The Nile

A poem by Henry Newbolt

Out of the unknown South,
Through the dark lands of drouth,
Far wanders ancient Nile in slumber gliding:
Clear-mirrored in his dream
The deeds that haunt his stream
Flash out and fade like stars in midnight sliding.
Long since, before the life of man
Rose from among the lives that creep,
With Time's own tide began
That still mysterious sleep,
Only to cease when Time shall reach the eternal deep.

From out his vision vast
The early gods have passed,
They waned and perished with the faith that made them;
The long phantasmal line
Of Pharaohs crowned divine
Are dust among the dust that once obeyed them.
Their land is one mute burial mound,
Save when across the drifted years
Some chant of hollow sound,
Some triumph blent with tears,
From Memnon's lips at dawn wakens the desert meres.

O Nile, and can it be
No memory dwells with thee
Of Grecian lore and the sweet Grecian singer?
The legions' iron tramp,
The Goths' wide-wandering camp,
Had these no fame that by thy shore might linger?
Nay, then must all be lost indeed,
Lost too the swift pursuing might
That cleft with passionate speed
Aboukir's tranquil night,
And shattered in mid-swoop the great world-eagle's flight.

Yet have there been on earth
Spirits of starry birth,
Whose splendour rushed to no eternal setting:
They over all endure,
Their course through all is sure,
The dark world's light is still of their begetting.
Though the long past forgotten lies,
Nile! in thy dream remember him,
Whose like no more shall rise
Above our twilight's rim,
Until the immortal dawn shall make all glories dim.

For this man was not great
By gold or kingly state,
Or the bright sword, or knowledge of earth's wonder;
But more than all his race
He saw life face to face,
And heard the still small voice above the thunder.
O river, while thy waters roll
By yonder vast deserted tomb,
There, where so clear a soul
So shone through gathering doom,
Thou and thy land shall keep the tale of lost Khartoum.

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