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

Introductory to Asia

The Hareem

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

BEHIND the veil, where depth is traced

By many a complicated line,—

Behind the lattice closely laced

With filigree of choice design,—

Behind the lofty garden-wall,

Where stranger face can ne’er surprise,—

That inner world her all-in-all,

The Eastern Woman lives and dies.

Husband and children round her draw

The narrow circle where she rests;

His will the single perfect law,

That scarce with choice her mind molests;

Their birth and tutelage the ground

And meaning of her life on earth,—

She knows not elsewhere could be found

The measure of a woman’s worth.

If young and beautiful, she dwells

An Idol in a secret shrine,

Where one high-priest alone dispels

The solitude of charms divine;

And in his happiness she lives,

And in his honor has her own,

And dreams not that the love she gives

Can be too much for him alone.

Within the gay kiosk reclined,

Above the scent of lemon groves,

Where bubbling fountains kiss the wind,

And birds make music to their loves,—

She lives a kind of fairy life,

In sisterhood of fruits and flowers,

Unconscious of the outer strife,

That wears the palpitating hours.

And when maturer duties rise

In pleasure’s and in passion’s place,

Her duteous loyalty supplies

The presence of departed grace:

So hopes she, by untiring truth,

To win the bliss to share with him

Those glories of celestial youth,

That time can never taint or dim.

Thus in the ever-closed Hareem,

As in the open Western home,

Sheds womanhood her starry gleam

Over our being’s busy foam;

Through latitudes of varying faith

Thus trace we still her mission sure,

To lighten life, to sweeten death,

And all for others to endure.

Home of the East! thy threshold’s edge

Checks the wild foot that knows no fear,

Yet shrinks, as if from sacrilege,

When rapine comes thy precincts near:

Existence, whose precarious thread

Hangs on the tyrant’s mood and nod,

Beneath thy roof its anxious head

Rests as within the house of God.

There, though without he feels a slave,

Compelled another’s will to scan,

Another’s favor forced to crave,—

There is the subject still the man:

There is the form that none but he

Can touch,—the face that he alone

Of living men has right to see;

Not he who fills the Prophet’s throne.

Then let the moralist, who best

Honors the female heart, that blends

The deep affections of the West

With thought of life’s sublimest ends,

Ne’er to the Eastern home deny

Its lesser, yet not humble praise,

To guard one pure humanity

Amid the stains of evil days.