Birds of Passage hear the message and beneath the flying clouds,
Mid the falling leaves of autumn, congregate in clamorous crowds.
Shall they venture on the voyage? are the nestlings fledged for flight;
Fit to face the fluctuant storm-winds and the elemental night?
What a twitter! what a tumult! to the wild wind's marching song
Multitudinous Birds of Passage round the cliffs of England throng.
And o'er tempest-trodden Ocean, cloud-entangled day and night,
Birds on birds, in corporate motion, wing a commonwealth in flight.
Waves, like hollow graves beneath them, hoarsely howling, yawn for prey;
And the welkin glooms above them shifting formless, grey in grey.
And across the Bay of Biscay on undaunted wing they flee,
Where mild seas move musically murmuring of the Odyssey;
Where the gurgling whirlpools glitter and by soft Circean Straits,
Fell Charybdis lies in ambush, and the ravenous Scylla waits;
Where a large Homeric laughter lingers in the echoing caves,
And in playful exultation Dolphins leap from dimpling waves;
Where, above the fair Sicilian, flock-browsed, flower-pranked meadows, looms
Ætna--hoariest of Volcanoes--ominously veiled in fumes;
Where the seas roll blue and bluer, high and higher arch the skies,
And as measureless as ocean new horizons meet the eyes;
Where at night the ancient heavens bend above the ancient earth,
With the young-eyed Stars enkindled fresh as at their hour of birth;
Where old Egypt's desert, stretching leagues on leagues of level land,
Gleams with threads of channelled waters, green with palms on either hand;
Where the Fellah strides majestic through the glimmering dourah plain,
And in rosy flames flamingoes rise from rustling sugar-cane;--
On and on, along old Nilus, seeking still an ampler light,
O'er its monumental mountains, Birds of Passage take their flight.
Where the sacred Isle of Philæ, twinned within the sacred stream,
Floats, like some rapt Opium-eater's labyrinthine lotos dream,
Birds on birds take up their quarters in each creviced capital,
In each crack of frieze and cornice, in each cleft of roof and wall.
And within those twilight-litten, holy halls of Death and Birth,
Even the gaily twittering swallows, even the swallows, hush their breath.
And they cast the passing shadows of their palpitating wings
O'er the fallen gods of Egypt and the prostrate heads of Kings.
Even as shadows Birds of Passage cast upon their onward flight
Have men's generations vanished, waned and vanished into night.
Spake the grave Arab, as his flashing glance
Swept the large, luminous verdure's dewy sheen,
Sedately, with a bronze-like countenance:
"Nehârak Saîd! Lo, this happy day,
My country decks herself in sumptuous green,
And smiling welcome, Lady, bids you stay."
The heart grows hushed before it. Nay, methinks
That Man, and all on which Man wastes his breath,
The World, and all the World inheriteth,
With infinite, inexorable links
Grappling the soul; that love, hate, birth and death
Dwindle to nothingness before thee--Sphinx.
To find Sphinx-money. So the Beduin calls
Small fossils of the waste. Nay, poet's gold;
'Twill give thee entrance to those rites of old,
When hundred-gated Thebes, with storied walls,
Gleamed o'er her Plain, and vast processions rolled
To Amon-Ra through Karnak's pillared halls.
Lie in subterranean chambers, biding to the day of doom,
Counterfeit life's hollow semblance in each mazy mountain tomb,
Grisly in their gilded coffins, mocking masks of skin and bone,
Yet remain in change unchanging, balking Nature of her own;
Mured in mighty Mausoleums, walled in from the night and day,
Lo, the mortal Kings of Egypt hold immortal Death at bay.
For--so spake the Kings of Egypt--those colossal ones whose hand
Held the peoples from Pitasa to the Kheta's conquered land;
Who, with flash and clash of lances and war-chariots, stormed and won
Many a town of stiff-necked Syria to high-towering Askalon:
"We have been the faithful stewards of the deathless gods on high;
We have built them starry temples underneath the starry sky.
"We have smitten rebel nations, as a child is whipped with rods:
We the living incarnation of imperishable gods.
"Shall we suffer Death to trample us to nothingness? and must
We be scattered, as the whirlwind blows about the desert dust?
