along the thirsty ground,

They bear her from her silent home to where the gay sunlight

May linger on the hollow eyes that once were starry bright,

And strew sweet flowers upon her breast, while gray-haired matrons tell

Of the high Egyptian maiden-queen that loved the light so well.