The Sphinx

By Henry Howard Brownell

They glare,—those stony eyes!
That in the fierce sun-rays
Showered from these burning skies,
Through untold centuries
Have kept their sleepless and unwinking gaze.

Since what unnumbered year
Hast thou kept watch and ward,
And o’er the buried Land of Fear
So grimly held thy guard?
No faithless slumber snatching,
Still couched in silence brave,
Like some fierce hound long watching
Above her master’s grave.

No fabled shape art thou!
On that thought-freighted brow
And in those smooth weird lineaments we find,
Though traced all darkly, even now
The relics of a mind:
And gather dimly thence
A vague, half-human sense,—
The strange and sad intelligence
That sorrow leaves behind.

Dost thou in anguish thus
Still brood o’er Oedipus?
And weave enigmas to mislead anew,
And stultify the blind
Dull heads of human kind,
And inly make thy moan
That, mid the hated crew,
Whom thou so long couldst vex,
Bewilder, and perplex,
Thou yet couldst find a subtler than thine own?

Even now, methinks that those
Dark, heavy lips, which close
In such a stern repose,
Seem burdened with some thought unsaid,
And hoard within their portals dread
Some fearful secret there,
Which to the listening earth
She may not whisper forth,
Not even to the air!

Of awful wonders hid
In yon dread Pyramid,
The home of magic fears;
Of chambers vast and lonely,
Watched by the Genii only,
Who tend their masters’ long-forgotten biers,
And treasures that have shone
On cavern-walls alone,
For thousand, thousand years.

Those sullen orbs wouldst thou eclipse,
And ope those massy tomb-like lips,—
Many a riddle thou couldst solve,
Which all blindly men revolve.

Would she but tell! She knows
Of the old Pharaohs;
Could count the Ptolemies’ long line;
Each mighty myth’s original hath seen,
Apis, Anubis,—ghosts that haunt between
The bestial and divine,—
(Such, he that sleeps in Philae,—he that stands
In gloom, unworshipped, ’neath his rock-hewn fane,—
And they who, sitting on Memnonian sands,
Cast their long shadows o’er the desert plain:)
Hath marked Nitocris pass,
And Ozymandias
Deep-versed in many a dark Egyptian wile,—
The Hebrew boy hath eyed
Cold to the master’s bride;
And that Medusan stare hath frozen the smile
Of all her love and guile,
For whom the Cæsar sighed,
And the world-loser died,-
The darling of the Nile.

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