"No! Death shall not dare come near us, nor Corruption shall not lay
Hands upon our sacred bodies, incorruptible as day.
"Let us put a bit and bridle, and rein in Time's headlong course;
Let us ride him through the ages as a master rides his horse.
"On the changing earth unchanging let us bide till Time shall end,
Till, reborn in blest Osiris, mortal with Immortal blend."
Yea, so spake the Kings of Egypt, they whose lightest word was law,
At whose nod the far-off nations cowered, stricken dumb with awe.
And Fate left the haughty rulers to work out their monstrous doom;
And, embalmed with myrrh and ointments, they were carried to the tomb;
Through the gate of Bab-el-Molouk, where the sulphur hills lie bare,
Where no green thing casts a shadow in the noon's tremendous glare;
Where the unveiled Blue of heaven in its bare intensity
Weighs upon the awe-struck spirit with the world's immensity;
Through the Vale of Desolation, where no beast or bird draws breath,
To the Coffin-Hills of Tuat--the Metropolis of Death.
Down--down--down into the darkness, where, on either hand, dread Fate,
In the semblance of a serpent, watches by the dolorous gate;
Down--down--down into the darkness, where no gleam of sun or star
Sheds its purifying radiance from the living world afar;
Where in labyrinthine windings, darkly hidden, down and down,--
Proudly on his marble pillow, with old Egypt's double crown,
And his mien of cold commandment, grasping still his staff of state,
Rests the mightiest of the Pharaohs, whom the world surnamed the Great.
Swathed in fine Sidonian linen, crossed hands folded on the breast,
There the mummied Kings of Egypt lie within each painted chest.
And upon their dusky foreheads Pleiades of flaming gems,
Glowing through the nether darkness, flash from luminous diadems.
Where is Memphis? Like a Mirage, melted into empty air:
But these royal gems yet sparkle richly on their raven hair.
Where is Thebes in all her glory, with her gates of beaten gold?
Where Syenê, or that marvel, Heliopolis of old?
Where is Edfu? Where Abydos? Where those pillared towns of yore
Whose auroral temples glittered by the Nile's thick-peopled shore?
Gone as evanescent cloudlands, Alplike in the afterglow;
But these Kings hold fast their bodies of four thousand years ago.
Sealed up in their Mausoleums, in the bowels of the hills,
There they hide from dissolution and Death's swiftly grinding mills.
Scattering fire, Uræus serpents guard the Tombs' tremendous gate;
While Troth holds the trembling balance, weighs the heart and seals its fate.
And a multitude of mummies in the swaddling clothes of death,
Ferried o'er the sullen river, on and on still hasteneth.
And around them and above them, blazoned on the rocky walls,
Crowned with stars, enlaced by serpents, in divine processionals,
Ibis-headed, jackal-featured, vulture-hooded, pass on high,
Gods on gods through Time's perspectives--pilgrims of Eternity.
There, revealed by fitful flashes, in a gloom that may be felt,
Wild Chimæras flash from darkness, glittering like Orion's belt.
And on high, o'er shining waters, in their barks the gods sail by,
In the Sunboat and the Moonboat, rowed across the rose-hued sky.
Night, that was before Creation, watches sphinx-like, starred with eyes,
And the hours and days are passing, and the years and centuries.
But these mummied Kings of Egypt, pictures of a perished race,
Lie, of Death forgotten, face by immemorial face.
Though the glorious sun above them, burning on the naked plain,
Clothes the empty wilderness with the golden, glowing grain;
Though the balmy Moon above them, floating in the milky Blue,
Fills the empty wildernesses with a silver fall of dew;
Though life comes and flies unresting, like the shadow which a dove
Casts upon the Sphinx, in passing, for a moment from above;--
Still these mummied Kings of Egypt, wrapped in linen, fold on fold,
Bide through the ages in their coffins, crowned with crowns of dusky gold.
Had the sun once brushed them lightly, or a breath of air, they must
Instantaneously have crumbled into evanescent dust.
Pale and passive in their prisons, they have conquered, chained to death;
And their lineaments look living now as when they last drew breath!
Have they conquered? Oh the pity of those Kings within their tombs,
Locked in stony isolation in those petrifying glooms!
