Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Asia
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII.  1876–79.
 
Introductory to Asia
The Hareem
Richard Monckton Milnes, Lord Houghton (1809–1885)
 
BEHIND the veil, where depth is traced
  By many a complicated line,—
Behind the lattice closely laced
  With filigree of choice design,—
Behind the lofty garden-wall,        5
  Where stranger face can ne’er surprise,—
That inner world her all-in-all,
  The Eastern Woman lives and dies.
 
Husband and children round her draw
  The narrow circle where she rests;        10
His will the single perfect law,
  That scarce with choice her mind molests;
Their birth and tutelage the ground
  And meaning of her life on earth,—
She knows not elsewhere could be found        15
  The measure of a woman’s worth.
 
If young and beautiful, she dwells
  An Idol in a secret shrine,
Where one high-priest alone dispels
  The solitude of charms divine;        20
And in his happiness she lives,
  And in his honor has her own,
And dreams not that the love she gives
  Can be too much for him alone.
 
Within the gay kiosk reclined,        25
  Above the scent of lemon groves,
Where bubbling fountains kiss the wind,
  And birds make music to their loves,—
She lives a kind of fairy life,
  In sisterhood of fruits and flowers,        30
Unconscious of the outer strife,
  That wears the palpitating hours.
 
And when maturer duties rise
  In pleasure’s and in passion’s place,
Her duteous loyalty supplies        35
  The presence of departed grace:
So hopes she, by untiring truth,
  To win the bliss to share with him
Those glories of celestial youth,
  That time can never taint or dim.        40
 
Thus in the ever-closed Hareem,
  As in the open Western home,
Sheds womanhood her starry gleam
  Over our being’s busy foam;
Through latitudes of varying faith        45
  Thus trace we still her mission sure,
To lighten life, to sweeten death,
  And all for others to endure.
 
Home of the East! thy threshold’s edge
  Checks the wild foot that knows no fear,        50
Yet shrinks, as if from sacrilege,
  When rapine comes thy precincts near:
Existence, whose precarious thread
  Hangs on the tyrant’s mood and nod,
Beneath thy roof its anxious head        55
  Rests as within the house of God.
 
There, though without he feels a slave,
  Compelled another’s will to scan,
Another’s favor forced to crave,—
  There is the subject still the man:        60
There is the form that none but he
  Can touch,—the face that he alone
Of living men has right to see;
  Not he who fills the Prophet’s throne.
 
Then let the moralist, who best        65
  Honors the female heart, that blends
The deep affections of the West
  With thought of life’s sublimest ends,
Ne’er to the Eastern home deny
  Its lesser, yet not humble praise,        70
To guard one pure humanity
  Amid the stains of evil days.
 
 
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