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

Introductory to Asia

The Mosque

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

A SIMPLE unpartitioned room,—

Surmounted by an ample dome,

Or, in some lands that favored lie,

With centre open to the sky,

But roofed with archéd cloisters round,

That mark the consecrated bound,

And shade the niche to Mekkeh turned,

By which two massive lights are burned;

With pulpit whence the sacred word

Expounded on great days is heard;

With fountain fresh, where, ere they pray,

Men wash the soil of earth away;

With shining minaret, thin and high,

From whose fine-trellised balcony

Announcement of the hours of prayer

Is uttered to the silent air;

Such is the Mosque,—the holy place,

Where faithful men of every race,

Meet at their ease, and face to face.

Not that the power of God is here

More manifest, or more to fear;

Not that the glory of his face

Is circumscribed by any space;

But that, as men are wont to meet

In court or chamber, mart or street,

For purposes of gain or pleasure,

For friendliness or social leisure,—

So, for the greatest of all ends

To which intelligence extends,

The worship of the Lord, whose will

Created and sustains us still,

And honor of the Prophet’s name,

By whom the saving message came,

Believers meet together here,

And hold these precincts very dear.

The floor is spread with matting neat,

Unstained by touch of shodden feet,—

A decent and delightful seat!

Where, after due devotions paid,

And legal ordinance obeyed,

Men may in happy parlance join,

And gay with serious thought combine;

May ask the news from lands away,

May fix the business of to-day;

Or, with “God willing,” at the close,

To-morrow’s hopes and deeds dispose.

Children are running in and out

With silver-sounding laugh and shout,

No more disturbed in their sweet play,

No more disturbing those that pray,

Than the poor birds, that fluttering fly

Among the rafters there on high,

Or seek at times, with grateful hop,

The corn fresh-sprinkled on the top.

So, lest the stranger’s scornful eye

Should hurt this sacred family,—

Lest inconsiderate words should wound

Devout adorers with their sound,—

Lest careless feet should stain the floor

With dirt and dust from out the door,—

’T is well that custom should protect

The place with prudence circumspect,

And let no unbeliever pass

The threshold of the faithful mass;

That as each Muslim his Hareem

Guards even from a jealous dream,

So should no alien feeling scathe

This common home of public faith,

So should its very name dispel

The presence of the infidel.

Yet, though such reverence may demand

A building raised by human hand,

Most honor to the men of prayer,

Whose mosque is in them everywhere!

Who, amid revel’s wildest din,

In war’s severest discipline,

On rolling deck, in thronged bazaar,

In stranger lands, however far,

However different in their reach

Of thought, in manners, dress, or speech,—

Will quietly their carpet spread,

To Mekkeh turn the humble head,

And, as if blind to all around,

And deaf to each distracting sound,

In ritual language God adore,

In spirit to his presence soar,

And, in the pauses of the prayer,

Rest, as if rapt in glory there!