Motionless where all is motion in a rolling Universe,
Heaven, by answering their prayer, turned it to a deadly curse.
Left them fixed where all is fluid in a world of star-winged skies;
Where, in myriad transformations, all things pass and nothing dies;
Nothing dies but what is tethered, kept when Time would set it free,
To fulfil Thought's yearning tension upward through Eternity.
Behold the Dawn uncloses
The shutters of the night;
The Waste and her oases
Blossoms a rose of roses
Beneath thy rose-red light.
Hail, golden House of Horus,
Lap of heaven's holiest God!
From lotos-banks before us
Birds in ecstatic chorus
Fly, singing, from the sod.
Up, up, into the shining,
Translucent morning sky,
No longer dull and pining,
With drooping plumes declining,
The storks and eagles fly.
The Nile amid his rushes
Reflects thy risen disk;
A light of gladness gushes
Through kindling halls, and flushes
Each flaming Obelisk.
Vast Temples catch thy splendour;
Vistas of columns shine
Celestial, with a tender
Rose-bloom on every slender
In manifold disguises,
And under many names,
Thrice-holy son of Isis,
We worship him who rises
A child-god fledged in flames.
Hail, sacred Hawk, who, winging,
Crossest the heavenly sea!
With harp-playing, with singing,
With linen robes, white clinging,
We come, fair God, to thee.
Thou whom our soul espouses,
When weary of the way,
Enter our golden houses,
And, with thy mystic spouses,
Rest from the long, long way.
One god undying,
Through myriad changes,
He sweeps and ranges;
But life estranges
Many in one.
In wild commotion,
Out of the ocean,
With moan and motion,
Wave upon waves,
Mingling in thunder,
Rise and go under:
Break, life, asunder;
Night has her graves.
Would solve--such is the Sage's curse--
The riddle of the Universe.
Thought, turning round itself, revolved,
How was this puzzling World evolved?
How came the starry sky to be,
The sun, the earth, the Nile, the sea?
And Man, most tragi-comic Man,
Whence came he here, and where began?
Communing with the baffling sky,
Who twinkled, but made no reply,
He brooded, till his heated brain
Grew fairly addled with the strain.
For in that dim, benighted age
Philosopher and hoary sage
Had not yet had the saving grace
To teach the Schools that Time and Space,
And all the marvels they contain,
Are but the phantoms of the brain.
But that profound Egyptian Seer
Maybe--who knows?--came pretty near;
When, after days of strenuous fast,
He hit the startling truth at last;
And on select, mysterious nights,
Veiled in occult, symbolic rites:
He taught--that once upon a time--
To disbelieve it were a crime--
The World's great egg--refute who can,
That meditates on Life and Man--
While deafening cacklings spread the news--
Was laid by an Almighty Goose.
Our boat drifts idly with the Stream,
Our boatmen ship the oar;
Vistas of endless temples gleam
On either topaz shore;
And swimming over groves of Palm,
A crescent weak and wan,
There steals into the perfect calm
The Moon of Ramadân.
All nature seems to bask in peace
And hush her lowest sigh;
Above the river's golden fleece
The happy Halcyons fly.
And lost in some old lotos dream,
The pensive Pelican
Sees mirrored in the mazy stream
The Moon of Ramadân.
Black outlined on the golden air
A turbaned Silhouette,
The Mueddin invites to prayer
From many a Minaret.
Our dusky boatmen hear the call,
And prostrate, man on man,
They bow, adoring, one and all,
The Moon of Ramadân.
Where Luxor's rose-flushed columns shine
Above the river's brim,
The priests with incense once, and wine,
Made sacrifice to Him,
The highest god of Thebes, and head
Of all the heavenly clan;
But now the Moslem hails instead
The Moon of Ramadân.
The gods have come, the gods have gone,
Yet wedded to their walls,
Winged with the serpent of the Sun
In mute processionals,
They stride from door to massy door,
Bound nations in their van,
Though Amon's Sun has waned before
The Moon of Ramadân.
Yea, even proud Egypt's proudest king,
Who chastised rebel lands,
And brought his gods for offering
Mountains of severed hands;
Who singly, like a god of War,
Smote hosts that swerved and ran,
Lies low 'neath Allah's scimetar--
The Moon of Ramadân.
