In the Palm Groves of Memphis
The Khamsin* comes comes robed in the Lybian sands,
Veiled in the haze of June,
Armed with Sahara’s serpent-wreathed brands,
Shod with the sun and moon;
Swift winging in a cycloramic flame,—
Of Typhon born, unseeing and untame,—
She comes her reign of terror proclaim,
While crowning day and night with all the blazonry of tropic noon.
She claps her iridescent wings, and lo!
The rolling heat,
Tremulous, reverberant, a-glow,
Sweeps over the land with unabating ire,
Devouring Spring’s heritage entire,
Setting the very pyramids a-fire,
Engulfing even the turtle’s shelter and the turtle-dove’s retreat.
Alas! where are the roses which the prime
Of summer share
With the sesame, the myrtle and the thyme
In meadows fair?
Where is the sacred lotus and the bloom
Of cumin and mimosa, whose perfume
Once filled the shrine of Isis and her tomb?
Where is the pomegranate flower that shone in Cleopatra’s hair?
Where is the riant beauty of the land
Of mystic runes
That decorates its shimmering robes of sand
With emerald moons?
Where are the emerald shelters, desert-bound,
That with the prayer of caravans resound?
Where is the desert trail, the watering ground
That murmurs low of lost oases amidst the fast dissolving dunes?
Where is the caravan that yesternight,
To the merry sound
Of bells, set out of the city of delight
To Nubia bound?
Where is the Nubian caravan that late
Passed heavy-laden through Denderah’s gate,
Speeding to reach the city for the fete,
When gold and silver freely flow, when Allah’s bounties abound?
Where is the crested lark, the golden thrush
Of the sacred grove,
Which made the sensitive acacia blush
And bloom with love?
Where has the bearded bustard fallen? where
Is Ibis, once the pet of Hermes fair,
Nursing his purple wings and his despair?
Where is the red flamingo hiding, where’s the house of the turtle-dove?
Across the welkin, like a shadow cast
Upon a cloud, but one
Undaunted dips his black wings in the blast
And rears anon
His form against the rushing winds; alone
The vulture hovers around the flame-draped throne
Of Death, and over the palms that rock and moan,
Peering through the desolation, staring at the laughing sun.
And Khamsin, in her chariot of fire,
Upon which clings
The moult of her unsatiable desire,
And shakes the harvest from her tangled hair—
The sesame seeds, the grasses sere, the tare,
The golden tassels which the rushes wear,
The purple feathers of the ibis and the swallow’s shrivelled wings.
She shakes her booty from her sapphire tresses
In gleeful guile,
As she in passing savagely caresses
The crouching Nile;
While everywhere, within her sight or call,
Along its banks or in its rushes tall,
All things are swooning in her leaden thrall,—
Yea, prostrate is the salamander, prostrate is the crocodile.
And when at intervals her madness takes
A sudden turn,
A lull ensues and over Egypt breaks
The sacred urn
Of silence; while to quench her ancient thirst,
Which licked up every running stream and cursed
Every pool in cave or hollow nursed,
She plunges deep into the Nile and wonders why his waters burn.
And wonders too when in the winnowed sands,
Out of the gloom
Of labyrinthine avenues and lands
Of mystic bloom,
Arise the scents of blossoms that have known
Ten thousand Khamsins, and were often blown
To dust ere Menes sat upon his throne—
The blossoms of the teeming depths that float above the crest of doom.
Yea, and in the scattered dust of Ptah,
The flawless gleam
That once shone in the fane of Amen-Ra
Would fain redeem
From darkness of immemorial time,
Which swallowed Thebes and Memphis in their prime,
The symbol of a heritage sublime,
And light again the sacred temple of the world’s eternal dream.
For though the earth itself should perish in
A flaming pyre.
And the wasting sun should like a spider spin
His cobwebs of fire,
Yet in the serdabs under Khamsin’s feet,
Around the blue of Osiris’s judgement seat,
Is this, which glyphs vermilion repeat:—
The sun of thought, of faith, of God shall never expire, shall never expire.
Albeit, in a mocking gust she veers
Into the gloom
That knows nor time nor sun, nor ever hears
The voice of Doom:
And, rifling the bejewelled gods, she drops
The veil of splendor from her howdah’s tops
And rocks in state from Karnak to Cheops
To tramp the dust of Pharoah’s pride, to smite the phantom of his tomb.
But mocking Khamsin, when her mood is spent,
Lulls the morn
In luscious breezes swooning with the scent
Of love reborn;––
Carressing winds! the tree senescent grows
In you as young as fruitful, and the rose
Upon the bistre lips of Ramesis blows,
Whispering of things immortal in the wandering seed and the reed forlorn.
She passes in phantasmagoric waves
Over shifting dunes,
Through shattered orbs, beyond the barren caves
Of mouldering moons,
While the antique youth the Sun, as young to-day
As when the cricket first essayed her lay,
Across the flood of Nilus makes his way,
And with him weaves for Egypt wondrous summer garlands and galloons.
And lo, the Khamsin of the world, in flames
Of crimson hue
And clouds of vitriolic dust, proclaims
The era new;
But through the storm a spirit wings his flight
Across the phosphorescent gulfs of night,
And this, upon the rising sun, doth write:—
God liveth, yea, God liveth still and man shall nothing rue.
*A dry wind from the Sahara that prevails in Egypt
about fifty days. Hence its name—Khamsin.