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.
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. —
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,
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.
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