And Isis, Queen, whose sacred disk's
Horned splendour crowned her brow,
While fires of flashing Obelisks
Flamed in the Afterglow;
And white-robed priests who served her shrine
Have turned Mahommedan,
And worship Him who wears for sign
The Moon of Ramadân.
The rosy lotos, flower and leaf,
Which wreathed each sacred lake,
With Nature's loveliest bas-relief,
Has followed in their wake;
Yea, with the last true Pharaoh's death,
The lotos leaves, grown wan,
Have changed to lily white beneath
The Moon of Ramadân.
The gods may come, the gods may go,
And royal realms change hands;
But the most ancient Nile will flow,
And flood the desert sands;
And nightly will he glass the stars'
Nor care if it be Rome's red Mars
Or Moon of Ramadân.
The sunset fades upon the Nile;
The desert's stony gloom,
Receding blankly mile on mile,
Grows silent as a tomb.
All weary wanderers, man and beast,
Hie, fasting, to the Khan,
While shines above their nightly feast
The Moon of Ramadân.
Bred in the desert, where
Only to breathe and be
Alive in living air
Is finest ecstasy;
Where just to ride or rove,
With sun or stars above,
Intoxicates like love,
When love shall come to thee.
Thy lovely limbs are bare;
Only a rag, in haste,
Draped with a princely air,
Girdles they slender waist.
And gaudy beads and charms,
Dangling from neck and arms,
Ward off dread spells and harms
Of Efreets of the waste.
Caressed of wind and sun,
Across the white-walled town
Fawnlike we saw thee run,
Light Love in Mocha brown!
Wild Cupid, without wings,
Twanging thy viol strings;
With crocodiles and rings
Bartered for half a crown.
Spoilt darling of our bark,
Smiling with teeth as white
As when across the dark
There breaks a flash of light.
And what a careless grace
Showed in thy gait and pace;
Eyes starlike in a face
Sweet as a Nubian night!
Better than Felt or Fez,
High on thy forehead set,
Countless in lock and tress,
Waved a wild mane of jet.
Kings well might envy thee
What courts but rarely see,
Curls of rich ebony
Coiled in a coronet.
Lo--in dim days long since--
The strolling Almehs tell,
Thou shouldst have been a prince,
Boy of the ebon fell!
If truth the poet sings,
Thy tribe, oh Beduin, springs
From those lost tribes of Kings,
Once Kings in Israel.
Ah me! the camp-fires gleam
Out yonder, where the sands
Fade like a lotos dream
In hollow twilight lands.
Our sail swells to the blast,
Our boat speeds far and fast,
Farewell! And to the last
Smile, waving friendly hands.
Forlorn sits Assouan;
Where is her boy, her pride?--
Now in the lamplit Khan,
Now by the riverside,
Or where the Soudanese,
Under mimosa trees,
Chaunt mournful melodies,
We've sought him far and wide.
Oh, desert-nurtured Child,
How dared they carry thee,
Far from thy native Wild,
Across the Western Sea?
Packed off, poor boy, at last,
With many a plaster cast
Of plinth and pillar vast,
And waxen mummies piled!
Ah! just like other ware,
For a lump sum or so
Shipped to the World's great Fair--
To big Chicago Show!
With mythic beasts and things,
Beetles and bulls with wings,
And imitation Sphinx,
Ranged row on curious row!
Beautiful, black-eyed boy;
Ah me! how strange it is
That thou, the desert's joy,
Whom heavenly winds would kiss,
With Ching and Chang-hwa ware,
Blue pots and bronzes rare,
Shouldst now be over there
Shown at Porkopolis.
Gone like a lovely dream,
Child of the starry smile;
Gone from the glowing stream
Glassing its greenest isle!
We've sought, but sought in vain;
Thou wilt not come again,
Never for bliss or pain,
Home to thy orphaned Nile.
His head was pillowed on a tomb,
Reared to some holy Sheik of old;
The irresistible Simoom
Whirled drifts of sand that rose and rolled
Around him, and the panting air
Was one sulphureous spectral glare,
Shot with such gleams as lights the lair
Of tigers in a jungle's gloom.
Groaning, he closed his bloodshot eyes,
As if to shut out all he feared;
And greedily a swarm of flies
Fell on his face and tangled beard.
