Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Africa: Vol. XXIV. 1876–79.

Egypt, Nubia, and Abyssinia: Thebes


By Seymour Green Wheeler Benjamin (1837–1914)

I SAW, as in a dream, the pride of Thebes.

The hundred-gated walls in majesty

Rose high above the meads where harvest grain

Waved musical before the morning breeze.

The strains of Memnon hailed the coming day,

And sun-gilt wreaths of smoke curled slowly up

From myriad hecatombs, as mystic rites

Were offered at the shrines of Mizraim’s gods.

Lo! winding through the wide champaign, and by

The eternal Nile, Rameses victor came,

Leading a veteran host, whose flaming arms

Had roused Libanus’ eagles, and had gleamed

Upon the famed Hydaspes’ amber tide.

The royal pageant moved along the aisle

Of solemn-featured sphinxes to Karnak,

Until beneath the pillars lotus-crowned,

A voice said, “Welcome here, son of the gods.”

Such once was Thebes. Meridian glory sheened

Her battlements ere god-built Ilion fell.

But now, ye who would vaunt yourselves in man,

Behold her desolation. Fate has walked

With hearse-like shadow where the Pharaohs dwelt;

And now the summer sun diurnal flecks

With rosy light deserted colonnades,

Where sings the grasshopper his droning tune,

Where dreams the desert’s swarthy child, and bleats

The plaintive flock. The moon glides up the vault,

And her first rays illume the rugged brows

Of the Memnonium’s marble men, who loom

Beneath that pallid light like giant ghosts

Above the haunted land; the owlet chants

His wizard requiem o’er Karnak the lone,

The bat flits round amid the sculptured blocks,

And the sad night-wind sobs as it has wailed

For ages through the pylons hoar and gloomed.

Like ancient wood, whose river-shadowing trees,

Stripped of their leafy crests by autumn gales,

Stand dismal skeletons, and mourn their fate—

Thus Luxor’s grove of columns has looked down

August with age these thrice ten hundred years,

Upon the azure Nile, that rolls sublime,

A mystery of mysteries, whose founts

Are sealed to mortal eye. A wilderness

Weaves o’er its flood arcades of sylvan green,

Until it leaves its native wilds, and roams

By empires long decayed, and cities left

To the hyena’s den. By Thebes it sweeps

With solitary grandeur towards the sea.

But still its waves their annual tribute bring,

And bless the parchéd wold with vernal bloom,

And pay obeisance at stern Memnon’s feet,—

The monarch grim of Thebes’s solitude,

Who to Imagination’s ear yet sings

The dirge notes of the nations as they die.