Napoleon and the Sphynx


Beneath him stretched the sands
Of Egypt's burning lands,
The desert panted to the swelt'ring ray;
The camel's plashing feet,
With slow, uneasy beat,
Threw up the scorching dust like arrowy spray,
And fierce the sunlight glowed,
As young Napoleon rode
Around the Gallic camp, companionless that day.


High thoughts were in his mind,
Unspoken to his kind;
Calm was his face — his eyes were blank and chill;
His thin lips were compress'd:
The secrets of his breast
Those portals never pass'd, for good or ill;
And dreaded — yet adored —
His hand upon his sword,
He mused on Destiny, to shape it to his will.


" Ye haughty Pyramids!
Thou Sphynx! whose eyeless lids
On my presumptuous youth seem bent in scorn,
What though thou hast stood
Coival with the flood —
Of all earth's monuments the earliest born;
And I so mean and small,
With armies at my call,
Am recent in thy sight as grass of yester-morn!


" Yet in this soul of mine
Is strength as great as thine,
O dull-eyed Sphynx that wouldst despise me now;
Is grandeur like thine own,
O melancholy stone,
With forty centuries furrow'd on thy brow:
Deep in my heart I feel
What time shall yet reveal,
That I shall tower o'er men, as o'er these deserts thou.


" I shall upbuild a name
Of never-dying fame,
My deeds shall fill the world with their renown:
To all succeeding years,
The populous hemispheres
Shall pass the record of my glories down;
And nations yet to be,
Surging from Time's deep sea,
Shall teach their babes the name of great Napoleon.


" On History's deathless page,
From wondering age to age,
New light and reverence o'er that name shall glow.
My deeds already done,
Are histories begun,
Whose great conclusion centuries shall not know.
O melancholy Sphynx!
Present with Future links,
And both shall yet be mine. I feel it as I go!"


Over the mighty chief
There came a shadow of grief.
The lips gigantic seemed to move and say,
" Know'st thou his name that bid
Arise yon Pyramid?
Know'st thou who placed me where I stand to-day?
Thy deeds are but as sand,
Strewn on the heedless land:
Think, little mortal, think! and pass upon thy way!


" Pass, little mortal, pass!
Grow like the vernal grass —
The autumn sickle shall destroy thy prime.
Bid nations shout the word
Which ne'er before they heard,
The name of Glory, fearful yet sublime.
The Pharaohs are forgot,
Their works confess them not:
Pass, Hero! pass! poor straw upon the gulf of Time."
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