Where the mummied Kings of Egypt,wrapped in linen fold on fold,
Couched for ages in their coffins, crowned with crowns of dusky gold,
Lie in subterranean chambers, biding to the day of doom,
Counterfeit life's hollow semblance in each mazy mountain tomb,
Grisly in their gilded coffins, mocking masks of skin and bone,
Yet remain in change unchanging, balking Nature of her own;
Mured in mighty Mausoleums, walled in from the night and day,
Lo, the mortal Kings of Egypt hold immortal Death at bay.
For - so spake the Kings of Egypt - those colossal ones whose hand
Held the peoples from Pitasa to the Kheta's conquered land;
Who, with flash and clash of lances and war chariots, stormed and won
Many a town of stiff-necked Syria to high-towering Askalon:
"We have been the faithful stewards of the deathless gods on high;
We have built them starry temples underneath the starry sky.
"We have smitten rebel nations, as a child is whipped with rods:
We the living carnation of imperishable gods.
"Shall we suffer Death to trample us to nothingness? and must
We be scattered, as the whirlwind blows about the desert dust?
"No! Death shall not dare come near us, nor Corruption shall not lay
Hands upon our sacred bodies, incorruptible as day.
"Let us put a bit and bridle, and rein in Time's headlong course;
Let us ride him through the ages as a master rides his horse.
"On the changing earth unchanging let us bide till Time shall end,
Till, reborn in blest Osiris, mortal with immortal blend."
Yes, so spake the Kings of Egypt, they whose lightest word was law,
At whose nod the far-off nations cowered, stricken dumb with awe.
And Fate left the haughty rulers to work out their monstrous doom;
And, embalmed with myrrh and ointments, they were carried to the tomb;
Through the gate of Bab-el-Molouk, where the sulpher hill lie bare,
Where no green thing casts a shadow in the noon's tremendous glare;
Where the unveiled Blue of heaven in its bare intensity
Weighs upon the awe-struck spirit with the world's immensity;
Through the Vale of Desolation, where no beast or bird draws breath,
To the Coffin Hills of Tuat - the Metropolis of Death.
Down - down - down into the darkness, where, on either hand, dread fate
In the semblance of a serpent, watches by the dolorous gate;
Down - down - down into the darkness, where no gleam of sun or star
Sheds its purifying radiance from the living world afar;
Where in labyrinthine windings, darkly hidden, down and down,-
Proudly on his marble pillow, with old Egypt's double crown,
And his mien of cold commandment, grasping still his staff of state,
Rests the mightiest of the Pharaohs, whom the world surnamed the great.
Swathed in fine Sidonian linen, crossed hands folded on the breast,
There the mummied Kings of Egypt lie within each painted chest.
And upon their dusky foreheads Pleiades of flaming gems,
Glowing through the nether darkness, flash from luminous diadems.
Where is Memphis? Like a mirage, melted into empty air:
But these royal gems yet sparkle richly on their raven hair.
Where is Thebes in all her glory, with her gates of beaten gold?
Where Syene, or that marvel, Heliopolis of old?
Where is Edfu? Where Abydos? Where those pillared towns of yore
Whose auroral temples glittered by the Nile's thick-peopled shore?
Gone as evanescent cloudlands, alplike in the afterglow;
But these Kings hold fast their bodies of four thousand years ago.
Sealed up in their Mausoleums, in the bowels of the hills,
There they hide from dissolution and Deaths swiftly grinding mills.
Scattering fire, Uraeus serpents guard the Tombs' tremendous gate;
While Troth holds the trembling balance, weighs the heat and seals its fate.
And a multitude of mummies in the swaddling clothes of death,
Ferried o'er the sullen river, on and on still hasteneth.
And around them and above them, blazoned on the rocky walls,
Crowned with stars, enlaced by serpents, in divine processionals,
Ibis-headed, jackal-featured, vulture-hooded, pass on high,
Gods on gods through Time's perspectives - pilgrims of Eternity.
There, revealed by fitful flashes, in a gloom that may be felt,
Wild Chimeras flash from darkness, glittering like Orion's belt.
And on high, o'er shining waters, in their barks the gods sail by,
In the Sunboat and in the Moonboat, rowed across the rose-hued sky.
Night, that was before creation, watches sphinxlike, starred with eyes,
And the hours and days are passing, and the years and centuries.
But these mummied Kings of Egypt, pictures of a parished race,
Lie, of busy Death forgotten, face by immemorial face.
Though the glorious sun above them, burning on the naked plain,
Clothes the empty wilderness with the golden, glowing grain;
Though the balmy Moon above them, floating in the milky Blue,
Fills the empty wilderness with a silver fall of dew;
Though life comes and flies unresting, like the shadow which a dove
Casts upon the Sphinx, in passing, for a moment from above;-
Still these mummied Kings of Egypt, wrapped in linen, fold on fold,
Bide through ages in their coffins, crowned with crowns of dusky gold.
Had the sun once brushed them lightly, or a breath of air, they must
Instantaneously have crumbled into evanescent dust.
Pale and passive in their prisons, they have conquered, chained to death;
And their lineaments look living now as when they last drew breath!
Have they conquered? Oh, the pity of those Kings within their tombs,
Locked in stony isolation in those petrifying glooms!
Motionless where all is motion in a rolling Universe,
Heaven, by answering their prayer, turned it to a deadly curse.
Let them fixed where all is fluid in a world of star-winged skies;
Where, in myriad transformations, all things pass and nothing dies;
Nothing dies but what is tethered, kept when Time would set it free,
To fulfill Thought's yearning tension upward through Eternity.
Source: The Universal Anthology, edited by Richard Garnett, The Clarke Company, limited, london, 1899, Vol. I, pgs. 116-119.