He lay like one who ne'er would lift
His head above that ashy drift;
When lo, there gleamed across a rift
The blue oasis of the skies.
Like smoke dispersing far and wide,
The draggled sands were blown away;
The wild clouds in a refluent tide
Receded from the face of day.
The lingering airs yet lightly blew
Till the last speck cleared out of view,
And left the hushed Eternal Blue,
And nothing else beside.
Then once again, with change of moods,
A mighty shadow, broadening, fell
Across those shadeless solitudes,
Without a Palm, without a Well.
Wing wedged in wing, an ordered mass
Unnumbered numbers pass and pass,
As if one Will, one only, was
In all those moving multitudes.
A chord thrilled in the sick man's brain;
He raised his heavy-lidded eyes,
He raised his heavy head with pain,
And caught a glimpse of netted skies,
Meshed in ten thousand wings in flight
That cleft the air. Oh wondrous sight!
He gasped, he shrieked in sheer delight:
"The Storks! The Storks fly home again!
"I too, O Storks, I too, even I,
Would see my native land again.
Oh, had I wings that I might fly
With you, wild birds, across the main!
Take, take me to the land, I pray,
The land where nests are full in May,
The land where my young children play:
Oh, take me with you, or I die.
"My lonely heart blooms like a flower,
My children, when I think of you,
My love is like an April shower,
And fills my heart with drops of dew.
Along their unknown tracks, ah me!
The Storks will fly across the sea;
My children soon will hail with glee
Their red bills on the rain-washed tower."
Home-sickness seized him for the herds
That browse upon the fresh green leas;
Home-sickness for the cuckoo birds
That shout afar in feathery trees;
For running stream and rippling rill
That, racing, turning his woodland mill:
And tears on tears began to fill
His eyes, confusing all he sees.
Again he doats on rosy cheeks
Of children rolling in the grass;
Again the busy days and weeks,
The months and years serenely pass.
Black forest clocks tick day and night,
His board and bed are snowy white,
His humble house is just as bright
As if it were a house of glass.
Again, beneath the high-peaked roof,
His wife's unresting shuttle flies
Across the even warp and woof;
Again his thrifty mother plies
Her wheel, that hums like noontide bees;
And lint-locked babes about her knees
Hark to strange tales of talking trees,
And Storks deep versed in sage replies.
Again the ring of swinging chimes
Calls all the pious folk to church,
With shining Sunday face, betimes,
Through rustling woods of beech and birch
Full of moist glimmering hollows where
The pines bow murmuring as in prayer,
And musically through the air
The forest's mighty Choral swells.
Again, O Lord, again he sees
The place where Heaven came down one day;
Where, in a space of bloom and bees,
He won his wife one morn of May.
Warm pulses shook and thrilled his blood,
Wild birds were singing in the wood,
The flowering world in bridal mood
Joined in the Pinewood's symphonies.
Again, O Lord, in grief and fear,
He bids good-bye to all he loves;
The waters swell, the woods are sere,
The Storks are gone, and hushed the doves.
He goes with them; he goes to heal
The sickness whose insidious seal
Is set on him. Ah, tears will steal
And blur the Storks that disappear.
A furnace fire behind the hill,
The sun has burnt itself away;
The ghost of light, transparent, chill,
Yet floats upon the edge of day.
And all the desert holds its breath
As if it felt and crouched beneath
The filmy, flying bat of death
About a heart for ever still.
And one by one, seraphic, bland,
The bright stars open in the skies;
The large above the Shadow land
The white-faced moon begins to rise.
And all the wilderness grows wan
Beneath the stars, that one by one
Look down upon the lifeless man
As if they were his children's eyes.
Sweet as a lamb
He came to hand;
He was the flower
Of all the land.
Through lonely nights
I rode afar;
God lit His lights--
Star upon star.
God's in the desert;
His breath the air:
Boundless and bare!
Free as the wild wind,
Light as a foal;
Ah, there is room there
To stretch one's soul.
Far reached my thought,
Scant were my needs:
A few bananas
And lotus seeds.
Sparkling as water
Cool in the shade,
Out of thy Kulleh,
Fairest and first,
Give me to drink
Quencher of thirst.
