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

Arabia: Desert of Arabia

The Prayer in the Desert

By Edna Dean Proctor (1829–1923)

UPON his cloak the Arab stands;

Behind him stretch the solemn sands

Back to the barren hills that lie

Serene against the azure sky.

Slow-winding from their dim defiles

O’er scorching waste and sedgy isles,

From lordly Cairo, Mecca-bound,

Threading the plain without a sound

Save when the burdened camels groan

Or tents are pitched by fountain-stone,

The long-drawn caravan is seen

Wrapped in the desert’s blinding sheen.

No muezzin calls from minaret,

Though clear the burning sun has set;

But waste and hill and brooding sky

Have stirred his soul to deep reply,

And he, the chief of all his tribe,

Has spurred him forward to ascribe

Glory to Allah, ere the gloom

And fierceness of the dread simoom

Shall overwhelm, or failing well

No pilgrim spare, His power to tell.

He plants his lance; his steed he frees;

Light from the north the rising breeze

Lifts the hot cloud, and moans away

Down to some Petra’s still decay,

Sad, as if wailing fall and rise

Were won from dying pilgrims’ sighs,—

Their couch by billowy sands o’erblown

Where Azrael keeps watch alone.

And now, his sandals’ weight unbound,

The desert space is holy ground;

No more he sees the weary train,

The sombre hills, the dusty plain,

But greenest fields of Paradise

Shine fair before his ravished eyes.

He hears the flow of crystal streams,

He sees the wondrous light that gleams

From Allah’s throne, ablaze with gems,

And, far below, the slender stems

Of plumy palms, whose ripe dates fall

When winds blow cool across the wall;

While sweeter than the bulbul’s note

Within the dusk pomegranate bowers,

When his full soul he fain would float

Forth to their yearning, flaming flowers,

The voice of angel Israfeel

Comes winding, warbling through the air,—

Oh that ’t were resurrection’s peal,

And he, the dead, might waken there,—

Waken and follow Edenward,

Lost in the splendor of the Lord!

Soon will his comrades round him throng,

While tents are pitched with jest and song;

But not the night-dews, chill and fleet,

Nor noontide’s burning, blasting heat,

Nor red simoom, nor mocking well

Can break his vision’s sacred spell,

Nor lure his joy that forward flies

To build and sing in fairer skies.

O Arab! we are one with thee!

All day we rove some desert sea;

The winds are dead, the wells are dry,

Above us flames the torrid sky;

And only in some twilight calm,

When fires are spent and air is balm,

Beyond our griefs and fears we ride;

Our sandal-cares we cast aside;

The clouds of doubt are backward blown,

And lo! we meet the Lord alone!