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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: Sais

The Veiled Image at Sais

By Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805)

Translated by J. Merivale

A YOUTH, athirst for knowledge, (hot desire!)

To Sais came, intent to explore the dark

And hoarded wisdom of Egyptian priests.

Through many a grade of mystery, hurrying on,

Far, and more far, still pressed the inquiring soul,

And scarce the Hierophant could cool or calm

The studious fever of impatient toil.

“What,” he exclaimed, “is worth a part of Truth?

What is my gain unless I gain the whole?

Has Knowledge, then, a lesser or a more?

Is this—thy Truth—like sensual, gross enjoyment,

A sum doled out to each in all degrees,

Larger or smaller, multiplied or minished?

Is not Truth one and indivisible?

Take from the harmony a single tone,

A single tint take from the Iris bow,

And lo! what once was all, is nothing—while

Fails to the lovely whole one tint or tone!”

Now, while they thus conversed, they stood within

A lonely temple, circle-shaped, and still;

And, as the young man paused abrupt, his gaze

Upon a veiled and giant image fell:

Amazed he turned unto his guide,—“And what

Beneath the veil stands shrouded yonder?”

Answered the priest.
“And do I, then, for Truth

Strive, and alone? And is it now by this

Thin ceremonial robe that Truth is hid?

“That wherefore with the Goddess rests;

‘Till I’—thus saith the Goddess—‘lift this veil,

May it be raised by none of mortal born!

He who with guilty and unhallowed hand

Too soon profanes the holy and forbidden,—

He,’ says the Goddess—”
“‘He—shall see Truth!’”

“A rare, strange oracle! And hast thou never

Lifted the veil?”
“No! nor desired to raise!”

“What! nor desired? Were I shut out from Truth

By this slight barrier—” “And command divine,”

Broke on his speech the guide. “Far weightier, son,

This airy gauze than thy conjectures deem,—

Light to the touch, lead-heavy to the conscience!”

The young man, thoughtful, turned him to his home,

And the fierce fever of the wish to know

Robbed night of sleep. Upon his couch he rolled;—

At midnight rose resolved—Unto the shrine!

Timorously stole the involuntary step—

But light the bound that scaled the holy wall,

And dauntless was the spring that bore within

That circle’s solemn dome the daring man.

Now halts he where the lifeless Silence sleeps

In the embrace of mournful Solitude;—

Silence unstirred, save by the hollow echo

Answering his tread along mysterious vaults!

High from the opening of the dome above

Came the wan shining of the silver moon,

And, awful as some pale presiding god,

Glistening adown the range of vaults obscure,

In its long veil concealed the image stood.

With an unsteady step he onward past,

Already touched with violating hand

The Holy—and recoiled! A shudder thrilled

His limbs, fire-hot and icy-cold by turns,

And an invisible arm did seem to pluck him

Back from the deed. “O miserable man!

What wouldst thou?” (Thus within the inmost heart

Murmured the warning whisper.) “Wilt thou dare

The All-hallowed to profane? ‘May mortal-born

(So spake the oracular word) not lift the veil

Till I myself shall raise!’ Yet said it not,

The same oracular word, ‘Who lifts the veil,

He shall see Truth’? Behind, be what there may,

I dare the hazard—I will lift the veil”—

Loud rang his shouting voice—“and I will see!”

A lengthened echo, mocking, shrilled again!

He spoke and raised the veil! And ask ye what

Unto the gaze was there within revealed?

I know not. Pale and senseless, at the foot

Of the dread statue of Egyptian Isis,

The priests beheld him at the dawn of day;

But what he saw, or what did there befall,

His lips disclosed not. Ever from his heart

Was fled the sweet serenity of life,

And the deep anguish dug the early grave:

“Woe, woe to him”—such were his warning words,

Answering some curious and impetuous brain,

“Woe—for she never shall delight him more!

Woe,—woe to him who treads through guilt to Truth!”