I am athirst, girl;
Parched with desire,
Love in my bosom
Burns as a fire.
Green thy oasis,
Waving with Palms;
Oh, be no niggard,
Maid, with thy alms.
Kiss me with kisses,
Buds of thy mouth,
Sweeter than Cassia
Fresh from the South.
Bind me with tresses,
Clasp with a curl;
And in caresses
Stifle me, girl.
I was an Arab
Hence this home-sickness
And all my woe.
Beneath the sun that burns and brands
In hushed Noon's halting breath,
Calm as the Sphinx upon thy sands
Thou art--nay, calm as death.
The desert foxes hide in holes,
The jackal seeks his lair;
The sombre rocks, like reddening coals,
Glow lurid in the glare.
Only some vulture far away,
Flaps down on lazy wing to prey
On what has lately died.
No palm tree lifts a lonely shade,
No dove is on the wing;
It seems a land which Nature made
Without a living thing,
Or wreckage of some older world,
Ere children grew, or flowers,
When rocks and hissing stones were hurled
In hot, volcanic showers.
The solemn Blue bends over all;
Far as winged thought may flee
Roll ridges of black mountain wall,
And flat sands like the sea.
No trace of footsteps to be seen,
No tent, no smoking roof;
Nay, even the vagrant Beeshareen
Keeps warily aloof.
But yon, mid tumbled hillocks prone,
Some human form I scan--
A human form, indeed, but stone:
A cold, colossal Man!
How came he here mid piling sands,
Like some huge cliff enisled,
Osiris-wise, with folded hands,
Mute spirit of the Wild?
Ages ago the hands that hewed,
And in the living rock
Carved this Colossus, granite-thewed
And curled each crispy lock:
Ages ago have dropped to rest
And left him passive, prone,
Forgotten on earth's barren breast,
Half statue and half stone.
And Persia ruled and Palestine;
And o'er her violet seas
Arose, with marble gods divine,
The grace of god-like Greece.
And Rome, the Mistress of the World,
Amid her diadem
Of Eastern Empires set impearled
The Scarab's mystic gem.
Perchance he has been lying here
Since first the world began,
Poor Titan of some earlier sphere
Of prehistoric Man!
To whom we are as idle flies,
That fuss and buzz their day;
While still immutable he lies,
As long ago he lay.
Empurpled in the Afterglow,
Thou, with the Sun alone,
Of all the stormy waste below,
Art King, but king of stone!
Uncircumscribed, unmeasured, vast,
Eternal as the Sea,
The present here becomes the past,
For all futurity.
Toil without end! And why? That after thee
Dim hosts of groping Scarabs too shall climb
This self-same height? Accursèd progeny
Of Sisyphus, what antenatal crime
Has doomed us too to roll incessantly
Life's Stone, recoiling from the Alps of time?
Ah, once below you through the glittering plain
Stretched avenues of Sphinxes to the Nile;
And, flanked with towers, each consecrated fane
Enshrined its god. The broken gods lie prone
In roofless halls, their hallowed terrors gone,
Helpless beneath Heaven's penetrating smile.
Most wretched women! whom your prophet dooms
To take love's penalties without its prize!
Yes; you shall bear the unborn in your wombs,
And water dusty death with streaming eyes,
And, wailing, beat your breasts among the tombs;
But souls ye have none fit for Paradise.
Poor Brutes! Who in unconsciousness sublime,
Replenishing the ever-empty jars,
Endow the waste with palms and harvest gold:
And men, who move in rhythm with moving stars,
Should shrink to give the borrowed lives they hold:
Bound blindfold to the groaning wheel of Time.
Nay, let the outer world be winter-locked;
Beside the hearth of glowing memories
I warm my life. Once more our boat is rocked,
As on a cradle by the palm-fringed Nile;
And, sharp-cut silhouettes, in single file,
Lank camels lounge against transparent skies.
I read the Persian Poet's rhyme of old,
Each thought a ruby in a ring of gold--
Old thoughts so young, that, after all these years,
They're writ on every rose-leaf yet unrolled.
You may not know the secret tongue aright
The Sunbeams on their rosy tablets write;
Only a poet may perchance translate
Those ruby-tinted hieroglyphs of light.