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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: Philæ, the Island

The Island of Philæ

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

(From The Burden of Egypt)

TRANQUIL above the rapids, rocks, and shoals,

The Tivoli of Egypt, Philæ lies;

No more the frontier-fortress that controls

The rush of Ethiopian enemies,—

No more the Isle of Temples to surprise,

With hierophantic courts and porticos,

The simple stranger, but a scene where vies

Dead Art with living Nature, to compose

For that my pilgrimage a fit and happy close.

There I could taste without distress of thought

The placid splendors of a Nubian night,

The sky with beautiful devices fraught

Of suns and moons and spaces of white light:

While on huge gateways rose the forms of might,

Awful as when the people’s heart they swayed,

And the grotesque grew solemn to my sight;

And earnest faces thronged the colonnade,

As if they wailed a faith forgotten or betrayed.

There too, in calmer mood, I sent aflight

My mind through realms of marvel stretching far,

O’er Abyssinian Alps of fabled height,

O’er deserts where no paths or guidance are,

Save when, by pilotage of some bright star,

As on the ocean, wends the caravan;

And then I almost mourned the mythic bar

That in old times along that frontier ran,

When gods came down to feast with Ethiopian man.

For I remembered races numberless,

Whom still those latitudes in mystery fold,

And asked, what does the Past, my monitress,

For them within her genial bosom hold?

Where is for them the tale of history told?

How is their world advancing on its way?

How are they wiser, better, or more bold,

That they were not created yesterday?

Why are we life-taught men, why poor ephemerals they?