Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Africa
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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: Thebes
Thebes
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,        5
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,        10
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,        15
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,        20
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,        25
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        30
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.        35
 
  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,        40
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        45
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,        50
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.
 
 
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