11. Of Deserts -


Tho' frequent in the Arabian waste

The pilgrim, up ere dawn of day,

Inhale thy wafted musk, Cathay;

And Adam's primal joy may taste,

Beholding all the pomp of night

Bee'd thick with stars in swarms how bright;

And so, rides on alert and braced —

Tho' brisk at morn the pilgrim start,

Ere long he 'll know in weary hour

Small love of deserts, if their power

Make to retreat upon the heart

Their own forsakenness.

Darwin quotes

From Shelley, that forever floats

Over all desert places known,

Mysterious doubt — an awful one.

He quotes, adopts it. Is it true?

Let instinct vouch; let poetry,

Science and instinct here agree,

For truth requires strong retinue.

Waste places are where yet is given

A charm, a beauty from the heaven

Above them, and clear air divine —

Translucent ether opaline;

And some in evening's early dew

Put on illusion of a guise

Which Tantalus might tantalise

Afresh; ironical unrolled

Like Western counties all in grain

Ripe for the sickleman and wain;

Or, tawnier than the Guinea gold,

More like a lion's skin unfold:

Attest the desert opening out

Direct from Cairo by the Gate

Of Victors, whence the annual rout

To Mecca bound, precipitate

Their turbaned frenzy. —

Sands immense

Impart the oceanic sense:

The flying grit like scud is made:

Pillars of sand which whirl about

Or arc along in colonnade,

True kin be to the waterspout.

Yonder on the horizon, red

With storm, see there the caravan

Straggling long-drawn, dispirited;

Mark how it labours like a fleet

Dismasted, which the cross-winds fan

In crippled disaster of retreat

From battle —

Sinai had renown

Ere thence was rolled the thundered Law;

Ever a terror wrapped its crown;

Never did shepherd dare to draw

Too nigh (Josephus saith) for awe

Of one, some ghost or god austere —

Hermit unknown, dread mountaineer. —

When comes the sun up over Nile

In cloudlessness, what cloud is cast

O'er Lybia? Thou shadow vast

Of Cheops' indissoluble pile,

Typ'st thou the imperishable Past

In empire posthumous and reaching sway

Projected far across to time's remotest day?

But curb. — Such deserts in air-zone

Or object lend suggestive tone,

Redeeming them.

For Judah here —

Let Erebus her rival own:

'Tis horror absolute — severe,

Dead, livid, honeycombed, dumb, fell —

A caked depopulated hell;

Yet so created, judged by sense,

And visaged in significance

Of settled anger terrible.

Profoundly cloven through the scene

Winds Kedron — word (the scholar saith)

Importing anguish hard on death.

And aptly may such named ravine

Conduct unto Lot's mortal Sea

In cleavage from Gethsemane

Where it begins.

But why does man

Regard religiously this tract

Cadaverous and under ban

Of blastment? Nay, recall the fact

That in the pagan era old,

When bolts, deemed Jove's, tore up the mound,

Great stones the simple peasant rolled

And built a wall about the gap

Deemed hallowed by the thunder-clap.

So here: men here adore this ground

Which doom hath smitten. 'Tis a land

Direful yet holy — blest tho' banned.

But to pure hearts it yields no fear;

And John, he found wild honey here.

Rate this poem: 


No reviews yet.